The Metamorphosis of Reebok

Fipping pull-ups. Handstand walks. Climbing rope. Trudging through mud. Reebok showcased these movements in its popular advertisement that aired during Super Bowl 49 in 2015. Its message: “Be More Human.” The man running at night is actually a firefighter during the day. The fierce boxing instructor a mother. The waiter that goes outside on his break is practicing his toes-to-bar. The encouraging, yet firm voice in the background says: “Why do we do it?  We’re doing it to be better. Period. Better leaders. Better parents. To be… more human.”

Reebok supports the idea that leading an active, healthy lifestyle will also help strengthen relationships with others. Pushing to be more interactive, Reebok developed the “Human Test,” which measures a person’s humanness via a series of questions. At the end, the test offers a short summary based on the respondent’s selections. Instead of using famous athletes to sponsor its shoes and clothes, Reebok uses people with everyday jobs. The athlete-idolizing days are over. Instead, Reebok sends a new kind of message: It wants to help you become a better version of yourself; you don’t need to be anyone else.

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Reebok’s new logo. – Source

Reebok did an excellent job in making an advertisement not feel like an ad. It barely shows their new logo, the red Reebok Delta symbol, and hardly focuses on any of the company’s products until the very end of the advertisement. Reebok creates the perception of caring for its customers by using the advertisement as more of a motivational campaign rather than trying to sell products.

It is not the first time a company has played on human emotion to build a relationship with its audience. Budweiser has done it frequently over the last few years, using the friendship between an adorable puppy and their trademark Budweiser Clydesdales to tug at people’s heartstrings. McDonald’s, Coca Cola, and Nike have also used this strategy.

Emotional branding has become a popular practice for these companies, a marketing strategy employed in order to sustain customer loyalty. The most common approach is the age-old story of a hero emerging from humble beginnings to overcome difficult circumstances. Reebok uses this strategy with a twist of its own. There is no external enemy, but rather an internal foe: Our own lack of motivation and laziness.

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Reebok has partnered with music artists like Kendrick Lamar. – Source

Reebok has grown from selling tracksuits and sneakers to covering almost every market imaginable. From partnering with music artists to selling paleo bacon, Reebok is paving the way for a new generation of branding.  Reebok defines its brand as:

Fit for Life. Having Fun and Staying in Shape. Unlike many other brands, Reebok is committed to making fitness aspirational and fun again – by providing consumers with experiences, products and the inspiration to be Fit for Life. By creating inspiring product and brand experiences… We expect you to have a positive attitude, to believe in yourself and your team and to see challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles. You always strive to go further, break new ground, and surpass your limits.

Even after Adidas officially purchased Reebok in 2006 for $3.8 billion, Reebok has constantly been overshadowed by more popular competitors. It was not until it began to rebrand itself as a personal fitness lifestyle and partnered with CrossFit that sales began to climb. In 2013, Reebok’s sales grew by 13% in the first quarter, based on CrossFit merchandise alone (Urbach).

According to the main CrossFit website, “CrossFit itself is defined as that which optimizes fitness through constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity”. CrossFit was founded by Greg Glassman in 2000 and has since grown into a worldwide fitness trend (CrossFit.com). What some would consider a type of grassroots fitness movement, CrossFit incorporates various elements from other sports ranging from Olympic lifting to gymnastics, producing what many people call “the fittest athletes on earth.”

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CrossFit athletes – Source

In a CrossFit box, or gym, participants train in groups. There is a set program that usually consists of three parts: the warm up; the strengthening and skills, where certain movements are practiced; and the actual workout of the day, also known as conditioning. This training regimen can be done by people of all levels of athleticism. So what is the difference between squatting in your local gym and squatting at a box?

Sebastian Medina, a coach at CrossFit Clearview in Queens says, “As far as workouts go, not much. Any person can go into the gym and lift, or go to a park and do dips and pull ups. What makes us different is the community [and] family you build in that gym.”

After CrossFit’s first international games in 2007 were a success, it was no surprise that CrossFit would partner up with a sports brand. What was surprising was that Reebok was chosen over the sports giant, Nike. Reebok is now synonymous with CrossFit, setting the benchmark for other brands to integrate more than just endorsements from professional athletes.

Part of this success can be due to the change in physical fitness that began in the early 2000s. The shift from competitive sports participation to functional fitness really took off with the explosion of kickboxing, pilates, marathons, weight training, and the like. More gyms traded many of their treadmills and weight machines to make room for ropes, kettlebells, weighted sleds, and sandbags.

Functional fitness can be defined as “the goal of working out is preparing your body so it can perform daily activities — walking, bending, lifting, climbing stairs — without pain, injury or discomfort. ” This type of fitness borrows from other types of training such as yoga, pilates, aerobics spinning, and of course, CrossFit. Functional fitness has revolutionized the way brands are now targeting their audiences. The ideology that physical fitness is critical to everyday function is appealing to many people. The customers feel supported in that whatever they are doing in life has more value.

Reebok also creates a sense of community that CrossFit emphasizes. Jaime Andrews, one of the founders of the CrossFit venue in Frankfurt, Germany, makes a good point by saying conventional gyms or “globo gyms” are deeply antisocial in comparison. “People go to a fitness studio three times a week, they use the same machines . . . it’s the same every time they go in. You’ve got your headphones in, nobody is talking to anybody, and — especially if you are a woman — it’s pretty intimidating.” CrossFit creates more of a family atmosphere for Andrews and many others: “If we don’t see someone for a week or two, we send them a message asking: ‘Where are you’?”  (Bryant, Financial Times).

