Reebok backs new shoe with anti-Nike stance

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Reebok International this week launches its version of Apple Computer's revolutionary "1984" commercial. The brazen spot--first of four in a long-expected $15 million brand push created by Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York--ends with text that reads: "On July 3, you'll never feel the same. Reebok DMX. The best running shoe in the history of the world."

The date refers to the introduction of Icon DMX 10, the latest in a line of running shoes featuring the DMX cushioning technology that has performed well for the struggling No. 2 athletic footwear brand.


Two spots will air before the intro date, with a third going into rotation soon after. The fourth, slated for fall and promoting a new basketball shoe endorsed by NBA star Allen Iverson, could feature a tweaked version of the line.

The commercials also smack of Apple's "1984" in that they feature a drab, oppressive athletic world marked by conformity, with Reebok taking a stand for individuality. The first spot features 6,000 runners, all identical clones labeled with the same number--97005, the ZIP code for archrival Nike.

John Wardley, Reebok's director of global advertising, said that while the ZIP code reference is specific to Nike, the campaign--to continue into next year with new executions--comments on an industry in which all brands look alike and talk alike in an attempt to catch up with Nike.

He said the ads make a larger statement for the Reebok brand that isn't necessarily running-specific.


Ewen Cameron, a partner at Berlin Cameron, said Reebok's conviction is that its DMX-infused shoes are truly revolutionary.

At a time when Nike's brand has taken a beating at retail and on Wall Street, Reebok is the first major athletic brand to overtly exploit anti-Nike sentiment and the ubiquity of Nike's swoosh in a marketing communication. No. 3 Adidas has emerged as a viable Nike alternative, but hasn't trumpeted itself as such.

While Adidas is dialing up its ad budget 25%, to more than $20 million this year, its creative approach is decidedly non-combative. It has slated just four TV spots for the U.S. this year, each linked to a different sport.

Leagas Delaney, San Francisco and London, handles Adidas globally.

The marketer said it will ramp up TV spending in 1999, with 10 spots. Some may hit even earlier.

Some industry observers said Reebok should have struck at Nike sooner. While far from fully recovered, Nike's spring sales were said to be stronger than expected and its inventory backlog is decreasing.

"There's no better time for what we're doing than now," said Mr. Wardley. "We're going to scream from the rooftops that we're different and we have something special."

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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