Repositioning: Reebok re-brands for hip-hop crowd

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Reebok wants in with the hip-hop generation. And the 44-year-old athletic shoe brand is willing to change its name to get there.

In a bold move onto Nike's turf, Reebok will introduce a new brand, RBK, in an ad campaign that breaks Feb. 8 during the NBA All-Star Game broadcast on NBC. RBK will start out as the moniker for a street-inspired young men's collection. It will then roll out to other Reebok products, including women's footwear and even a new chain of retail outlets.

"RBK will initially cover about 10% of Reebok's total sales," said Mickey Pant, chief marketing officer at Reebok. "But these are the leading edge, brand-defining products. This is where we see a lot of expansion in the future."

Reebok's Classic line, which keeps its name, currently accounts for 33% of Reebok sales. Women's shoes contribute 20%, while men's brands are at 45%, with the remainder coming from other branded accessories. Sales of the Reebok brand globally reached $2.5 billion in 2001, according to Mr. Pant; the company will release its earnings statement this week.

In the U.S., Reebok spent $55 million in measured media in the first 10 months of 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, with $22 million of that spent on men's shoes and apparel. Globally, the company spends some $250 million on advertising annually, Mr. Pant said.

Reebok trails Nike in U.S. sneaker sales. Reebok had 11.9% of the nearly $8 billion U.S. athletic footwear market at the end of 2000, while Nike had 42.6% and Adidas 11.3%, according to market researcher Sporting Goods Intelligence.

The integrated campaign for RBK, called "Sounds & Rhythm of Sport," was created by Omnicom Group's Arnell Group.

The strategy behind RBK is to associate it with a hip-hop, urban basketball scene, with endorsements from National Basketball Association star Alan Iverson, street ball players from Harlem's Ruckers Park team, and musicians such as Jadakiss, R Kelly and Missy Elliot.

"RBK has commissioned Arnell to take out Nike," said Steve Stoute, head of black music at Universal Music Group's Interscope Records and partner with Arnell Group CEO Peter Arnell in the urban marketing group PASS, which will handle event marketing for RBK.

Arnell, which handles Reebok's $8 million Rockport account, added the men's footwear and apparel accounts in November, along with Reebok's Classic line, which had been handled by Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York. Berlin Cameron, part of WPP Group, still handles women's apparel and shoes.

exclusive use

Arnell also works with Reebok on its National Football League and NBA alliances-exclusive deals to create sneakers, fitness apparel and equipment for league teams. The RBK logo will not be used for either Reebok's Classic line or any alliance products.

RBK will be used for the company's Alan Iverson line of apparel and shoes, including the popular "The Answer" sneaker; the "Off-the-Clock" series, a range of lifestyle shoes inspired by sports; and the X-Beam line, a development shoe that will use a lightweight plate material.

The RBK brand also will be used with Reebok's "EJ32" line endorsed by Edgerrin James, a running back with pro football's Indianapolis Colts; "Black Top" sneakers, designed for street basketball; ATR or "Above the Rim," lightweight basketball shoes; and the "M3" series, a sleek line of multipurpose shoes.

The new logo and hip-hop positioning are intended to go up against the popular Nike brand and its ubiquitous logo. "There's a new swoosh in town," said Mr. Arnell.

In addition to ads, Reebok plans cross promotions with retailers such as HMV and Foot Locker, and dedicated RBK stores in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. The stores will be designed by Arnell and will compete with Niketown.

The work from Arnell brings "an incredible energy and cultural relevance to the brand, which is what we have sorely needed," Mr. Pant said.

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