Under Armour has done it again: their 2017 video with Yusra Mardini is spot on. These are my thoughts on why this piece of visual storytelling with a Syrian refugee turned Olympic swimming athlete works so well.
Yusra Mardini’s story before the spot
Yusra’s originally from Syria, but had to flee the country in 2015 when her city was bombed. When crossing the Mediterranean Sea on a life raft, her boat got into trouble. This prompted Yusra, her sister and two other refugees to jump into the sea and push the boat to safe havens. They saved the lives of 18 other refugees in this act, after the men on board had apparently already given up. In the end, Yusra made it to Berlin and tried to build up a new life there. She continued her training and joined the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team. She actually made it to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Under Armour has a special place in my heart since they shot this amazing spot with Michael Phelps.
Yusra Mardini has also been the youngest UN Special Envoy of the UNHCR. In 2017, Under Armour picked up on Yusra’s story and thought she fit perfectly in their athlete roster. The brand makes it a habit to sign athletes not just for their athletic achievements, but also for the stories. I personally love this approach. Consecutively, the brand produced this excellent spot to celebrate her signing and introduce her to the world.
Under Armour’s I WILL spot with Yusra Mardini
So back to the actual spot. The symbolism in Yusra being a swimming athlete, and swimming as a refugee is striking, and Under Armour uses this smartly. In her own words:
“I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea, because I am a swimmer.”
The video shows several aspects of the training regimen Yusra has adopted, including throwing some punches and running. What grasped my attention was how Yusra tells the viewer in her own words how her history helps her overcome obstacles in her present day life.
“I shouldn’t be alive today. I should have been killed by the bomb that hit the pool in Damascus. I should have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. I should have been one of the many faces of refugees who died along the way, but I am here, alive because I kept moving. So many things tried to stop me, break me, so many times something whispered, this, now this will defeat you.”
The climax comes when Yusra lies on the bottom of the pool she’s training in. She’s fighting for breath, seemingly about to give up and be defeated, but then comes the payoff:
“But I kept moving … And now when my exhaustion rises, I remember. And my strength just rises higher. It says greater thing than this have tried to stop me, and I keep moving.”
Finally we’re shown the line “Turn your pain into strength,” and Under Armour’s tag “I Will.”
Creative discussion of Yusra Mardini’s video
Under Armour chose a similar creative strategy for this video as they did with the Phelps video. Abstract shots in the pool are combined with more ‘real’ lifestyle training shots. Of course these shots are heavily produced too, but I like how Under Armour tries to make them appear true to reality. There is no obvious inflation of the athlete’s effort and I totally believe this is what it would look like in real life. I like this approach in visual storytelling with athletes. My goal is always to put the athlete on a pedestal, without overdoing it. Credibility is the key word here.
What I also liked about the visuals was the focus, or actually lack thereof. Many of the close up shots of Yusra’s face have a shallow depth of field. The focus misses the obvious spot, which are her eyes. I can’t help but think this must have been a very conscious decision. The ‘sloppy’ focus adds to the feeling of drowning, having your life thrown upside down and struggling to regain, yes, focus.
In conclusion, this video works so well for me because it centers on just one athlete, who has no unique story. It’s not the usual shallow ‘train hard’ story we’ve heard a million times before. It’s dealing with extraordinary circumstances and fighting to be the best you can. Yusra may never medal at the Olympics or become the world’s best athlete, but I’m convinced she WILL work her ass off to get as close as she can. Notice how 90 percent of this article has focused on Yusra Mardini and not Under Armour? That’s how sports brands should use athletes in their marketing. Market the athlete, not the brand. Brand sympathy and loyalty will follow.
Lead image courtesy Under Armour
CREDITS as mentioned by Adweek
Agency: Nordpol+ Hamburg
Creative Direction: Tim Schierwater, Sebastian Behrendt
Copywriters: Simon Rösel, David Krumwiede, Janet Champ, Aaron Kaplowitz
Art Direction: Bekim Terzija,
Agency Postproduction: Maximilian Fritz, Noel Lent, Jana Strüwe
Accountants / Strategy: Leonard Schlenk, Niklas Franke, Aylin Özsüyek, Natalie Rukuschewitz
Film Production: Smuggler
Service Production: Tempomedia
Executive Producer US: Patrick Milling Smith, Allison Kunzman
Executive Producer UK: Fergus Brown, Trine Pillay
Production Manager: Adam Evans
Producer: Gunnar Meyer
Director: Björn Rühmann
DoP: Kolja Brandt
Editor: Alexander Jurkat
Sound Design: Wenke Kleine-Benne, NHB Studios
Music: Gordian Gleiss, Shai Caleb Hirschson, NHB Studios
Colour Grading: Toby Tomkins, Cheat
Post Production: Cheat