REEBOK STEPS BACK TO THE '70S;VIZ/HEX LINE WILL BE TOUTED BY THREE 'ORIGINAL GANGSTERS' STARS

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Reebok International is recruiting some "Original Gangsters" from the 1970s to provide marketing muscle this fall.

The No. 2 athletic footwear marketer, seeking to pump up the entertainment quotient in its advertising, has signed "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius and "blaxploitation" film stars Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree and Fred Williamson to headline a $10 million campaign launching its Viz/Hex footwear.

Viz/Hex marks the return of Reebok CEO Paul Fireman's direct involvement in the design and development of the company's footwear. In the past year, Mr. Fireman has been under intense pressure by shareholders to reverse Reebok's flagging stock price.

ADS TO FEATURE IVERSON

The ad campaign from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, will also feature Allen Iverson, the top pick in last week's National Basketball Association college draft. Reebok plans to make the college star and Philadelphia 76ers rookie one of its top banner carriers.

Reebok and Burnett are now developing a separate Iverson spot that would hit this fall. Mr. Iverson, whose nickname is "The Answer," was originally scheduled to get his first solo spots next February with the introduction of his own shoe line.

The Viz/Hex campaign, consisting of six spots, will hit in two waves, the first during the back-to-school season in late August and the second during the holidays. The first wave will feature Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith, Detroit Lion Herman Moore and Saudia Roundtree, who will play in the new women's American Basketball League that will begin play this fall.

The second wave will feature Mr. Iverson and Seattle Supersonic Shawn Kemp and John Daly, the young and sometimes controversial golf star.

GOING TO `THE DON'

The ad campaign has Mr. Cornelius playing a "Godfather"-type character called "The Don" and has Ms. Grier and Messrs. Roundtree and Williamson playing his enforcers. Each spot has a Reebok athlete asking "The Don" for a favor and having to swear an oath-"This is my planet," Reebok's tagline-to get it granted.

Reebok follows Converse, Nike and Fila USA in appropriating hip-again 1970s pop culture in its ads. Its blaxploitation riff is inspired by the fact that Ms. Grier and Messrs. Roundtree and Williamson recently starred in the well-received but little-seen film "Original Gangsters."

LOOKING FOR HUMOR

Scott Helbing, VP-communications & integrated marketing, said the spots continue Reebok's effort to instill some levity into its advertising.

The campaign will finish out the year for Reebok, though a separate spot starring Shaquille O'Neal, introducing his Viz/Hex shoe, will hit in December.

Mr. Helbing said Burnett has begun work on another batch of "This is my planet" spots that will launch early next year.

The first wave of the Viz/Hex spots will also serve to promote Reebok's second season of NFL-licensed apparel. Additional support will come in the form of outdoor advertising and radio spots in key NFL markets.

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