Sports wear is now just about much as about fashion as it is function. So how are the major brands responding?
Erin Byrnes

5 Apr 2016 - 9:17 AM  UPDATED 5 Apr 2016 - 9:17 AM

If you haven’t seen the ‘active wear’ skit, treat yo’ self and take a gander now. We’ll wait here for a few minutes. Trust us; it’s worth it.

Like all good takeoff videos, the ‘active wear’ meme stuck around and reached far and wide because it was scarily spot on, and hit closer to home than a lot of us cared to admit.

Sports clothes aren’t just for netty training or yoga class – tights, runners, and a headband has become the uniform for women at Sunday brunch spots across the country.

Fortune Magazine notes that Nike’s sales to men is over 150 percent greater than the women’s line, an imbalance that Under Armour also experiences.

With fashion a huge factor in sports gear, a photo of an athlete in a particular branded jacket is no longer enough to move merchandise.

We take a look at how the major players are responding to the ‘active wear’ trend, and analyse their latest advertising campaigns aimed at women.


Nike, the leader when it comes to ‘sports wear as fashion’, have set the benchmark high

For the recent ‘Better For It’ campaign, Nike commissioned an eight part YouTube mini series titled ‘Margot vs Lily’, which follows the lives of two fictitious sisters who make a bet to gain real life friends and online followers respectively.

The 5-10 minute videos present the sister’s stories as a drama/comedy while subtly showcasing the brand through product placement.

At first, it’s all a little confusing, especially if you watch the videos without background knowledge.  It’s like a (much) cleaner and brighter episode of Girls, where the characters all wear Nike.

However, while the Nike swag is there, you often have to look for it, with the characters not only wearing the workout gear, but streetwear too.  

The series isn’t a must-see binge watch, but it definitely has a certain sense of charm and heart. By the end of the first episode, you’re invested in the outcome of the series, and the eps are easy to watch.

While it’s not reinventing the wheel for companies to build brand appeal by developing characters through a series of ads - remember Dougie the Pizza Boy – the advantage Nike has is the ability to direct customers straight to their site to  ‘shop the looks’ worn by characters.

In the same way viewers like to imitate the fashions of their favourite TV characters, Nike fans can do the same with Margot and Lily’s looks.

It’s a clever ploy - although one that requires a heavy time investment from customers.


Adidas have jumped on the fitness-as-fashion trend in a big way, enlisting designer Stella McCartney to put together a line for the brand, while they’ve also started selling the women-specific shoePureBoost X.

Adidas has also released a series of branded videos for their early 206 campaign, under the banner ‘I’m Here To Create’.

However, unlike the Nike ads, the Adidas venture is a little more traditional in that it features a star studded roster of athletes and personalities, such as WNBA star Candace Parker, model and T-Swift BFF Karlie Kloss, and tennis champions Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic.

Each film features content from the athlete’s own Instagram, and places the focus on

The ads are short and sharp, lasting roughly 30 seconds, with text whizzing  by quickly. While it’s nice to have pretty things coming at you in fast fashion, they can go by a little too quick. By the time you realise that you’re looking at a post of the empty swimming pool Ivanovic learned to play in, it’s gone.

They show a lot of content, but don’t delve deep into the athlete’s stories.

The Adidas ads don’t have the instant broad appeal of other campaigns. Quite often people lament their lack of creative ability (whether it be true or not), so ads boasting of the need to create something don’t necessarily inspire the masses.

And while the initiative to blend social media is admirable, the posts are also nothing fans haven’t seen before - they’re images and posts that have likely already been viewed millions of times.

The ads are a cool way to showcase athletes and give a ‘behind the scenes look’ at their lives, but they don’t necessarily showcase the brand’s products or present ‘looks’.

Compared to the Nike ads, the Adidas clips want to promote Adidas the brand, rather than what they’re offering in the new catalogue.  

Do people want to buy an Adidas hoody because they love Parker (admittedly her ad is, in our opinion, The Coolest), or do they want to wear them because they’ll look rad when they’re walking down the street?

The ‘I’m Here To Create’ campaign hinges on the former - future sales will tell if the decision pays off.

Under Armour

The smaller of the three brands is on the rise, with Business Insider reporting Under Armour is making established women’s clothing company Lululemon nervous.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has been quoted as saying they plan on growing the women's business to be "at least as large if not larger than our men's business."

It’s a big call, given the brand has become a huge player in the market thanks to endorsement deals with sporting superstars Steph Curry, Cam Newton, and Jordan Speith.

In 2014, the company made a huge push into the women’s market, unveiling the ‘I Will Want What I Want’ campaign featuring model Gisele Bundchen and ballet dancer Misty Copeland, along with skiier Lindsey Vonn, soccer player Kelley O’Hara, and surfer Brianna Cope.

Bundchen’s ad sees her attack a punching bag with vigour as online comments, both negative and positive, flash on the walls around her.

Copeland’s finds her dancing on stage and in a practice room, as a child’s voiceover reads a rejection letter telling her she had the wrong body for ballet.

The powerful advertisements present two women at the top of their game, despite being told they’re not good enough.

The brand’s use of the two popular personalities has been linked to rising sales, suggesting Adidas could be on the right track with its ‘I’m Here To Create’ ads.

Like the Adidas campaign, Under Armour rely less on product placement, and more on their ambassadors.

But what the Under Armour ads possess that the Adidas ones don’t, is the motivation/inspiration factor. There’s an overt message of ‘telling me I can’t do something only inspires me more’. It’s an empowering philosophy that hits home with so many people - women in particular.

The Under Armour ads, which are simple but beautifully shot, also show how effective celebrity endorsements can be, if there’s a powerful story behind them.

Copeland also appears in Under Armour’s ‘Rule Yourself’ series, which has a heavier lean on the performance aspect of the gear, rather than the look. It’s another advertisement that looks phenomenal.

But, as good as all of the above are, no campaign can hold a torch to the still incredible, still tear-inducing ‘Run Like A Girl’ commercial from last year’s Super Bowl.