How Reebok resuscitated its connection with youth market

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In mid-2003, Reebok had lost its connection to a vital consumer group.

"We needed to reconnect with the urban male," said Brian Povinelli, VP-global integrated marketing at the Canton, Mass.-based footwear and apparel maker.

The bold move to broaden its associations beyond sports figures by featuring pop-culture phenoms like hip-hop stars 50 Cent and Jay-Z in TV spots and signing them up for signature footwear collections, initiated a brand reinvigoration that continues today.

Having achieved its initial goal of wooing back the men who'd strayed, Reebok in the past 18 months broadened its communications to reach males and females in urban and suburban locales. "It's about putting out a message that resonates and is relevant to today's youth," said Mr. Povinelli. "If your brand isn't connecting [with consumers] on an emotional level, it's hard [for them] to make the conversion standing at the shoe wall."

Reebok's global brand platform, "I am what I am," created by independent New York City agency Mcgarrybowen and launched in February 2005 via a series of TV, print and outdoor executions, builds on Reebok's already strong links to celebrities and sports stars, and connects to its target by demonstrating an understanding of their issues. "Youth are struggling with individuation and belonging," said Lyle Tick, account managing director, Mcgarrybowen. "Reebok celebrates people who are true to themselves."

In one TV spot, Jay-Z talks about his childhood in New York City's Jamaica, Queens, while he is being fitted for a high-end suit in an upscale London tailor's shop. Shot as the musician speaks about how help from various people over the years inspires him to behave kindly toward others, the ad celebrates Jay-Z as someone "who has succeeded without compromising himself," said Mr. Tick.

In contrast to Nike's slick ads that command viewers to take action and "Just do it," Reebok's strategy is to invite people to do something in a straightforward way.

"I am what I am" is Reebok's first global campaign in nearly a decade. In addition to Mcgarrybowen, Reebok uses numerous agencies around the world, including The Arnell Group, New York; Leagas Delaney, London; and McCann Erickson in Japan. PHD and Beyond Interactive handle media.

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