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by Kate McMahon

A riveting Under Armour commercial revealing an intense, bearded Michael Phelps training for the Rio Olympics made waves when it debuted in March.

By the time Phelps won his history-making 23rd Olympic gold medal on Saturday, the one-minute-thirty-two-second clip had become a social media tsunami. The number of views just on YouTube jumped from 9 million to more than 10.5 million while I was clicking through over the weekend. It is further proof that social media sharing platforms have disrupted traditional TV advertising in ways marketers could not have even prophesied a decade ago.

The ad, part of Under Armour’s #Rule Yourself campaign, shows Phelps’ grueling training regimen, including the “cupping therapy” that left circular bruises on his back and shoulders.

There is no dialogue, just a soundtrack consisting of the haunting and fittingly named “The Last Goodbye” by the indie rock band The Kills. The 31-year-old Phelps took to Facebook Saturday night and re-affirmed his plans to retire from competitive swimming as the most decorated Olympian of all time.

The Under Armour ad, like so many of the recent Super Bowl commercials that now premiere before the big game, points to the revolutionary change in the way we view content online and how we measure effectiveness.

As Adweek reported last week, the Phelps ad is one of the most shared Olympic spots ever, with 56% of the shares coming from Facebook followed by 28% on Twitter. Data from the mobile video ad tech company Unruly drills down even further, showing the spot resonated with its target audience – millennial males age 18 to 34 – and elicited a sense of inspiration among 68% of that group.

The Under Armour ad won praise for its authenticity – yes, that word again. Phelps signed with UA, based in his hometown of Baltimore, in 2010 and said he grew up wearing Under Armour. By not mentioning the Rio games, the ad slyly gets around the Olympic rule which prevents non-sponsors from referencing the Olympics in their advertising or on an official website.

Interestingly, UA also has been siphoning Rio limelight from sportswear behemoth Nike, capitalizing on its sponsorship of some 250 Olympic athletes, including the golden USA women’s gymnastics team. While Phelps was required to wear bright yellow Nike sneakers when he collected his five golds and one silver medal since Nike is the official supplier of Team USA medal stand uniforms, he was quick to promote two Olympic sneakers UA designed just for him this year.

UA also stuck by Phelps in what he called his “downward spiral” after the 2012 London Olympics – including a second drunk driving arrest and a stint in rehab that made his 2016 comeback even more remarkable.

Michael Phelps re-wrote the Olympic record books this year, and social media is re-writing the way companies connect with consumers on a daily basis. The ones that do not embrace this change will be left in their competitors' wakes.

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