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 its campaign, "The Sport of Fitness."
Reebok can trace its history back to 1895, and was
officially named Reebok in 1958, but its U.S. resurgence came in 2005, when Adidas
acquired the company in a deal valued at $3.8 billion.
Last year, Reebok began a concerted effort to become a
leader in the workout, fitness and exercise category. 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-but its current
marketing mojo is built around the "sport of fitness" idea, and a campaign featuring
NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning in exercise and workout settings. The
campaign 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.
In January, Reebok signed a multiyear deal to become lead
sponsor of the Reebok Spartan Race Series, which tests competitors in a number
of progressively difficult obstacles. And the brand invigorated its fitness
message this year with "Live with Fire," a multimedia campaign that
includes TV, print, digital and social media.
Reebok's strategy has, however, come with a price. The
company last year saw its NFL alliance 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
recently, "We are sticking with Reebok."
(Speaking of "sticking with," while Reebok's lead agency is
McGarryBowen, N.Y., company execs said it will switch agencies in spring
2014 to DDB, New York.)
Yan Martin is head of global brand 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 and head of the running
business unit. He speaks here about the pros, cons and heavy lifting involved
with building and marketing the Sport of Fitness brand campaign.
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?
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 that is a
unique aspect of training. So first we needed to raise consumer awareness that
something different was happening with the brand.
How has that continued to evolve in 2013?
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.
How important have the Reebok CrossFit Games become to
the overall strategy?
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' on a weekly basis. The
power of doing workouts in a community makes it very rewarding in what you can
accomplish. The participants make it what it is. It is an organic [movement].
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.
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
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.
How did the alliance with Spartan Race come about?
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 the
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.
Did the alliance happen at that first meeting?
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 would do these types of activities.
How involved will Reebok be with Spartan Race as far
as marketing, branding, course signage and other activation?
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 [apparel] specifically for Spartan Race and obstacle course events,
which entails specific running shoes and more waterproof 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.
Reebok is an official partner of the NHL, and there is
a website attached to Live With Fire that features players including John
Tavares of the New York Islanders, Maxime Talbot of the Philadelphia Flyers and
Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche. Is that a marketing strategy that will
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.
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
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.
Are sportswear and sports shoe companies putting too
much emphasis on using pro athletes to sell merchandise?
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.
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?
It could happen. But star or celebrity are not necessarily the 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 inaccessible the way a
professional athlete might be. [This is] clearly an aspiration. They are role
models for what you could become through these activities.
Looking ahead through 2013 and beyond, what do you see
for Reebok and where it's going?
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 them to start
seeing Reebok the way we want 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.
This Q&A was reprinted with permission of