Champion has long been associated with sports, a reputation it built over decades manufacturing uniforms for NFL and NBA teams. But in recent years, the HanesBrands athleticwear label has worked to expand its identity beyond the field, including through a 2020 capsule collection inspired by General Mills cereals.
Today (Sept. 13), the brand goes even further with the launch of a new global campaign, “Champion What Moves You,” that focuses on people who champion causes — not just those who become champions in sports. The purpose-driven effort features creators from around the world — from rappers to street artists and shoe cobblers to athletes — who turn personal passions into impactful contributions to their communities.
The push includes 15-, 30- and 60-second spots across social media platforms and the brand’s digital channels, and includes a Champion Creators Program that provides product and funding to up-and-coming creators. The effort also goes hand-in-hand with the first launches by Champion’s new Global Vice President of Design Jay Escobara.
“This is really a highlight on our existing consumer base and really wanting to celebrate them,” said Champion’s President of Global Activewear Vanessa LeFebvre. “We’re bringing some product that’s based on their feedback and some of our archives to market. We’re excited to be able to bring the best of Champion and make it new again.”
In an interview with Marketing Dive, LeFebvre — who joined HanesBrands last year after stints at companies including Adidas, Stitch Fix and Macy’s — explained the thinking behind the campaign and why the brand has committed to purpose.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
MARKETING DIVE: What was the process behind rethinking the meaning and the definition of Champion as a brand?
VANESSA LEFEBVRE: I joined the organization about a year ago, and the team and I have been working on what matters to Champion. Its purpose was incomplete. Through that process of defining our purpose came the sentiment of: Is Champion a noun or is it a verb? Classically, Champion has always been about wanting to define what it means to be a champion. We did a lot of research; we were listening to consumers and to youth culture about where they’re at and where their minds are. A lot of them are facing issues of mental health and questions of, what is our purpose and what is our reason?
Through that, we really started to go back to the roots of Champion and this concept that self-expression is self-care. Our purpose has always been to be a canvas for self-expression, which led us to this pathway that Champion is a verb. We have always been championing others. Playing with that idea led to this more powerful purpose statement that we want to champion a better tomorrow and that really unlocked a lot of the work that we’re doing. That simple thought process of shifting from a noun to a verb really changed our way of thinking and it was that “a-ha” moment that you always want.
How did Champion approach finding creators for the “Champion What Moves You” campaign?
LEFEBVRE: After we had a purpose, the idea “creators with purpose” became our muse. They inspire action, they’re going to push boundaries, they’re going to move culture forward, they’re going to build communities. They’re athletes, artists and musicians who fit these criteria. We were able to partner with Flare Marketplace and really tap into their network of creators and fit people that we think uniquely represented the creators with purpose definition.
We’re really excited about the portfolio of our freshman class of influencers, because we think this has legs that go beyond this class, and we’re really excited to be able to have a global representation. We have people from the U.K., China, Japan, Latin America, Australia and here in the U.S., and that was very intentional. We’re a global brand but we also know that people see themselves as global citizens connected by some of these shared values: We all want to champion a better tomorrow.
Somebody like SignKid, who is a Deaf rapper and is really communicating with a community in a different way, is really relatable. When you see his story, it actually doesn’t matter where in the world you are. The story hits home and you understand his message. Or the Little Devils softball team, in Mexico, this group of women who are, through sport, coming together as a community and championing the ability to play, have an outlet and build a community together. Being able to highlight these different communities and individuals is really bringing our purpose to life and using our medium as a platform for self-expression.
What inspired the global approach to the creator roster?
LEFEBVRE: Think about going through your own feed… I'm often watching content from different places around the globe, and sometimes I’m not even aware of it. That is something that we want to harness.
Sixty percent of the Champion Instagram handle is actually outside of the U.S. That surprised me when I first got into this role. It’s a U.S. brand, but we have a much more international consumer, yet the content historically was much more U.S.-based. When you start to really look at who is playing with our brand, who is interacting with it, there are all of these really interesting people around the globe that the brand means something to, and they’re using our brand as their mechanism for self-expression.
How will the Champion Creator Program work?
LEFEBVRE: We’re allowing people from different backgrounds to apply and we’re rewarding them with products — actual blanks — for them to utilize. We’re also allowing them to apply for some funding to support their endeavors, as well as providing exposure.
We’ve had these creator meetings where our Head of Design Jay Escobara has shown up, and through that, he’s fostered relationships with some of the creators. We want to continue to create those interactive moments because we know that giving exposure to up-and-coming creators is an important component of this. This is access to product, access to funding and access to talent that we think is key. Right now, it’s starting in the U.S. However, we believe that we can do this at a global scale within our different markets.
“Champion What Moves You” comes as purpose-driven marketing is increasingly under a microscope. How is Champion navigating these risky waters?
LEFEBVRE: Our commitment is to make sure people understand how important it is to have a purpose and to be true to that, we want to highlight the fact that self-expression is a form of self-care. It’s more about inviting a community to share and to express that’s the important ingredient here. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that you should be part of a community. For me, I think it’s just reminding people that we are all connected, that we all have some of the same values, that we all need to be able to express ourselves and that having a purpose and having values is important, no matter what those values are.