The spot, which will be introduced Monday, features Misty Copeland, a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, who appears not in her standard leotard and tutu but rather in a midriff-exposing tank top and an underwear style called Pure Stretch Cheeky.
The spot opens with Ms. Copeland, who in 2007 became only the third African-American female soloist in the 74-year history of the Ballet Theatre, in a sunny dance studio. She rises to the tips of her toes, the muscles in her calves as angular as bent elbows, and her bulging quadriceps resembling a soccer player’s.
“Thank you for your application to our ballet academy,” says a voice-over performed by a 14-year-old girl, Raiya Goodman, also African-American. “Unfortunately you have not been accepted. You lack the right feet, Achilles tendons, turnout, torso length and bust. You have the wrong body for ballet. And at 13, you are too old to be considered.”
Up-tempo music begins to play, and Ms. Copeland appears in the same outfit on a stage, now spinning, kicking, and leaping. It is not until the close of the minute-long commercial, when Ms. Copeland, finally at rest and looking triumphantly into the camera, is identified by name and as a professional ballet dancer.
An end card introduces a new tagline for the campaign, “I will what I want” — an elongation of a long-running slogan for the brand, “I will” — and the name of a new website for female consumers, IWillWhatIWant.com.
The commercial is by Droga5 in New York, with direction by Johnny Green and choreography by Marcelo Gomes. Under Armour says Ms. Copeland is the first nonathlete with whom it has signed an advertising contract.
The campaign also includes digital and outdoor advertising, which along with Ms. Copeland features the Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, the tennis player Sloane Stephens and the soccer player Kelley O’Hara.
Total spending to produce, promote and place advertising for the campaign is estimated at almost $15 million. Under Armour, which is based in Baltimore, spent $18 million to place advertising in the United States in 2013, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.
Annual revenue for women’s apparel for the company is about $500 million, half of men’s, at $1 billion, and Under Armour has long contended that its goal is for the women’s segment to grow as big as, if not bigger than, the men’s.
Leanne Fremar, the executive creative director of the women’s division at Under Armour, said that women have a broader sense of what constitutes an athletic activity, and that Ms. Copeland would resonate.
“Misty is a ballerina, she’s not a competitive athlete, but she brings a modern athleticism to a very traditional art form, and she pushes the boundaries on the status quo of the word ‘athlete,’ ” Ms. Fremar said. “There are a lot of sports, activities, hobbies and passions that women are engaging in that are athletic and physical and should be celebrated, whether it’s dance or soccer or kickboxing or spinning.”
Unlike the copy read aloud in the ad, Ms. Copeland said she never received a rejection letter that so starkly enumerated the reasons she was ill suited to be a ballet dancer. But she said that it accurately encapsulated the resistance she had faced throughout her career.
“Once I hit puberty I experienced all of those things,” said Ms. Copeland, who in March published a memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” written with Charisse Jones. “I was told I had the wrong body type, to lose weight, that I had to lengthen because I was too muscular and that my bust was too big.”
The fact that her sculpted physique, generally obscured and softened by tights and tutus, is so clearly rendered in the new Under Armour commercial will be validating to dancers, she said.
“A lot of people think of dance as a really sort of frivolous thing, that you just kind of get on the stage and twirl around,” Ms. Copeland said. But the commercial, she continued, is “showing the physicality of what it takes to be a dancer, and to be a professional ballerina, and is giving us the respect that we are just as hardworking as any athlete.”
The issue of body image is increasingly becoming a factor in marketing to women. In March, Clean & Clear, the Johnson & Johnson brand of acne products, introduced a social media campaign called “See the Real Me,” about building confidence in teenage girls. It included a video of a 13-year-old aspiring ballerina, Emma, who also struggled with having a body type and corkscrew curls that were not in the traditional mold.
“I’m different than other dancers,” she says in the video, which has attracted more than 493,000 views on YouTube. “My shoulders are a little wider, I’m taller, my hair is very, very crazy. I might not get a part in a dance because I don’t look the way a dance wants a person to look.”
Barbara Lippert, a former advertising critic at Adweek, wrote in a recent column for MediaPost.com that so many brands pitched to women have advertising campaigns about empowerment that it has become sort of a cliché. But Ms. Lippert reviewed the new Under Armour spot and was impressed.
“It doesn’t feel forced and manipulated and the same old, ‘We can do it, gals,’ sort of thing, and it’s not like another Dove commercial promising you confidence,” said Ms. Lippert, referring to the Unilever brand, which first introduced its Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004.
The commercial featuring Ms. Copeland is “very powerful because she has a very interesting story and is an inspirational figure,” said Ms. Lippert.