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Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, abruptly resigned Reebok International's estimated $100 million ad account; the decision coincided with the marketer handing a major global assignment to Boston boutique Heater Advertising.

Burnett had seen its relationship with Reebok erode after the athletic footwear marketer earlier this year said it wanted to look for ideas from other creative resources.


Reebok is currently testing a big, new advertising initiative, spearheaded by Heater, that's slated to launch in spring 1998. Reebok VP-Advertising Brenda Goodell confirmed that a teaser effort could hit as early as November.

Burnett will continue servicing Reebok for 90 days (see story, Page 4). Ms. Goodell said instead of going into a full creative review, Reebok will work with a variety of outside creative resources, with Heater taking the lead.

Reebok will begin hunting for a new media-buying agency. It will also look for resources in the 23 other international markets that Burnett handled.

Reebok regards the planned global campaign as the creative breakthrough the sneaker marketer has long sought; Ms. Goodell called it "very relevant to today's generation."


The campaign is said to be starting simultaneously with a total revamp of how Reebok's brand and product are presented at retail. Reebok executives told shareholders last week the company has contracted Medical Computer Co. to work on the initiative, suggesting a high-tech/interactive media component to the effort, which will be announced within weeks.

Earlier this year, Reebok and Burnett agreed to look together for boutiques outside the mainstream to tap for new ideas. However, it's believed that endeavor turned sour for Burnett, which began to believe Reebok's ad approach was becoming executional in nature, clashing with Burnett's more strategic advertising philosophy and fragmenting the Reebok brand.


"It has become increasingly apparent that our philosophies toward partnership and marketing were out of sync with Reebok's, which was inhibiting us from delivering our best brand-building work," said Burnett Chairman-CEO Richard Fizdale in a statement. Another Burnett executive denied the split had anything to do with the involvement of outside agencies, attributing it to philosophical differences.

"I don't think I would ever select creative that would undermine our brand strategy," countered Ms. Goodell. "I think what they're upset over is that I selected creative work that they didn't create." She added that Burnett's resignation didn't come as a surprise. "The time was right for us to part."

A Burnett spokesman said the split wasn't the result of any single incident but "an accumulation of situations" since 1994, when the agency's first work for Reebok debuted. On the night of May 1, Mr. Fizdale phoned Ms. Goodell to resign the account. Mr. Fizdale tried to resign to Reebok Chairman-CEO Paul Fireman personally, but couldn't reach him.

Heater's first Reebok work aired last week in National Basketball Association programming on Turner Network Television. The spot congratulated NBA star and Reebok endorser Allen Iverson on being named rookie of the year.


Since winning the account from what is now TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., Burnett has struggled to produce work that could compete creatively with Reebok archrival Nike, handled by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and communicate a distinctive brand identity.

Reebok, a hard-to-please client that has gone through an array of agencies in 10 years, has admitted its strategy has been unfocused.

In January 1996, Reebok and Burnett launched the "This is my planet" campaign, which they considered a breakthrough brand statement. Retailers supported Ree-bok's move toward Nike-like brand advertising, but found "This is my planet" too vague.

Later that year, Reebok restructured its marketing and ad departments, and Burnett revamped its Reebok account team. Reebok also began talking to Lowe & Partners/ SMS, New York, about U.S. project work, but those talks collapsed and aren't likely to be revived.


In February 1997, Reebok and Burnett moved in yet another creative direction with a documentary-style campaign called "Reality." The campaign successfully launched the basketball shoe line endorsed by Mr. Iverson and a new athletic footwear cushioning technology, the DMX Series 2000.

Burnett estimates Reebok's 1997 billings would have been between $45 million and $70 million. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Reebok spent $101 million on advertising last year in the U.S., its biggest market.

Burnett said the resignation will have minimal impact on the agency's bottom line. Over the past 15 months, Burnett said, the agency has added $500 million in new billings. A spokesman said the fate of the agency's Reebok staffers will depend on the outcome of several current pitches.

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