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Nike and Under Armour Battle for Asia | adidas Holds Steady

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Right now Nike is making the strongest push into Asia. Kyrie has just kicked off his tour of Asia and Cristiano Ronaldo is currently touring there for the first time. During Nike’s last quarterly conference call, their greatest growth was in the international market.

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China has 1 billion people to bring into the fold and with growth in North America decreasing due to the rise of adidas, Nike has goals to hit certain numbers and it appears they will only get there with China and a larger international presence. The problem is their greatest athlete and the most popular athlete in the Asian market has retired: Kobe Bryant (Shout out @COSeezy for reminding me of this in a building session on Twitter).

Under Armour has finally begun to awaken from their marketing slumber this week by creating one of the most amazing campaigns for any footwear company.

Misty Copeland | Under Armour | Unlike Any is Brilliant

This awakening is also taking place in Steph Curry’s second straight year touring Asia. Both Nike and Under Armour are promoting their tours for their brands, but absent from the push into Asia is adidas.

adidas isn’t sitting on their hands. They have a solid share of the market internationally so their growth opportunity is in chipping away at Nike in North America. They’ve been doing this through one of the most effective marketing campaigns and introductions of product at a great price combined with fresh technology like Bounce and BOOST. As Nike and Under Armour focus on China, adidas is focusing on creating art installations, multi-channel retail spaces integrated with technology, and forming collaborations through their Consortium project, that strike right at the heart of their target market.

The analysis of the Big 3 shows an incredible contrast for those who are looking to understand how a brand grows in a very difficult retail environment. adidas is growing, Nike and Under Armour are facing issues.

The question is which company is doing the right thing? If I had to rank the companies I would place adidas as 1, Nike 2 and UA 3.

#3. Under Armour Needs To Kick The Door In

adidas is nailing their marketing and promotion. Under Armour however is not. In this environment when your brand is losing cache and wallspace in the U.S., now is not the time to push your most marketable star away from the US and focus on growth internationally. Under Armour has to be focused on locking down the North American market and recapturing the interest of people here. Last year I stated that sending Steph abroad to Asia after his loss to LeBron was like UA disappearing. I stated last year that this mistake created a terrible launch for the Curry 3 and my words bode true as sales of the Curry 3 have been the worst for the Curry line and in turn the worst shoe year for UA.

I’m once again making the statement that while Curry is a champion and this tour is that of a winner, failing to maximize on Steph in the US remains a serious problem for the brand. As a matter of fact failing to create a narrative around performance and casual continues to be  the target that UA is missing. The “Unlike Any” campaign has opened a door that UA needs to keep open. UA has discovered their niche with “Unlike Any” and like adidas the look and feel of that campaign should permeate every aspect of the company.

China is fertile ground and touring doesn’t hurt for any brand… but this should be a moment where UA takes a page from adidas.

#1 adidas is Performing Like a Machine

In the last week adidas opened the doors to their Brooklyn Design Farm, launched a Venice Beach art installation and retail outlet featuring NMD, livestreamed a Yoga event and generated the “Create Positivity” campaign. This is a carryover from their extremely successful “Future” and “Originals are Never Finished” projects that helped to establish adidas cool in the past year and a half. While Nike and Under Armour tour, adidas is remaining focused on their brand alliances with soccer teams and with USA Volleyball (volleyball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country). They have dropped the previews for the next Stella McCartney line (more focus on women’s apparel) and taken care of sneakerheads with another drop from Pharrell. adidas understands where the most important market is and instead of relying on their last year of success they are doubling down and it’s working.

Nike is Relying on Familiar and Seems Oblivious To Everything

While Nike is beginning to understand the importance of video; both Kyrie and KD are livestreaming often. adidas in the last year has relied heavily on YouTube promo and creating visual imagery that undercut the clean and polished marketing of Nike. The grimey and realistic images from adidas appeals to the immediate nature of this generation. I said that if Nike was going to compete their athlete stable, which was an advantage in the past because of the importance of sport, would have to become more “approachable/attainable”. In other words Nike athletes could no longer sit on Mount Olympus they had to leave and mingle with the humans. The livestreaming is a step towards that. Breaking2, although very well coordinated, was a step towards that. It was immediate and not perfect. Unfortunately  Nike is missing the target on product creation. VaporMax, while very cool, feels familiar. It’s “Air”. ZoomX is a hidden technology and performance no longer drives the passion of the people. What’s worse is that Nike is continuing to push premium in a market that is going to be stuck in “discount land” for a very long time. The consumer version of the Breaking2 shoe is retailing for 250 dollars. The VaporMax retails at 190 dollars. The best adidas product, UltraBOOST retails at 180.00. Price has always been a premium with Nike, but the best selling shoe they have from an athlete is also one of the cheapest, the Kyrie Signature line, which says a lot. Nike is also failing to follow its own advice. At the end of last year Nike said they would “edit to amplify”. Which meant that they would cut back on the releases of everything to focus on what is performing best. This hasn’t happened. Their failure to “edit” has led to Jordan Brand losing brand cache and with interest in sports around the world dwindling it seems that Nike hasn’t figured out how to do what they have always done best, market premium.

Asia may be ground zero for international growth, but the US remains the “Iron Throne”. Right now adidas is closest to the throne and for the first time I don’t think anyone else is moving to disrupt the Three Stripes.