Life Is Not A Spectator's Sport: What Reebok Should Do Next
Coming out of a transitional period for the iconic brand.
It has been quite the tumultuous and uncertain last few years for the Reebok brand. Founded 127 years ago in 1895, the brand has fallen on hard times and with the completed sale of ownership from adidas to Authentic Brands Group as of March 1st – so much in a state of flux from the brand, and the announcement of Kerby Jean-Raymond's departure from the company as its Creative Director, where does the brand go from here? What should the philosophy be under new ownership and new creative direction to bring back that feeling of generations past? Let's explore:
History of Reebok
The adage is as true and tried as time itself; in order to know where you're headed – you have to know where you've been. Reebok was founded by Joseph William Foster and when the brand was first established, it set up camp in England. Now over time, operations. have migrated to Boston, Massachusetts. Reebok was once a thriving company, seemingly on the cutting edge of aerobics, thanks largely to the Reebok Freestyle model which was extremely popular after its advent in 1982. Being released only in women's sizing exclusively, the brand went on to earn $13 million in sales the following year. And from that began Reebok's expansion into fitness, tennis and basketball – the latter where the brand perhaps made its greatest strides. By 1985, Reebok now fully an American based company went public on the New York Stock Exchange and began to endorse professional athletes in the mid-'80s in both football and basketball.
It was around this time that Reebok touched close to $1 billion in sales and then widened their scope to include collegiate and professional sports. At the time, the brand's largest endorsement came in the form of an ultra-charismatic, seven-foot tall, No. 1 overall draft pick from LSU – Shaquille O'Neal. And from that partnership birthed a run of signature models which all but helped carry the momentum of 1989's Reebok Pump. The technology and marketing was genius and simply perfect for its time. Between the Omni Pump Lite and the iconic "pumping up" of the shoes before Dee Brown's no-look dunk in the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Reebok could do no wrong.
Reebok continued their share of their marketplace in aerobics and had a fresh new face to carry the torch on the hardwood. Meanwhile on the gridiron, Emmitt Smith was tearing up the NFL and helping the Dallas Cowboys become the team of the '90s. And where Smith was holding down the football end of the spectrum, Frank Thomas was in baseball with his "Big Hurt" signature. All this led to the moment where Reebok's fortunes would forever change and its popularity would take another leap – when a six-foot guard from Georgetown was wrestled away from the clutches of Nike and was a Reebok athlete. The 1996 launch of the Reebok Question, Allen Iverson's first signature with the brand would be the genesis of what is today, a lifetime contract with the brand.
From 2000 onward, Reebok would become a major player in tennis, thanks to Venus Williams who won the Wimbledon crown that year and Olympic gold in Sydney in both singles and doubles competition. Reebok then became the official outfitter for the NFL until 2012 and simultaneously carried outfitting duties for the NBA until their parent company adidas acquired them in 2005.
2010 – Reebok went the crossfit route and jumped on the bandwagon of the emerging full-body, intensity workout. And after failed attempts to continue in the performance basketball space, the brand stopped after the failure of Zig tech and doubled down in the crossfit space. The brand would resurface in the public eye after securing the UFC contract to outfit fighters in 2017.
All which led to 2021 and the sale of Reebok to Authentic Brands Group after financial troubles and diminished buy-in from adidas.
"Product has always been at the forefront of Reebok, and we are committed to upholding the standard that our brand fans and consumers have come to expect." – Matt O’Toole, President, Reebok Design Group
Recapturing the Glory Years x Looking Forward
In order for Reebok to truly thrive moving forward, the brand must do two things – (1) recapture the glory years; bottle their nostalgia and reconnect with their audience that made them formidable and (2) have a clear direction of who and what Reebok is in 2022 and connecting with today's consumer. And the brand recognizes this, as the press release stated; an essential pillar of Authentic Brands Group approach and strategy to Reebok is preserving the brand's DNA.