The main CrossFit website has an online journal of inspirational CrossFit stories from people of different boxes. The feeling of community and the support from said community were mentioned in almost every story.

Jonathan Castano, a member of CrossFit Clearview says, “It’s about working out with other people. It’s not just going to the gym by yourself, you get to work out with your friends, and everyone pushes you and you definitely push a lot harder than if you were on your own.”

In his own words, Castano touches upon what is known as the Köhler effect. The Köhler effect does not mean that individuals become stronger in the presence of others. It means that people will generally exert more effort than usual when there are other people present (tabata).

A study from Kansas State University examined the Köhler motivation gain effect in a health game. In the experiment, people were randomly assigned to a coactive condition, where they exercised independently alongside another person, and a conjunctive condition, where their performance was determined by whichever partner stops exercising first. The results showed that people in the conjunctive condition exercised a significantly longer amount of time and concluded that “exercising with a virtually present partner can improve performance on aerobic exercise task across multiple sessions.” While there is an abundance of scientific evidence supporting the Köhler effect, CrossFit members just see it as another way to connect with people in their communities.

Daniel Carr, a member of Crossfit Whitestone and American Top Team says, “It builds community because of the classes and the struggles everyone endures together during the workout.”

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Competitors at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games. – Source

Reebok acknowledges the popular element of community in physical fitness, but when people first heard of the merge, it caused a ripple of concern throughout the CrossFit community. Athletes everywhere voiced their concern on discussion boards and community meetings. Their main concern was that CrossFit would become too mainstream. CrossFit was considered to be a type of an underground, hidden gem, something that only a small group of people knew about. If Reebok were brought on board, CrossFit would explode into something more mainstream, and a type of hierarchy would be created. The hierarchy would create a division between everyday people and high-performing athletes, very similar to the ones that exist in traditional sports.

In some sports, only the top athletes, such as LeBron James, Derek Jeter, and Muhammad Ali, are recognized. CrossFit tries its best to avoid this because part of the company’s mission is to make fitness attainable for everyone, not just the elite. Reebok had to strategize how it could appeal to the CrossFit community without making the acquisition seem like just a financial transaction.

Part of Reebok’s rebranding strategy began with its logo. Reebok’s new logo is a reflection of its change in values . Reebok kept with the Union Jack logo until 1986, at which it released the diagonal streak across a racing track. As a performance brand, Reebok was very popular in the 80s. Its main focus had been to catch up with Nike and the other brands that were taking over the NBA and NFL. Now, as its target has shifted from professional sports to personal or functional fitness, Reebok unveiled its new logo in 2011 — a red Delta symbol. The three red lines that form the delta symbol represent the mental, physical, and social components of fitness.

According to Matt O’Toole, Reebok’s Chief Marketing Officer:

“The new brand mark signals a clear purpose for our brand and it will be a badge for those who pursue a fuller life through fitness… It is our symbol of change — an invitation to take part, and to unlock your true potential. It’s not a logo, it’s a symbol… a way of life.”

Yan Martin, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing at Reebok says,

“The core philosophy of the fitness lifestyle is that people can change for the better, and that rang true to us. We really believe that, at the end of the day, Reebok’s products should be about the benefit of fitness to everyday people, not about elevating athletes to new heights of unattainable prowess.”

This may be Reebok’s intended purpose, but as CrossFit grows, so do the number of sponsorships by celebrity athletes. CrossFit Games director and former Navy SEAL, Dave Castro, says, “Our cash prize for the Games has jumped from $25,000 in 2010 to a total purse of $1 million for 2011, with $250,000 going to the top male and female athlete. All thanks to Reebok” (forbes).

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Nike’s animated athletes – Source

Last year, Nike produced a couple of comical animated commercials for Nike Football, starring famous athletes such as Neymar Jr., Rooney Ibrahimovic, and Cristiano Ronaldo. It also released an ad featuring Kobe Bryant, Ashton Eaton, Richard Sherman, and Allyson Felix showcasing the company’s new sneaker, the Nike Flyknit.

Six months ago, Nike released an emotional ad starring LeBron James. In the ad, people from all over the city joined James in a huddle while he gave a motivational speech to his team before a game. What’s the common factor? These are all top athletes, and the chances of ever training with them are slim. There is a difference between the top athletes in traditional sports and those from CrossFit.

In traditional sports, there is a sort of division, or distance, from the athletes and their fans. These athletes are often surrounded by bodyguards, while they make their way to train for a competition or a game. In CrossFit, a well-known athlete can randomly appear at your box if that athlete’s workout is the same as yours. Even Dave Castro visits many boxes when he travels, often posing for a picture with members and posting photos on Instagram with the hashtag #SupportYourLocalBox.

Reebok has certainly hit a lottery of its own by partnering with CrossFit and embracing CrossFit’s culture. The sport is being taken more seriously, and competitions such as the Crossfit Games are being aired on ESPN. Reebok has recognized that CrossFit has helped it blossom from a dying name to a thriving brand. With or without their products, Crossfit inspires much more than just being better, faster, or stronger. Crossfit lets people be themselves, giving them the confidence to reach their potential.


Lida Ramos is an English Lit and Journalism Major at Baruch College. Her love for fitness inspired her to write this piece on the changing Reebok brand and the way it has changed the marketing world.

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