Early in the 1990's, legendary art director George Lois steered advertising for Reebok's Pump shoes in a bracingly confrontational direction, getting athletes to call out Nike endorsers in the spots and chuck Nike Airs in the trash.
Pump marketing had failed to convince athletes or consumers that its air-bladder system was anything but a gimmick, Lois wrote in his book "$ellebrity" (Phaidon, 2003):
Except for the NBA players being paid to hustle them, no serious pro or amateur athlete would be caught dead pumping up and running in a pair of Reebok Pumps. The Pump needed to be repositioned in the consumer’s mind and with the trade as a serious sports performance shoe to save the dying brand. So I went one-on-one with Nike, telling consumers that the next time they buy sneakers they should nix Nike and Pump up!
Here Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason takes on pro football and baseball player Bo Jackson, star of the "Bo Knows" campaign for Nike created by Wieden & Kennedy. In the next quarter of the game, NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins addressed Michael Jordan.
"Paul Fireman, Reebok’s CEO, told me that the sales of The Pump saved his ass," Lois told Ad Age in an email years later. "About a month after the Super Bowl, I was fired. Huh?!"
Reebok was a tough client in those years, indeed naming Chiat/Day its lead creative agency in 1991 and firing it in 1993. Chiat/Day made the "Dan and Dave" campaign that faltered when Dan O'Brien failed to make the 1992 U.S. Olympic team and a pair of ads that ran in the 1993 Super Bowl, after it was off the account ("Shoot, Pass, Slam" and "In My Shoes").
An agency management group led by Lois bought Lois/GGK back from GGK International at the end of 1991 and renamed it Lois/U.S.A.
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