Reebok to Leave McGarryBowen, Return to DDB

Switch to Be Made in 2014, Ahead of New Initiatives, Launches

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A year after Reebok touted a return of its ad duties to McGarryBowen -- tapping the Dentsu-owned shop to work on a global campaign -- the marketer will once again make a change.

Yan Martin, head of global brand marketing for Reebok said that effective next year, he will return ad duties to DDB Worldwide, and the Omnicom Group network will once again be Reebok's global agency of record. The shift is not taking place sooner partly because McGarryBowen has just completed a campaign for the brand that 's expected to begin running in about one month, and Mr. Martin is "pleased with where that is going."

As of spring 2014, McGarryBowen will be replaced and the work will be led by DDB, New York and will include digital, social and broadcast. Media will still be handled by Aegis' Carat.

Asked what prompted the decision to revert back to an old partner, Mr. Martin said it's because he predicts that DDB will better execute creative work in step with marketing initiatives and product launches slated for 2014.

"What we set out to do as a brand over the last couple of years to really focus on fitness, while everyone is having an angle on performance of athletes," said Mr. Martin. "Our approach, we believe ... is how fitness relates to everyday people. The shift we are making is not a strategy shift. For what we need to do in 2014, there's better alignment with DDB ... we felt DDB was a better partner for us, knowing how they approach the creation process and how they tie it to strategy, we thought they would be a better partner for 2014."

According to its most recent annual report, which is for 2011, marketing for the Reebok brand was down 5% to $314 million, while marketing spend for parent brand Adidas brand is on the upswing.

Some industry executives say the agency shift is partly driven by a desire for a consolidation under Adidas, which works largely with Omnicom agency brands, such as 180 and TBWA, but Mr. Martin insisted he's free to make his own decisions.

During the time McGarryBowen worked with Reebok, the brand ran afoul of the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive marketing claims around its toning shoe. But that doesn't seem to have driven Reebok away from the product entirely, and the company has suggested it might continue to pursue the market with a different ad approach.

"We are 100% convinced, and have done more consumer insights to identify, that there is still a market for toning," Martina Jahrbacher, head of Reebok Women's Sport division, told Ad Age a few months ago. "It will not be as hyped as it was in the beginning. That's our job in the industry, to bring it to a reasonable level."

For McGarryBowen, which as recently as a couple of years ago was an unstoppable new-business machine, the loss of Reebok means it's starting out the year knowing that it is set to lose two big accounts. Pfizer has already indicated that it will move work back to WPP's Grey as part of a larger consolidation effort it is doing. Grey referred calls for comment to Pfizer, where executives did not respond by press time.

The agency has picked up a number of smaller pieces of business like Blue Cross Blue Shield, the U.S. Tennis Association and roster work for Procter & Gamble over the past several months. But if it wants to get its mojo back, it will need to aggressively focus on new-business activity in 2013 to fill revenue gaps.

In a statement, McGarryBowen said: "We are proud of what we've accomplished together with Reebok over the years. We have served as their lead agency partner twice in the last five years and helped steward the brand through some very challenging times. We wish them all the best."

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