By Barry Janoff
April 26, 2013: Reebok has a desire to perspire, which goes back to its origins more than 115 years ago and was re-energized with the recent creation of "The Sport of Fitness."
The history of Reebok traces back to 1895 when U.K.-based J.W, Foster and Sons produced running shoes and then athletic shoes with cleats. The company was renamed Reebok in 1958 by Foster's grandsons and crossed the pond in 1979 when Paul Fireman negotiated a deal with the company to distribute and sell products in America.
The new history of Reebok traces back to 2005, when adidas acquired the company in a deal valued at $3.8 billion.
The really new history of Reebok began in 2012, when the company made a concerted effort to become a leader in the workout, fitness and exercise category. Although Reebok has maintained ties with basketball and football, and has continued to build its alliance with hockey — in particular as an official partner of the NHL — it was the "creation" of a new sport, Fitness, that jump-started the company's marketing juices.
In 2012, "The Sport of Fitness Has Arrived" campaign included NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, not on a football field but in exercise and workout settings. It supported, and in turn was supported by, the expansion and enhancement of Reebok's CrossFit Games, founded in 2011, which pits people against each other (and themselves) in intense workout, strength and conditioning events. Last year, some 70,000 athletes participated in the Games.
This year, more than 138,000 are registered to compete in regional events worldwide, with the top 48 men, 48 women and 37 teams scheduled to meet in the 2013 CrossFit Games July 26-28 in StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
In January, Reebok continued its push into the fitness category by signing a multi-year deal to become lead sponsor of Spartan Race, co-founded in 2010 by Joe De Sena and Andy Weinberg. The Reebok Spartan Race Series tests competitors in a number of progressively difficult obstacles, ranging from the three-mile-15 obstacle Spartan Spirit to the Spartan Beast and Death Race challenges.
The brand invigorated its fitness message this year with "Live with Fire," a multimedia campaign that includes TV, print, digital and social media, as well as a campaign in Canada that features NHL players John Tavares (New York Islanders), Maxime Talbot (Philadelphia Flyers), Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche). In addition to training and running, the campaign encompasses such categories as dance, yoga collections and walking.
Lead agency is McGarryBowen, NY, although Reebok said it would switch agencies in Spring 2014 to DDB, New York.
"Live with Fire" is also reaching consumers via such elements as an "Ignite the Fitness Fire" mobile application and support of singer Alicia Keys' global "Set The World On Fire" tour (as well as the Reebok Classic X Alicia Keys collection). In addition, Reebok's push behind physical fitness is being driven through BOKS, a free, before-school physical activity program that is currently in about 600 elementary schools nationwide. Reebok said it has invested more than $5 million over the past three years to BOKS and has committed over the next three years an additional $30 million to organizations and activities that promote physical activity and fitness.
Reebok's strategy, however, has come with a price. Reebok last year saw its alliance with the NFL come to an end, with rival Nike becoming the league's official on-field apparel partner. That and other factors led to lower sales for Reebok, which in turn led adidas late last year to cut its 2015 sales forecast for Reebok from about $3.9 billion to $2.6 billion. Still, as adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said during an international financial conference call on March 7, "We are sticking with Reebok."
Yan Martin is head of global marketing for Reebok (and a Spartan Games participant). He has been with Reebok since 2007, first as vp-product and marketing-hockey at Reebok/CCM, then as vp-head of the running business unit. NYSportsJournalism spoke with Martin about the pros, cons and heavy lifting involved with building and marketing the Sport of Fitness.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Are you seeing that your messages from Live With Fire and Sport of Fitness are resonating with consumers and that they are associating fitness with Reebok?
Yan Martin: For lack of a better term, this is a work in progress. The Sport of Fitness launched a new point of view for the brand, positioning fitness as a cornerstone for the brand. Historically, team sports have been more dominant at Reebok. Now we are focusing with CrossFit on the sport of fitness and is a unique aspect of training. So first we needed to raise consumer awareness that something different was happening with the brand.
NYSJ: How has that continued to evolve in 2013?
YM: How we are evolving the message from a creative standpoint in 2013 is that we are widening our point of view on fitness. Where it originally talked about fitness, now running is prominent, there is dance, yoga, walking, really establishing our territory as a fitness brand. We are saying these are the spaces where we will play. From a consumer standpoint, I don't think it is unfamiliar for them to see Reebok there, when you look at the heritage of the brand, where the brand was born. It is a brand born in fitness. So we are really going back to the roots of the brand but presenting it in a contemporary and what we think is a very progressive way in 2013.
NYSJ: How important have the Reebok CrossFit Games become to the overall strategy?
YM: It's growing. It's definitely a grass-roots movement. It is what it is primarily because of the community that is supporting it. It also is engrained in the culture in Reebok. I believe we have more than 1,000 employees who participate in the CrossFit Games or are 'CrossFitters' are a weekly basis. The power of doing workouts in a community make it very rewarding in what you can accomplish. The participants make it what it is It is an organic movie met. But the CrossFit Games bring it to a level of aspiration when you see the best in the world participating. But it is the people and the community in it who are really driving the growth of CrossFit.
