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Under Armour signs supermodel Gisele Bundchen

FashionUnder Armour Inc.Gisele Bundchen Kevin DurantLindsey VonnNBAOklahoma City Thunder

Two days after Nike outbid it for NBA superstar Kevin Durant, Under Armour signed Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen to represent the brand.

Despite the bad news about Durant, the stock market embraced Under Armour's stock Tuesday as shares shot up 4 percent, closing at $71.13 each.

The signing of Bundchen reflects the growing importance of the Baltimore sports apparel maker's sales to women. Marketing experts called it a smart move to expand sales to women seeking both performance and style.

Under Armour, in the midst of its biggest-ever campaign targeting women, announced the signing by posting a 30-second teaser video on YouTube Tuesday morning.

"Under Armour announces the signing of Gisele Bundchen, international fashion icon and athletic female, as the latest addition to the 'I Will What I Want' campaign," the company said in an emailed statement after posting the video.

A spokeswoman offered no additional details.

Under Armour kicked off its nearly $15 million women's campaign earlier this summer with ads featuring American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, a departure from using more traditional athletes as the face of the brand. The company said it wants to appeal to female athletes and athletic females alike as it aims to grow its $500 million women's business into a segment that will rival or exceed the core men's business.

Bundchen joins her husband, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, as an Under Armour pitchperson. Experts say she possesses not only international celebrity status but crossover appeal in the worlds of fashion and fitness.

"Gisele has mass global appeal, that's evidenced by being the highest earning model in the world," said Matt Saler, director of sports marketing for Baltimore advertising and marketing firm IMRE.

Bundchen earned an estimated $47 million last year, making her the world's top earning model for the past eight years, according to Forbes magazine. She's appeared on thousands of magazine covers, secured one of the biggest contracts in the fashion industry with Victoria's Secret and spearheads fashion business ventures of her own.

Bundchen joins downhill skier Lindsey Vonn, pro tennis player Sloane Stephens, pro soccer player Kelley O'Hara and pro surfer Brianna Cope in the new "I Will" campaign.

"They've developed a nice portfolio of women athletes or women influencers that have cross-over [appeal] in fashion and fitness," Saler said. "All have mass appeal on a global level. As they continue to grow their women's brand to a global audience, you'll continue to see more of these signing that fir the mold."

Like Copeland and the others in Under Armour's women's campaign, she's viewed as a success story.

"The Gisele signing is an interesting addition for Under Armour because it gets them a little farther away from strictly performance positioning, but that's necessary for them to grow," said Howe Burch, president of Baltimore-based TBC Advertising. "Fashion is a part of the appeal of the category, and Gisele certainly brings that sensibility to Under Armour. It's an acknowledgment by them that there's a strong fashion component to this category that needs to be considered."

Under Armour now has the ability to branch out beyond being a performance brand because "they've so effectively established their performance credentials by signing high performance athletes," he said.

Bringing on someone with international appeal also is key, Burch said.

That's not to say Under Armour isn't also going after athletes to pitch its products. It reportedly offered Durant, who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, a 10-year-deal worth $265 million to $285 million.

It's unclear whether it was coincidental that the Bundchen announcement came so soon after Durant's decision to stay with Nike, but it could help stoke the competition, Burch said.

"Whether or not she will be as effective in selling products as Kevin Durant is for Nike, that remains to be seen," Burch said. "This is an opportunity for Under Armour to one up Nike. … 'You may have outmaneuvered us on the Kevin Durant front, but we're going to outmaneuver you on the women's front."

In the Under Armour video, Bundchen is shown dressed in an Under Armour jacket and capris walking into a nearly empty loft. She laces up black Under Armour athletic shoes, slips off the jacket and stretches her arms before approaching a heavy punching bag for a boxing workout the viewer never sees.

In similar fashion to the popular Copeland video, viewed by more than 5.8 million people since its unveiling in July, the Bundchen video ends with a closeup of the athlete and the tag line "I Will What I Want." There's also the teaser, "Coming Sept. 4."

"They're trying to make a splash in an industry where the advertising always has celebrities," said Amna Kirmani, a professor of marketing at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "She has celebrity of her own as a supermodel and highly paid woman, and the celebrity of the couple, which is separate, and I think Under Armour wants to make a statement."

While Kirmani said she wouldn't have predicted signing a fashion model as opposed to athlete, it makes sense.

"Under Armour wants to be a fashion athletic brand, and that's were a lot of these athletic brands are going," she said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FashionUnder Armour Inc.Gisele Bundchen Kevin DurantLindsey VonnNBAOklahoma City Thunder
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