"Under new ownership, we have an exciting opportunity to reclaim our place in the market and take Reebok to even greater heights." – O'Toole
The brand's DNA is deep and rich, and we truly only see a fraction of what the brand has to offer. Under Kerby Jean-Raymond's direction, we've seen the refresh of the "Life Is Not a Spectator's Sport" campaign and tagline. The foresight moves the brand into the future while being true to its past and utilizing a today's generation voice to achieve connectivity. So here is how Reebok can expand upon that:
Reebok's current roster includes (a lifetime deal) with Allen Iverson, Cleveland Browns defensive stalwart, Myles Garrett, Cardi B and Victoria Beckham – as detailed by the brand's site. However, recapturing the glory years extend beyond re-releases of the Reebok Question across the full spectrum of the color wheel. While the storytelling aspect has grown with "The Answer's" signature line, it often feels the Question and other Answer signatures are becoming simply a run-on sentence at this stage. How can the brand leverage Iverson to center and ground the Hall of Famer's signature line. Perhaps a phone call to Jadakiss could be in order.
Myles Garrett can leverage the brand's presence in the NFL and in football. Resurrecting the Pump Pro Pitbull cleat would instantly turn back the clock and thrust the brand into a conversation starter. Garrett being a defensive player could prove lucrative for the brand opposite Emmitt Smith, creating a story based on the game of inches within the trenches. The perspective is fresh, it's unique. It places the brand's current face in football with the Hall of Fame running back and serves as an entry point to a re-release of the Reebok Scrimmage and Reebok ES22 Hexalite. Cardi B can continue to push forward the lifestyle aspect of Reebok, bringing in a mega collaboration with Victoria Beckham can serve as a call of women's empowerment in a pivotal time in our society. While also furthering Beckham's fitness arc within the brand's ecosystem. Utilizing the workout models that have become lifestyle staples for the brand can play front-and-center. Couple that with additional collaborators we've seen in 2022 alone; iconic streetwear brand, BAPE; the luxurious, Maison Margiela. Reebok is firmly established in footwear lore, it is simply making the brand potent in 2022.
Crowd sourcing may be another method by which Reebok can establish the brand's place within the 2022 footwear sphere. Just as Reebok worked with Pyer Moss, the executives in the C-suite have to think, "who is the next Pyer Moss?". The next brand that be partnered with where both parties benefit from the collaborative efforts and grow in stature, ideas, perspective, reach. Who is the next figure that can organically tie themselves to Reebok. Not simply and exclusively push product, but who grew up with Reebok, who is inspired by Reebok designs and product of yesteryear. Who can mine the brand's vault and reintroduce product, retool and remaster product that excites the consumer.
Those are the questions Reebok should be asking, in order to speak in a today's generation voice, but who can also bridge the gap to the brand's heritage. Who can take up the aforementioned, Jean-Raymond's mantle? Extremely large shoes to fill as he served as the brand's VP of Creative Direction, surely the brand would look for an experienced designer and creative to fill the role, but perhaps there is a by committee approach or even a burgeoning creative; including what his departure means for spring-summer 2023's collection that was led by Jean-Raymond.
As the consumer-facing questions loom for Reebok after the brand's sale, one thing is certain – heritage will be at the forefront. And that it is 100% the correct call. For a company that is a century-plus old, it has demonstrated the sustainability needed to survive and thrive for as long as it has. The new regime at ABG understand this and is keen to what has been missing from Reebok since adidas pursued the sale of the brand. "[Reebok] Its position at the intersection of fashion, sports and culture allows Reebok to be elastic while staying true to its celebrated ethos and unmistakable DNA," – Nick Woodhouse, President and CMO, Authentic Brands Group. Time will ultimately be the determining factor as to when we'll see what Reebok develops under new leadership with a renewed focus on heritage and brand DNA, but what we can hope is that it will be met with exuberance and continue to push the historic brand forward.