NYSJ: Reebok recently signed a deal to become the presenting sponsor of Spartan Race. Is that a move to attract people who are serious marathon and endurance participants as opposed to the CrossFit workout/exercise demographic?
YM: Actually, that is a misperception about the comparison between the two events. We see a lot of alignment between the two. There are [competing companies] in the obstacle-racing category, but we feel that Spartan Race is right in the middle. There is a three-mile event for people who want to do their first obstacle-course racing. There is a 13-mile race for people who really want to challenge themselves. And there is one in-between. So it is accessible and still as challenging as you want to push yourself. And what we want is for people to challenge themselves.
NYSJ: How did the alliance with Spartan Race come about?
YM: I was the one who approached Spartan Race and Joe Desena, one of the founders. I drove up to Vermont (where they are based) to meet with Joe. I felt that they way they approached their events was unique, but also had some similarities with CrossFit and the way we as a brand believe in the power of community. We believe that people can become better if they push themselves, and that they can accomplish more working with others in something such as CrossFit and Spartan Race. That's what Joe created with Spartan Race. People might not think they can run while dealing with obstacles like climbing over an eight-foot wall or swinging on a rope between trees. But when they do, they realize that they have something inside of them they didn't expect. So when I met with Joe, that's how they presented their philosophy to me.
"[Sports brands] have created a society of fans who look up to athletes rather than a society built around exercising and movement for the betterment of the group. We are going back and saying that we believe it starts with the individual."
NYSJ: Did the alliance happen at that first meeting?
YM: It was a very informal discussion. I don't think they expected Reebok to approach them with a sponsorship proposal. But from a mindset standpoint, we actually have the same vision about people and why they would become involved with Spartan Race and why we as a brand people would do these types of activities.
NYSJ: How involved will Reebok be with Spartan Race as far as marketing, branding, course signage and other activation?
YM: As part of being the presenting sponsor for Spartan Race, we are the exclusive provider of footwear and apparel. We are working with them to develop a line of shoes and appeal specifically for Spartan Race and obstacle course events, which entails specific running shoes and more water-proof and water-resistant apparel. We will have presence at each event. Signage, people from Reebok talking about Spartan Race and our role. There is Internet presence now, and we are looking at growing the marketing presence and becoming more involved with on-site and long-term activation.
NYSJ: Reebok is an official partner of the NHL, and there is a Web site attached to Live With Fire that features John Tavares (New York Islanders), Maxime Talbot (Philadelphia Flyers) and Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche). Is that a marketing strategy that will grow?
YM: That part of the campaign is organic for us. It's running only in Canada. Our brand is very successful in hockey and with the NHL. We knew that some of the NHL players were doing CrossFit as part of their training, so we felt that for the Canadian market it would be an interesting way to combine our equity in Canada's national sport with the unique position of our brand.
NYSJ: The category of cross-fit training and exercising is growing, and it also seems to be more crowded than ever with such companies as Nike, Under Armour and Reebok parent adidas expanding their presence. What is Reebok doing to differentiate itself and have its message resonate with consumers?
YM: How we approach it is what sets us apart from everyone else. The core proposition of those other brands — be it Nike or Under Armour — is about team sports or putting professional athletes on a pedestal. It is not about the everyday individual/athlete becoming not just a better athlete, but a better person. Their proposition puts a premium on performance ahead of realizing yourself as an individual and realizing your potential as a person more than just as an athlete. If you look at our Live With Fire campaign, there is no asset there. It's all about regular people pushing themselves through regular fitness activities. We believe that sets us apart.
NYSJ: Are sportswear and sports shoe companies putting too much emphasis on using pro athletes to sell merchandise?
YM: To be honest, we believe that over the years — and we have been part of it — [sports brands] have created this society of fans who look up to athletes rather than a society that is built around exercising and movement for the betterment of the group. Now we are going back and saying that we believe it starts with the individual and that fitness can make a difference for all of us and not just aspirational for professional athletes.
NYSJ: Do you see a reverse strategy, where regular individuals who participate in CrossFit or Spartan Race become celebrities within the category who others look up to and who can star in marketing campaigns to inspire others?
YM: It could happen. But star or celebrity are not necessarily then right words. What I would say is that they become the aspiration of how you can fully realize your potential through these activities. There are people at Reebok who are coaches at CrossFit and are elite athletes who have finished top ten in the world. But they are very accessible. They are not unaccessible, the way a professional athlete might be. They are clearly an aspiration. They are role models for what you could become through these activities.
NYSJ: Looking ahead through 2013 and beyond, what do you see for Reebok and where it's going?
YM: We plan to stay the course. We really believe in what we are doing. There have been two steps to this point. Last year, we announced what we were about and having people see the direction Reebok was taking and getting to them start seeing Reebok the way we what them to see Reebok. As more people understand that, more of our initiatives will be engaging people one-on-one, throughout the events and partnerships we have and also in the way we marketing our brand. Social and digital platforms will play a bigger role. We are definitely fully vested in what we are doing as a brand. We believe that at the core. And we believe that our message is pretty powerful.
Reebok Sees Fit(Ness) In Alliance With Spartan Race
Back to Home Page