Under Armour's new #WEWILL marketing campaign will include the launch of a local effort to more deeply engage with Baltimore by encouraging and soliciting volunteerism, honoring local "heroes" and better promoting its own efforts to improve its home city.
The #WEWILL initiative is a variation of the #IWILL tagline that the apparel, footwear and fitness tech company has employed since 2008, reflecting an emphasis on team and unity that Under Armour believes will resonate with consumers.
The company said "#WEWILL" will be used globally — in conjunction with the old phrase — because it connotes teamwork and "how sports has the power to unite and inspire."
The campaign's Baltimore-specific component launched Friday with an employee town meeting at Under Armour's "Building 37" in Port Covington and the unveiling of a website — www.wewill.city — where Baltimoreans can enter their zip codes and sign up for volunteer projects — such as mentoring or school or neighborhood cleanup — in their area.
"This is where we come together to realize the full potential of Baltimore," the site says.
The initiative will be announced more broadly on Sunday in a 60-second TV ad during the Ravens season-opening game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"A few of us moved here, but now we are many," begins the ad in the deep voice of rapper King Mez. The ad depicts neighborhoods and street scenes and includes glimpses of local photographer Devin Allen, former NBA star Muggsy Bogues and other Baltimoreans.
"We grew up in this city. Made our name in this city. But there's more we can do," Mez says in the voiceover.
The campaign combines philanthropy and marketing.
Executives at the 21-year-old Under Armour said they believe the company's contributions to the city aren't widely known.
"We sat down about four or five months ago and really assessed how are we doing in the City of Baltimore with regard to ensuring there is an awareness about what Under Armour is doing and what (CEO) Kevin Plank is doing in the city. And what more can we do?" said Adrienne Lofton, the company's senior vice president for global brand management.
"Our usual approach — which is always a humble approach — wasn't effective," Lofton said. "A lot of people said they didn't know what we were doing."
Among those was Ericka Alston-Buck, CEO of Penn North Kids Safe Zone, a nonprofit center in West Baltimore.
"Under Armour has seemed like a company that was in Baltimore as opposed to a Baltimore company," Alston-Buck said.
Under Armour invited Alston-Buck to be on a "listening committee" as it sampled community views before launching the initiative. The company also recently contributed funding — Alston-Buck said it would be premature to say how much — to the Kids Safe Zone, where kids in the community can play.
She attended Under Armour's town meeting on Friday.
"They clearly as a company knew they weren't doing enough," she said. "What happened today was phenomenal, seeing how much they really care. I walked away feeling this investment is genuine."
Under Armour and the city are partners in Port Covington, a massive mixed-used development anchored by a waterfront headquarters for the company and assisted by $660 million in public bond financing. The Port Covington campus has been designed to accommodate as many as 10,000 employees, nearly five times the 2,100 at its current base. New property tax revenue generated by the project would go to repay the city bonds.
Under Armour currently is based mostly in brick buildings at Tide Point, where Procter & Gamble once manufactured soap products.
The company is in transition following two consecutive quarters of losses after nearly seven years of double-digit sales gains. It said last month that it was cutting about 280 jobs — 2 percent of its global workforce — as part of a restructuring to adapt to the rapidly changing retail and athletic apparel market.
The new website describes Under Armour's existing efforts in the city. Those include renovating the James McHenry Elementary Middle School this year and Westport Academy in 2016. Similar volunteer work by Under Armour employees is planned for Thomas Johnson and George Washington elementary schools.
The brand has opened recreational centers, renovated firehouse fitness centers, refurbished gyms and field spaces for kids, and distributed 5,000 backpacks to students to begin this school year.
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The website includes a section honoring city residents as "Baltimore's Best." The first to be cited is Tonette Towler, a school crossing guard at James McHenry.
Under Armour said it plans to eventually help other cities with volunteer efforts, not just Baltimore.
It said it has committed $100,000 to the nonprofit Team Rubicon to support recovery from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and a team from the headquarters, including Plank, visited Houston to assist with the organization's efforts.
The company seems to have "doubled down" on its philanthropic efforts, said Jill Heath, CEO of the Landover-based Heart of America Foundation. The nonprofit, which helps schools in disrepair, has partnered with Under Armour on a number of projects.
"The epicenter certainly is Baltimore," Heath said. "But it's laddered up to a global message that sports can change the world and be a unifier."