October 30th, 2009
11:25 AM ET

50on50 Countdown: My Under Armour Shopping Spree


Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

The other day I went to Sports Authority to buy a few ping pong balls for my children. I left with two arms full of high-tech athletic wear. I practically tripped over it: the mother lode of Under Armour. I grabbed everything in sight. Layer after layer. Long sleeve. Short sleeve. Cold gear. Heat gear. I even grabbed a pair of those tight-fitting spandex-type jogging pants. The person wearing them was shocked.

And so, as I checked out, weighed down, I had to ask myself, is this typical behavior of a man 48 days from turning 50? Am I a typical customer of Under Armour and the other popular athletic performance brands? Or, given my age, am I a potential brand killer? If the younger demo sees people my age jogging down the street in "compression wear" will they run the other way? I called Under Armour's chief of marketing to find out.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/30/muscle.mike.jpg caption="The author, Michael Schulder, in his new workout shirt." width=292 height=320]

The Gear

I hoped my spontaneous Under Armour shopping spree was more evidence that the highly prized 18-49 year old audience demo is a myth – that the 49 year old "cutoff" is arbitrary and meaningless given the 2009 lifestyle.

I was shocked – not appalled – but shocked to have the Senior VP of Marketing for Under Armour, Steve Battista, reveal the age range of his company's core consumer. Hint: "We have a definite target that skews young."

18- 49?

Nice try.

How about "8-24." That is not a typo. Under Armour's core demo begins at age 8, and lasts until 24. Based on that assessment, I concluded that I MAY not have behaved like the typical on-the-verge-of-50 year old during my Under Armour shopping spree.

Trying to Feel Younger?

Let me make this clear. I did NOT buy the clothing to make me feel young. In marketing, that kind of behavior is called the "halo effect." I'm not looking for a youthful halo. I just happen to be working out more often than ever and am in far better shape than I was when I turned 40.

UnderArmour's Battista told me I'm not alone. At least not entirely. I'm what he calls an "outlier." Not the kind of outlier described by author Malcolm Gladwell in his book about unusually successful people. I'm an outlier because one wouldn't necessarily expect to see someone like me wearing the brand. But we're out there.

Fellow Outliers

In fact, the other day I shared this story with an acquaintance of mine, 57 year old Lary Rosenblatt of Creative Media Applications children's programming. As a children's programmer, Lary spends his life thinking young. And he acts it too. Lary remains a competitive tennis player more than 30 years since he played on his college team. All those years, he says, he stuck to his traditional cotton whites, with wool socks. Until, one day, post-50, his sister bought him an UnderArmour tennis shirt. "It blew my mind," says Lary, using the language of a young baby-boomer. "It didn't get heavy like my cotton shirt. It dried off quickly."

Lary's not looking for a halo effect. He's simply entered a new world. The wicking world.
We go for the looser fit, which Under Armour and its competitors now offer. As Battista puts it, "still wicking, but not tight." I'm afraid that slogan might be tFailor made for me. Still wicking, but not tight.

Am I A Brand Killer?

Now, about that possibility that people like Lary and me, by wearing clothes marketed to YOUNG athletes, could actually hurt the brand, Battista doesn't think so. But he acknowledges that "there are some people who look better in our stuff than others." He has seen people, he says, where he's felt like saying "please don't wear this." He adds, diplomatically, "let's leave it at that."

Aah, but I can't leave it at that. I understand, as Battista tells me, that the appetite for this athletic wear starts at 8, when, in football for example, the boys join the youth league and want to look like their big brothers on the high school football team who want to look like the college players. "And everyone," says Battista "looks up to the guys playing on Sundays."

But I buy his brand, and others like it, because of their core message. It performs well when you're working out. Which leads me to the core questions driving me in my final days before turning 50 . Is 18-49 the golden demo?

I don't know yet. But I'll tell you this.

Under Armour's Senior Vice President of Marketing, Steve Battista, who was kind enough to share his insights with us for this story, is 35 years old. He is smack in the middle of that prized 18-49 demo. But he exited the Under Armour demo many years ago.

Steve and I are outliers.

This weekend's 50on50:

My conversation with the chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting - one of the most knowledgeable men in the business about audience viewing patterns, marketing and ad sales. Does he think the 18-49 demo is out of date? Will he kill my premise? Find out tomorrow.

Find all of Michael Schulder's 50on50 columns here.

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