John Wardley, Reebok's director of global advertising, awarded BBH's new New York office the business late last week, without a pitch.
Reebok Classic, although an underleveraged asset with declining sales, has great potential amid a fashion swing back to the casual-lifestyle athletic shoe.
PORTFOLIO AGENCY APPROACH
The appointment continues the portfolio agency approach Mr. Wardley implemented at the marketer last year.
Heater Advertising, Boston, is losing Classic to BBH but keeps men's and women's training, adventure sports, and basketball shoes. Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York, handles Reebok's brand advertising and the running category; Lowe Howard-Spink, London, does soccer.
"Our area of expertise is brand rejuvenation, the ability to change the fortune of brands that may have lost their way or relevance to today," said Cindy Gallop, 38, president of BBH's New York office and an agency veteran. Ms. Gallop is a former deputy managing director of BBH's Singapore office.
Mr. Wardley, an Australian, worked with BBH in a previous job, at Coca-Cola Co. BBH is a Coca-Cola agency in the U.K. and caught his attention with vivid ads for the Coke brand that were designed to fight off competition from generic colas.
Like most BBH campaigns, the ads also worked internationally.
"In my opinion, BBH is one of the world's great agencies, and when they said they were opening in New York City, I was immediately interested in talking with them," Mr. Wardley said.
The agency's strength in youth marketing, gained with clients such as Levi Strauss & Co. in Europe and Asia, also helped.
Also, Ty Montague, newly hired as creative director for the New York office, worked on Reebok a decade ago at Chiat/Day (now TBWA Chiat/Day) and free-lanced for Wieden & Kennedy on that agency's 1996 Summer Olympics project for Coke.
"There's a lot to be said to be the founding client of any agency," Mr. Wardley said. "They are going to want to make their first client relationship work and demonstrate that to the world."
Agency Chairman-Creative Director John Hegarty and Joint Chief Executives John Bartle and Nigel Bogle like to describe BBH as "one agency in three places," and the new office will adhere to the BBH ban on speculative creative work.
"We'll give brands a strategic vision of where they should go, but we don't do storyboards or slogans," said Mr. Hegarty. "Yes, that'll cut us off from 80% of the business. That's fine. It won't hurt us. That's not meant to be arrogance. It's how we do things.
SENSE OF ARROGANCE
"All great brands have a sense of arrogance built in. They have dos and don'ts. The problem with most ad agencies is they just have dos."
Reebok's $25 million behind Reebok Classic, a major increase, will aggressively push the trend toward clean, classic styling.
"Reebok Classic is the `athleisure' complement to Reebok's technical, performance products, which carry the brand's vector logo," Mr. Wardley said.
Reebok units in different countries had positioned and marketed Reebok Classic differently. Under BBH, a global strategy will be crafted and implemented.
Until now, Reebok used only print, outdoor and radio advertising for the brand, via Heater, but Mr. Wardley said TV is now possible.
Although Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, bought 49% of BBH last year, partly to give the British agency access to services -- such as media buying -- on an international basis, media buying for Reebok Classic will continue to be handled by Grey Advertising, New York.
Contributing: Anthony Vagnoni