|50 Cent (top) and Jay-Z (bottom) have signed major shoe brand deals with Reebok.
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The ad comes on the heels of a deal with 50 Cent to produce a signature footwear collection -- just six weeks after Reebok enjoyed immense sales success with a similar shoe line for Jay-Z. With such rivals as Nike and Adidas focused heavily on sport, Reebok is hoping the addition of music to its marketing mix will give it an edge with the young, urban audience.
However, some question whether the Jay-Z endorsement is right for Reebok. At Rolling Stone's Youth Culture conference last week, Jameel Spencer, president of rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Blue Flame Marketing & Advertising, said that while Jay-Z may endorse Reebok, he wears the competition's shoes.
"Jay-Z wears Air Force Ones," Mr. Spencer said. "He loves Nike."
Reebok, the No. 2 sneaker maker behind Nike, and Foot Locker are teaming up as presenting sponsors of the "Rock the Mic" nationwide tour, headlined by 50 Cent and Jay-Z, which kicks off June 25. 50 Cent is expected to wear his signature sneakers during the summer tour as a precursor to an ad campaign for his shoe.
"This is ... part of our strategy to align the brand with athletes, artists and events that reflect youth culture," said Micky Pant, Reebok's chief marketing officer.
Latin pop star signed
The ad campaign for 50 Cent's shoe, called the "G-Unit Collection by Rbk," is handled by Omnicom Group's Arnell Group, and will be introduced in the fall. In addition to the deals with 50 Cent and Jay-Z -- the first two non-athletes to score personal footwear deals with athletic shoe companies -- the company has also signed Latin pop star Shakira and has used singer Missy Elliott in spots.
While archrival Nike's signing last month of basketball stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony cemented the swoosh's reputation for garnering top-athlete endorsers, Reebok has quietly been going for another kind of credibility -- street credibility.
50 Cent is the hottest rapper in the business right now, having sold more than 5 million copies of his debut CD, Get Rich or Die Tryin,' which was released in February and is still on the Billboard Top 10.
In a statement, 50 Cent (nee Curtis Jackson) said: "Reebok's Rbk Collection is the real thing when it comes to connecting with street and hip-hop culture."
That connection is also established through the company's biggest athlete endorser, Philadelphia 76ers basketball star Allen Iverson, whose clothing, style and off-court controversy reflect his love of hip-hop. Mr. Iverson's I3 Collection has been a top-seller for several years.
Reebok's stock closed June 12 at $32.90, up 54.8% from a low of $21.25 on Oct. 8, 2002. Sales in the $15 billion athletic footwear market are up more than 7% over the past three years, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, which also predicts another modest gain this year. Similarly, Nike has seen the same kind of bump in its stock, up 43% to $55.30 on June 12, from a low of $38.53 on Oct. 10.
Reebok vs. Nike
And if Reebok can't beat Nike in signing the top athletes, it's claiming victories on smaller fronts. By partnering with Foot Locker in sponsoring the 50 Cent/Jay-Z tour this summer, Reebok is taking advantage of a rift between Nike and the country's No. 1 athletic footwear retailer. Earlier this year, Foot Locker cut its inventory of some of Nike's premier shoes; Nike responded by moving several hundred million dollars in business to other chains.
Baby basketball whiz
Reebok is also trying an inventive angle with its latest TV ad campaign, an in-house effort that features 3-and-a-half-year-old basketball whiz kid Mark Walker. Reebok spent a reported $1 million to sign the youngster -- all of it going into a college trust fund so as not to endanger the child's future eligibility should he pursue high school and/or college basketball -- and is touting him as the future of basketball.