Twenty years ago, Under Armour — a then emerging competitor athletic landscape coming out of Baltimore — delivered its debut brand campaign, “Protect This House.” The effort, highlighted by an intense and instantly memorable “We must protect this house” chant, helped earn the brand a spot among the industry’s giants.
Now an established force in sports footwear and apparel, Under Armour is bringing back its iconic campaign — and is leveraging its biggest stars for the moment.
Brian Boring, a 21-year Under Armour veteran, worked behind the scenes as the original “Protect This House” came to fruition, calling the experience “a dream come true for somebody coming up in the advertising game.” Now the company’s VP of global brand creative, Boring has been tasked with solving another creative challenge.
“What we wanted to do was work with the team here and dissect its essence — what worked then, what worked through the meteoric growth of the brand — and translate that into 2023 to dimensionalize it for a new generation of athletes,” Boring explained to FN.
The first decision was to use basketball to relaunch “Protect This House” rather than football, which was the force behind the 2003 effort. The timing of basketball is ideal, with the March Madness college basketball tournament looming and both the NBA playoffs and the WNBA season arriving shortly after.
The relaunched campaign features some of the brand’s highest profile hoopers, including four-time NBA champion Stephen Curry, WNBA champion Kelsey Plum, NCAA champ Aliyah Boston of the South Carolina Gamecocks and Bryson Tucker of IMG Academy, who is ranked No. 5 in the class of 2024 by ESPN.
“We know that March Madness is a hugely important cultural moment for this audience. And we know the athlete stable that we have resonates and is very important to this audience. Strategically, this makes sense,” explained Paul Nugent, Under Armour SVP of global marketing.
Boring added, “It was also a perfect opportunity for us to include some incredible women athletes. The sport of basketball is very inclusive. It’s played around the world, it’s played by both genders and the competition is very high. We have Aliyah Boston, who is a reigning champ — and Coach [Dawn] Staley makes a cameo with the rest of the women in South Carolina. And Kelsey Plum, who is new to the brand and has been a lightning bolt for us, she really embodies our spirit.”
This new campaign, Under Armour explained, will aim to convey the importance of fighting for one’s team and rallying around one another. This messaging will be delivered via a new “Protect This House” film, directed by Wes Walker, in addition to other forms of digital content.
To achieve its goal, each of the aforementioned athletes will reveal how they relate to the famed “Protect This House” battle cry in their own unique way.
“We asked them about the essence of it, what ‘Protect This House’ means to them, some of their rituals behind the game, what they use to rally together to become a team, to go through those ups and downs,” Boring said. “It’s born out of the athlete spirit, it’s born out of the athlete ritual.”
Although the original “Protect This House” is undoubtedly iconic, in order for the new effort to have similar success, both Boring and Nugent recognized it was time for a sweeping reimagining.
“If you look back at 2003, we were in the peak of the age of disruption in advertising. It was all about who can be the most disruptive. Under Armour was great at that,” Boring said. “When we dropped ‘Protect This House,’ it was unique and different — the staccato clapping, the call and response on TV. We knew we’re onto something. But we are no longer in the age of disruption. We are in the age of engagement. Our consumers and athletes want to be in the brand, they want to be involved. We considered that and asked, ‘How do we make this a more inclusive program?’ It still has the toughness, the brand DNA and competitive spirit, but we’re inviting more people into our house.”
Nugent added, “The reality is the audience we want to connect with, the 16 to 20-year-old team sport athlete, some of them weren’t even born when the first ad hit. There is a reality to this being an introduction to the tonality of Under Armour in a way that that generation, quite frankly, hasn’t seen. In 2003, that was through the lens of football and the tonality for that sport. We know that culture shifts and changes by sport, so the fact that we’re now introducing this through basketball, around March Madness with male and female athletes who are at the top of their game, is a huge difference for this brand. It’s a seismic shift and a great example of the evolution of Under Armour and where we are today.”
Despite the need for adaptation, Boring said using “Protect This House” offers more stability for the brand than creating something from scratch.
“‘Protect This House’ has never really gone away. As you walk the hallways here [at Under Armour’s HQ], if you go to a retail store or any grassroots or collegiate field where we have a presence, ‘Protect This House’ is still there,” Boring explained. “Teams have shrines built to this. Hoover High School in Alabama, a perennial football powerhouse, it’s written everywhere. When you go back in time and see how this was brought into sports culture, and then you see athletes still respond to it today, this is a brand’s dream. The equity is there, so why not take a modern contemporary approach and allow a new generation to take this to a new place?”
Looking ahead, although basketball was the sport behind the relaunch, “Protect This House” will expand beyond hoops and capitalize on other key sports moments.
“This is chapter one. This is the first moment in the year that we believe that ‘Protect This House’ is able to credibly stand up and tell our story, and then we’ll continue those chapters throughout the year,” Nugent said. “There’s going to be other chapters, all of the big cultural sports moments that are backdrops to our brand will play a role, and all of the major athletes on our roster will be part of the storytelling.”