Olympic advertising at its finest. We cannot get through the Olympic Games without a heartfelt tale of pure perseverance, dedication, and sportsmanship. And most beloved of all, the underdog story; coming from behind when nobody thought it possible.
The Underdog Story #1
- Steven Bradbury. Speedskater from Australia- 2002 Salt Lake City-
Being from Australia, Bradbury was not favoured to win. He had a tactic, though, he was a problem solver. Instead of using his power and speed, knowing he was not the fastest or most skilled speedskater, he used a speedskating tactic and hung back. In somewhat of a fluke, it worked. As is common in speedskating, there were crashes in every single race, including the finals, which enabled Bradbury to speed forward and win Australia a Gold medal in speed skating.
Take Away: Hang back and let others crash and burn. Then book it forward to take first place.
Remember Napster? Yeah. Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning’s original “P2P” (peer-2-peer) music MP3 ‘sharing’ program. It lasted about 3 years before copyright infringements bore down and they had to pivot. It was a hit, though, in it’s prime, it had over 25 million unique active users. An idea had been born, and a product that users wanted; an easy way to get music on your computer, for a low cost.
The days of downloading “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon from your ‘friends’ on Napster are gone. Replaced with a cost of $1.99 per song on iTunes. And maybe you’re still paying hundreds of dollars a year one dollar at a time. If you are, you shouldn’t be.
Mark Zuckerberg’s facebook status in 2009 said it all. Spotify didn’t launch in the US until 2011 (with the help of Sean Parker), but the company founded in 2005 by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon in Stockholm Sweden, was a game-changer for the music industry. Spotify did have quite a bit of upfront costs, which took the illegal and copyright infringement out of ‘get whatever music you want, whenever you want’.
Like sports, the music industry is an ever-rotating wheel. It’s always evolving (and not necessarily for the better, some would argue). Musically, sounds and tempos are both novel and recycled; genres reused and spit back out with flare. Music can define a generation. Although technologically speaking- records, cassette tapes, CD’s, MP3, wireless headphones- BOSE, the Echo- music is at the forefront of innovation. One thing that took a while to catch up was distribution.
Discover Weekly is the best part of every Monday– sometime’s it’s so accurate, I squirm for joy over the brilliant content being cast through my headphones; sometime’s it’s so embarrassingly accurate I do a double take on the Katy Perry and Hunter Hayes sound-alike tracks. (Who is this?!?) Spotify can even track the pace you run at and deliver tunes accordingly. They really get you.
So like Steven Bradbury, Spotify let those before him fall, and carefully pushed ahead to win with grace.
The Underdog Story #2
- Abebe Bikila. Runner from Ethiopia- Rome 1960-
He was as unknown name, sent last minute in place of an injured teammate. This barefoot marathon runner beat the world record that year and became the first black African to win an Olympic Gold Medal.
Take Away: If you are given chances, take them full on. Have the confidence to say, even though I didn’t even qualify for the big leagues a few months ago, does not mean you cannot win the race.
Under Armour was the new kid on the block in 1995. Kevin A. Plank was a football player for the University of Maryland. He felt that the cotton t-shirts he and his teammates sported under their gear were weighing him down- they were not efficient. Under Armour started in Planks’ grandmother’s basement in Baltimore, and he used all his savings to build the product.
Plank will tell you that when he started the company, his ultimate goal was not a big league corporation. His goal was to build a good product, and get through the next week one step ahead. For five years, Under Armour had one product, an undershirt. Although, it was arguably the best undershirt out there. Plank went to the garment factory in NYC and picked out a material originally made for women’s undergarments. You could say this was the beginning of ‘performance wear’.
Kevin Plank & Under Armour now have a ~4$ billion dollar annual revenue, and over 13,000 employees; its tops competitors include Nike and Adidas- two of the longest standing sports companies in the world, 1964 & 1949, respectively. 4 years ago, Lululemon was worth three times as much as Under Armour. Today, thanks to careful design and marketing, UA has stepped into the women’s fitness market and surpassed them.
Plank’s football discipline and love of whiteboards are often credited for the progression of his company. “I firmly believe that people don’t work for companies, they work for people,” says Plank. The slogan based company has motos to his employees littering the office walls.
Plank believes “there’s no such thing as a fast ramp.” In their first 10 years of business, they got no real credit for what they were doing. Yet Plank never devalued the product, either. Despite people telling him he needed some giveaways to make it big. $40K worth of products were purchased for the motion picture ‘Any Given Sunday,’ even though this brought the brand great advertising, it wasn’t given away. Later, people would say “Wow, Under Armour came out of nowhere.”
In the past few years, UA has taken a pivot and dove into the tech and software side of sports, acquiring companies that track and manage fitness through apps. It’s innovation and new technology that Under Armour has always believed in.
You could say that like Abebe Bikila, the barefoot runner from Ethiopia, Under Armour took their chance and ran with it. And despite it all, the one thing that is written in red ink in Plank’s office:
The Underdog Story #3
- Michael Phelps is the most decorated olympian of all time.
At the time of this post, he’s won 21 Gold medals, 2 Silver, and 2 Bronze. That’s more Olympic medals for an individual than some countries have ever won. He’s come in and out of retirement, battled some personal demons, and proven he’s still got it.
I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t an underdog story. Although he may not be an underdog Olympian, becoming the best in the world is not an easy task. So yes, sometimes the big dog wins and we’re happy anyway. This is Phelps 5th Olympic games- he isn’t in his prime anymore- so it’s still awesome to see a fan favorite, heroic and decorated athlete win.
Take Away: You don’t have to be the underdog. But you do need to know when to make the right moves and fight your battles.
Enter Kevin Systrom. He’s a smart guy, graduated from 2006 from Stanford University in business and engineering. So like Phelps, not quite an underdog.
Instagram is a beloved silicon valley, insta-fame story. Rumours say it took 8 weeks to develop the app and launch- Although we all know that no story really is that instantaneous. Systrom had spent the last year working on another app, Burbn, and Instagram is really just a pivot of that. Regardless, when hit the app store on Oct. 6th, 2010, it really was an insta-hit. With 25,000 users the first day, the app grew to 1 million users in less than 3 months. Less than 2 years later it was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in cash and stock. Today, the photo sharing app has 300 million Daily Active Users, with 500 million monthly active users.
And as you’ve probably heard, Instagram did something rather bold. Tired of sharing the market with their top competitor Snapchat, they decided to weed them out by simply copying their entire app.
Although still rather preliminary in details on how well Instagram Stories is doing; Nike reported 800,000 views on their IG story vs 66,00 on SC- so you can easily see why brands who already have a decent following on IG would ditch the snaps and focus their efforts there instead. Could this be one of the largest overthrows in decades?
All’s fair in love and war.