Umbro’s VP of global marketing on ‘getting back to what made the brand brilliant’

After losing many of its team and player assets when it was sold by Nike in 2012, Umbro’s VP of marketing Paul Nugent tells Marketing Week the brand is “setting a new direction” and focusing on football with the re-launch of its Speciali boot and sponsorship deals with “authentic” players and clubs.

After being owned by Nike for three years, Umbro was sold to the New York-based Iconix Brand Group in 2012, creating numerous challenges for the brand, which lost many of its assets including players and teams as part of the transfer.

Now, as it kicks off the relaunch of its “Speciali” fooball boot with a Clinic-created 10 minute film starring Real Madrid and Portugal star Pepe, Nugent says Umbro is looking to “express what we are as a brand” by focusing only on football and building up its roster of players and teams that are an “authentic” fit with the brand.

Q. How did being sold by Nike impact the Umbro brand?

During our time under Nike we invested heavily in the brand and tried to broaden the range beyond the football pitch and into lifestyle products. However, it was always going to be a marriage that was difficult. When you have two football brands under the same roof the parent will win and it was inevitable the sale would take place.

Nike put us onto a different level and connected us with great agencies and fantastic campaigns, but it was best for all parties to move on.

We lost an awful lot of our assets as part of that transfer. A lot of our players stayed with Nike and we came into a new world with very little. We were faced with the challenge of what the brand was going to be in its next phase.

Q. How have you changed the positioning of the brand since then?

I’ve always been of the mind that we often overcomplicated things and got caught up in a battle of trying to compete rather than expressing what we are as a brand. We’re focused now on only one sport. We’re clearing the legacy away and getting back to what made Umbro brilliant, which was being a brand that loved the sport it was in and created amazing product for athletes.

The message at the heart is about being “The heart and soul of football”, which was a line used in a 1990s campaign. It was important to bring that back in to how we’re going to connect with consumers going forward.

The traditional view of Umbro has been a gold old British brand, which is still true, but we’re trying to move it into areas where we haven’t previously been seen as belonging through product and sponsorships.

Q. How does the relaunch of Speciali fit into that strategy?

SE-Landscape-LayeredWe started to invest in other products with the launch of the Velocita speed boot and the UX boot last year to try to engage with a young consumer who didn’t know the Umbro story.

However, Speciali is our icon. It was cutting edge when it was launched in 1992 and lots of its attributes have remained, but it had lost its way a bit and had moved away from the essence of what the product stood for – beautiful simplicity. We wanted to reposition it back to what it was famous for and make it stand out in the modern game of colours and fabrication around football boots.

Q. How is the brand being promoted?

About six months ago Pepe approached the brand and asked if he could come back to Umbro. He had stayed with Nike after the transfer. It was the first boot he wore and he wants to end his career wearing it.

That led us to think of a different tactic on promoting the brand and we created a film that put him at the centre.

It’s in 110 markets and will go across print, out of home and digital depending on the market. Over the next week or so we’re releasing a Tumblr campaign asking people to share their Speciali moments from over the years.

Q. What challenges are you facing as you move into your next phase?

Our biggest one has been signing players. It’s so hugely competitive and the cost of entry to players is going through the roof.

We want to sign deals with people that want to work with us in a different way – we’ll use players in ways that other brands won’t.

Pepe wanted to do things with us and we’re close to signing two or three other players who have a similar approach and mindset. It’s not about high profile names but the content and stories you can tell.

Q. Do you believe you’re well placed now to take on your rivals in the competitive football category?

In 2013 we had no major teams, assets or players. In this industry that’s a bad position to be in. People were asking what has happened to Umbro or if we would close.

The catalyst was our ability to sign Everton. We landed the contract last year and are now in our second season. It was a statement of intent – we didn’t want to go out with promises of what we were going to do, we wanted to take real action, and from that moment onwards it’s been a huge snowball effect. Soon after we signed Hull City and Derby and we have a deal with Eindhoven meaning we’ll be in the Champions League this season, which is a phenomenal turnaround.

At the moment football is our focus. Our product will pop up in other sports but it’s important we’re specialised and focused. When other brands go off to the Olympics or Wimbledon, we’ll be talking about football 365 days a year.

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