I’ve had some critical things to say over the years about the use of poetry in advertising, but this Under Armour ad does it right. First off, they hire a contemporary poet, Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo, rather than re-purposing some out-of-copyright Walt Whitman or whatever, and they give her credit right up front: “words by Safia Elhillo.” (I saw a performance poetry-style ad for Transport for London two years ago that didn’t credit the poet at all.) Second, it actually feels like a real filmpoem: the words and images go together in a fresh and interesting way, suggesting that the poet worked closely with the (uncredited) filmmakers. I’m especially impressed considering how tired and cliched this kind of athlete-triumphing-over-adversity narrative has otherwise become in American television.
Perhaps that’s why the Under Armour advertising people decided to hire poets. This is one of a series of poetry-film ads they’ve produced, each with a tie-in to the Winter Olympics. An article in the Baltimore Sun by Lorraine Mirabella, “Under Armour unveils Lindsey Vonn film ahead of Olympics,” has the whole story:
Under Armour has put out a short film on Lindsey Vonn in its Unlike Any women’s campaign, just days before the start of Winter Games in South Korea, where the world champion skier will compete in her first Olympics since 2010.
The campaign, which celebrates female athletes who shatter expectations, looks at ways in which debilitating injuries and setbacks have served to motivate Vonn. The alpine skier missed the 2014 Olympics because of a serious knee injury. Last year, while training, she broke an arm.
The video is set to a poem by Safia Elhillo, author of last year’s The January Children, who wrote the piece specifically for Vonn. It’s called, “Kintsugi,” the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum.
“This is what I became each wound filled with sunlight to bond my old self to my new,” the poem goes, recited in its debut in the film by the poet.
Under Armour has been working with Elhillo over the past few months on the poem and film, which is a new, remix of Vonn’s original Unlike Any video released last fall.
“It accentuates not just my strengths, but also my weaknesses and my story and coming back from adversity,” Vonn said in a Sun interview in October. “I’m strong because of everything I’ve been through.”
The sports brand launched its Unlike Any campaign in July. Each of five films featured spoken word artists who created poems to fit stories of each of five athletes, Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theater principal ballerina; Alison Desir, founder of Harlem Run Crew; sprinter Natasha Hastings; professional stuntwoman Jessie Graff and Chinese taekwondo champion and actress Zoe Zhang.
Under Armour said the latest Vonn video, coming off her World Cup wins this past weekend, was inspired by the athlete’s “undeniable strength and dedication to her sport…Lindsey is more than ready for gold.”
A videopoem by Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron for the title poem from Tania Hershman‘s debut poetry collection with Nine Arches Press. A song by Tania’s brother Nick Hershman, “You Get What You Deserve”, is also incorporated into the soundtrack, and the interplay between the two texts is part of what makes this work so well, I think.