I Will What I Want Campaign: “You don’t need permission when you have will”.

By Meghan Stultz (M.S.)

“Women’s apparel some day will be larger than our men’s apparel business, which is our goal,” predicted Kevin A. Plank, a former college football player who founded Under Armour 14 years ago.

For the past few years Under Armour has been on an upward journey to become one of the major name for athletic clothing companies, however they have never had as big of a success in the women’s department as they have in the men’s…but that gap is closing.

When reflecting on the company’s first attempts to go after the growing women’s athletics and leisure market in the early 2000’s, Kevin Plank commented his team’s best attempt to go after the market was to take their male clothing and “shrink it and pink it.”

After the release of their women’s pastel coloured workout clothing line was a total failure the company went back to the drawing board and came back big in the advertising world with “I Will What I Want” women’s campaign. This $15 million dollar campaign has been a hugely successful investment leading them to be named 2014 Marketer of the Year by Ad Age and recently complete their 18th consecutive quarter with more than a 20% sales growth.

So how did they change how advertisers are representing females in their ads – while keeping their advertising costs at a 1/3 compared to Nikes?

They did it by simply showing real and raw women in their element

Their digital ad’s feature emotional storytelling, that speaks to the mind and the heart simultaneously. It is relatable

The first campaign showed in late summer, Misty Copeland, currently a soloist star for the American Ballet Theatre. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZY0cdXr_1MA).

Misty’s Ad now has a staggering 7.6 million views on YouTube – It shows the traditional ballerina in a nontraditional way. The angles of the camera emphasis her strength in her moves – while she is wearing Under Armour apparel instead of the traditional ballerina staple, the tutu. Tied along with a narration of a rejection letter she received at the age of only 13, which pointed out all the parts of her body that are so “clearly” wrong for ballet.

The second Ad to be surfaced featured supermodel Gisele Bundchen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-V7cOestUs). Gisele is seen training with a punching bag – but this time the narration is plastered all over the walls with a live feed of social media posts. Some positive posts but mostly negative comments like “she’s not an athlete, stick to modeling sweetie or she is a has-been.”

As a female with an athletic background I think these campaigns are so powerful because it relates back to how we’ve all dealt with negativity and adversity throughout life, be it in a sport or on a social media platform.

The way Under Armour presents these advertisements with the narration reinforcing success can overcome failure creates an emotional connection for their audience to their message, ultimately making it stronger.

I was happy to have stumbled upon this video, which gives a great summary from the creators and where you can see the companies authenticity shine through – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqTl7C2LTFQ)

When commenting to Advertising Age, Senior VP, Ms. Fremar, says the insight behind “I Will What I Want” was not “you go, girl,” she said. The goal was to celebrate women “who had the physical and mental strength to tune out the external pressures and turn inward and chart their own course.”

Ms. Fremar distilled the narratives to a few words: In Ms. Copeland’s story, “will trumps fate,” she said. And for Ms. Bündchen, “will trumps noise,” she added, a reference to the unforgiving media glare on supermodels.”(Schultz, 2014).

These types of media ads get attention – and they are getting it for the right reason. They are inspiring females to not look at themselves as a female athlete but simply as an athlete that can break any barrier presented to them.

My favourite line from the clip was “You don’t need permission when you have will”.

 I have never asked permission as an athlete to go to a certain gym, try out for a certain team but have always felt the looming judgments or stereotypes because I am a girl. If I’m cut, not strong enough for the next level or too insecure I should just give up instead of challenging myself.

Now through messages like these from Under Armour, they are changing how we see females in advertising and in turn in our own personal sport worlds for the better – showing that women can face fear, criticism, and surpass the limitations that society and ourselves have put on one another. Challenging us to have the will to want what we want and to go out and achieve it at any cost!





3 responses

  1. I hadn’t seen these ads before I read this post, so thank you for bringing them to my attention. I love them! Like yourself, the line “you don’t need permission when you have will” stuck out to me; how true! I think it’s really important that big companies like Under Armour continue to highlight the strength and power that women have, rather than portray them as passive beings. I think it’s interesting, however, that both ads had the women in sports bras. Do you think that although they are showing them as strong people, over-coming adversity, and criticism, they are still perhaps sexualizing them a bit? Sex sells, right? Why not promote one of their tank tops in the ad rather than a sports bra? I think showing their muscular and toned bodies is definitely adding to the advertisement, especially since they both did stereotypical feminine activities and so it shows that these women are athletes and not just a pretty face. I think that will always be a challenge for companies and for women to find the balance between being an athlete and being feminine.

  2. So happy you wrote about this! I was unaware of this campaign before hand. I absolutely loved how in Misty’s ad, they very much focused on the muscularity of her legs and how much strength it took to simply (but not simply at all) go on pointe. It really opened my eyes and helped me realize I had a stereotypical view of “dance” as a whole as being delicate, and societal’s definition of feminine. I really appreciate this new view.
    But as Erin pointed out about the sport’s bra, Misty was also wearing high cut short spandex. It may be because of of Under Armour’s top selling products is the bicycle cut spandex, that myself and the majority of other female athletes I know own, that the company wanted to bring another product to focus. Or to show off the muscularity of the glutes when doing ballet to show whole body work, instead of focusing on sexualization. I would like to think either of those options are true, but being a part of this class, I also have to think that this is a compromise for the male audience. I’d like to know what the reasoning behind picking these products for Misty to wear, from the company. Could they have used running shorts? A racer-back tank top?
    The ads are so relatable as all, if not most, athletes have struggled with adversity at some point in their career and had to overcome it to be successful. Growing up, I was told I wouldn’t make this, wouldn’t do that because I wasn’t tall enough, fast enough, skilled enough. Yet those that were tall enough, fast, enough, and skilled enough never made it as far as I did. This ad brought me back to those times but can also inspire many other girls to go after what they want, regardless of outside views and expectations.
    Overall, this is an amazing campaign and the explanation behind it, from the video you provided, it wonderful! I would really love to see more of these ads, especially those athletes outside of traditional sport. To me, those are the most interesting and ground breaking.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Megan!

    The woman’s body is subject to much speculation and scrutiny from the media, and the athletic body is no exception. Underarmour engaged with a really intuitive campaign on this front… the narrative is no longer regarding female athletes, but instead on athletes. Period. Athletes who can use force of will to meet all of their expectations for themselves.

    This is an important message, I feel. I can tell you right now that underarmour is not flattering for my own body shape, but the point isn’t about looking super buff–it’s about high-end athletic clothing to facilitate the drive to succeed in out goals. In this sense, underarmour becomes literal armour from criticism; it’s all about the drive, and always has been.

    Thanks again for sharing, you posted a thoughtful and well-organized post detailing the media coverage and internalized meanings of exercise and body image issues.


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