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Volume 22 No. 32
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‘Protect This House’ fired up UA’s marketing

Like so many things during Under Armour’s early years, “Protect This House,” the brand’s first TV brand campaign, was a fortuitous mixture of grassroots authenticity and a meager marketing budget.

“Kevin wanted to do a TV ad, and of course we had no money,” said Steve Battista, an early employee and longtime steward of the Under Armour brand, reflecting on that 2003 effort.

Two agencies came in, asked for more than Under Armour was willing to spend, and said the ad would have to explain why athletes should wear the company’s form-fitting shirts. Even then, Under Armour preferred a brand message.

Battista called in Producers, a Baltimore production company, and still didn’t like what he heard about production costs. However, Producers had a lower rate for what they termed a “corporate video.”

“I asked if they could do a 30-second corporate video,” said Battista, now Under Armour’s senior vice president of

The campaign, produced on a shoestring budget, delivered the message that the underdog was ready to play.
Photo by: Under Armour
global creative. Voila, the price was right.

At Plank’s apartment one Sunday afternoon, the brand anthem was scripted, “writing down every football cliché we could think of,” Plank recalled.

Mark Mason, a former Maryland running back and teammate of Plank’s, had a habit of taking every handoff from practice to the opposite end zone, all the while screaming “To the house!” When Battista tweaked it to “Protect this house,” some, including Plank, thought it was corny. “This isn’t Meatballs against Camp Mohawk,” Battista recalls Plank saying.

At the time, few football ads seemed authentic; almost all featured game action and pretty faces. “Protect This House” was an anthem about the training, sweat and camaraderie that goes into preparing for game day: gritty, hyperkinetic, muscled athletes, involved in a rhythmic training ritual.

Plank called in favors from many of his former Maryland teammates, asking them to appear in the ad. It was filmed over three days in an abandoned warehouse in Baltimore within which afternoon temperatures reached more than 100 degrees.

Former NFL defensive end Eric Ogbogu was one of very few who were paid in cash, and his convincing performance turned “Protect This House” into Under Armour’s anthem.

“They weren’t pretty but they were tough, and the aspirational athlete looked at that and identified,” Producers President Rip Lambert said. “That message of ‘us versus them, and we’re the underdog and we’re coming’ really resonated.”

The ad also hit home for unintended reasons.

After 9/11 the “protect this house, or home or country, just became an idea that was right for the times, so it resonated,” said Howe Burch, president of TBC Advertising, Baltimore, and a former Fila and Reebok marketer.

Once Stuart Scott and David Letterman did parodies, Under Armour knew it had a hit. Plank said production costs were around $500,000, which is one-tenth of a percent of Under Armour’s current $500 million marketing budget.

“We spent more on making it than we did running it,” he said. “That ad was panned by all the traditional [advertising] media, but it became our anthem and in the days before things went viral, it definitely produced a buzz.”