Under Armour’s first big film role was back in 1999’s Any Given Sunday, and from the very start, the brand wasn’t subtle about product placement. In that film with fictional NFL teams, Under Armor was the fictional league brand, with the camera tilting down to fill the screen with Jamie Foxx’s Under Armour jockstrap. Yes, UA’s logo was right on the money.
That logo can again be seen on Matt Damon’s chest in the latest promotional trailer-teaser, “Leave Your Mark,” for upcoming space thriller The Martian. But the brand’s role in The Martian runs deeper than just that logo. It’s one of a select group of films for which Under Armor has been a collaborative partner in the production.
Since Foxx’s jockstrap in Any Given Sunday, Under Armour’s logo has appeared in movies as varied as Warrior, Mean Girls 2, Battleship, Dodgeball, Fantastic Four, Hall Pass, No Strings Attached, Superbad, The Blind Side, Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, The Game Plan, The Other Guys, The Social Network, Bad Teacher, Expendables 3, The Gambler, 22 Jump Street, Takers, Million Dollar Arm, This is It and the recent Entourage movie.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seems practically under contract to wear Under Armour in his films, sporting the logo in Gridiron Gang, the Fast and Furious films and the GI Joe franchise. (Under Armour does, in fact, produce exclusive garments to keep what The Rock is cooking fresh.)
For Damon’s The Martian—which has been getting a marketing blitz that included Apple’s new iPad Pro promo—Under Armour has become the “Official Training Partner of the Ares Program.”
That’s the name of the film’s fictional NASA mission to Mars. The athletic brand even created a microsite around the astronaut’s (Matt Damon’s) training regimen, much like earlier this summer when Jurassic World created a fictional resort website with Hyatt at JurassicWorld.com.
And yes, you can buy Damon’s Under Armour Ares program gear. The deal came about through Martian director Ridley Scott’s marketing joint venture production company, RSA films, which has produced high-end branded entertainment with short films for Johnnie Walker (starring Jude Law) and Jaguar (feat. Lana Del Rey). William Morris Entertainment, Droga5 and 3AM were also involved.
— Droga5 (@droga5) September 10, 2015
The Martian is not the first time Under Armour has gone beyond a simple product placement to become part of the fabric of a film’s narrative and its marketing. In 2013’s retelling of the tragic Afghanistan battle that killed several Seals, Lone Survivor, Under Armour not only arranged in-film product placement but also a tie-in with the foundation behind the film. The brand released exclusive Lone Survivor gear and the brand’s director of outdoor marketing is still a Lone Survivor Foundation board member.
Before that, for 2012’s Batman trilogy finale The Dark Knight Rises, Under Armour released a line of fan gear based on fictional football team the Gotham Rogues with DC Entertainment. Not that Under Armour plays comic book favorites—the brand was a key promotional partner for Marvel’s Avengers series, including the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In the opening running scene in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Sam “The Falcon” Wilson struggles to catch his breath in his drab old classic sweatshirt while Steve “Captain America” Rogers laps him in his skin-tight, sleek, performance shirt, Under Armour logo front and center. Under Armour sells an Avengers-themed line of skin-tight gear, some of which you’ve likely seen at the gym, turning that pudgy middle-aged guy into pudgy middle-aged Thor.
That affinity connection is at the core of Under Armour’s success in Hollywood. Lone Survivor Navy Seal Marcus Lutrrell, Fast and Furious star Dwayne Johnson, Captain America heartthrob Chris Evans, Expendables 3 badass Victor Ortiz, and now girls-love-him/guys-wanna-be-him Martian Matt Damon — what all these Under Armour product placements have in common is off-the-charts audience affinity values for their stars.
That is to say, audiences—especially male ones—deeply want to be like these men (and their characters), and a compression shirt that lets them believe they’re just a little bit more like them is totally worth $59.99.