What Martin O’Malley could learn about being an underdog from Under Armour

By Abe Novick

The conventional wisdom of pundits and onlookers of past political races all have placed their bets for the 2016 Democratic nomination on Hillary Clinton. It’s believed that she has it so locked-up, rivals could only be either running a fool’s errand or vying for an eventual Cabinet post.

Indeed, Hillary is so well known, she’s irrefutably become a mega-brand as recognizable as Oprah or Ellen, both of whom also don’t even need a last name to be identified.

Meanwhile, aside from hoping for a miracle from above, what’s a former Governor and Mayor like Martin O’Malley to do? Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Clinton at 62 percent to 1 percent for O’Malley, who is reportedly set to announce his candidacy Saturday in Baltimore.

While gazing up towards heaven is fine, he should probably look right down to the place he considers home, where one of the most successful underdogs arose to rival a giant.

I speak of course of Under Armour and its earth-shattering rise as a brand since the mid-1990s all in the shadows of that brawny goliath, Nike. Under Armour has been on such a growth tear that last year it overtook the legendary Adidas AG in footwear and sports apparel with U.S. sales totaling $2.6 billion compared with $1.6 billion for Adidas.

While UA’s story is one of stratospheric ascent, it still falls short of the $11.8 billion in U.S. sales that Nike rang up for the same period. But in the minds of voters, just like the minds of apparel and sneaker consumers, positioning a brand as number two, is far better and closer than number five, which is where O’Malley now drifts — behind Vice President Joe Biden and senators Elizabeth Warren andBernie Sanders (of those three, Sanders is so far the only primary challenger to Clinton).

In politics, as in business, to achieve a number two position is to be in striking distance. Moreover, it’s not so farfetched to see how a large, powerful behemoth can crumble of its own weight. In 1984 IBM was the big global tech giant whose market cap dwarfed the value of Apple several times over. Today, Apple is the most valuable brand on the planet. What happened? Apple, personified by Steve Jobs, became the rebel to big blue and revolutionized an industry. It created the idea of a personal computer in its Apple II and with an attractive box and color graphics, it became a must-have for the masses.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the riots in Baltimore, the former big-city mayor has a cause to champion and can carve out a disruptive position from which to shake loose the presumptive nominee. Appearing on “Meet The Press” this month and with a fire in his belly, O’Malley told host Chuck Todd, “I am more inclined and more deeply motivated now to address what’s wrong with our country and what needs to be healed and what needs to be fixed.”

He sounded like a fighter — more specifically, a challenger. That tone and determination had the ring of Under Armour’s Founder and CEO, Kevin Plank in an interview he had with Ad Age Magazine after UA was named 2014 Marketer of the Year by the pub. Plank said, “There is just a cultural attitude at Under Armour of we can be a little better, we can push a little harder. So why would we set our sights on anything but being No.1?”

Not to go unnoticed by the writers of the story, they also picked up on the employee cafeteria named Humble and Hungry.

O’Malley and his campaign team are obviously aware of the polling data and that they are faced with a Clinton machine in possession of major donors, a logistical ground-game on a state-by-state, granular level not to mention she’s perhaps the most famous women in the world.

Yet to borrow one more example from the world of business, there once was a company called Kodak whose yellow box icon owned the photography and film industry. A disrupter in the form of digital photography came along and, well, you know the rest.

For O’Malley to march to the nomination he’ll need that kind of innovative approach, the luck of the Irish and most importantly, we’ll all have to believe.

This post was originally published in the Upstart Business Journal.

Abe Novick, a strategic partner with Kalix Communications, heads up his own consultancy, AbeBuzz.com.



President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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