Reebok: "Be More Human"? No, Be More Strategic.

Here's the new positioning and advertising from Reebok with the tagline - "Be More Human".

Reebok is attempting to rise from the ashes; to rebuild themselves in the sports footwear/apparel marketplace. This new campaign and positioning is an ambitious stab at contemporary relevance.  

It doesn't work.

The positioning and creative are far too much of a thematic/identity stretch from where they've been. This renders the advertising not credible. One can argue whether this is a strategic place for them to want to take the Reebok brand, but today, it's just too far of a leap. It's quite unbelievable to be from them.

Brand positioning is about owning emotional real estate in consumers' minds. It empowers a strategic message, look & feel that, when combined with product interaction, communicates the overall identity of a brand. 

Choosing one's target consumers is a business decision. (You fish where the fish are.) But what you communicate to them is 100% consumer-insight driven brand strategy. Messaging must uniquely address their relevant needs, solving a meaningful problem for them in a way that stimulates consumption. In the end, if done well, the brand experience offers a way for consumers to actually become who they aspire to be - which gets them coming back for more and more!

But, once your positioning is established - it's pretty much set in stone. Once consumers have a clear sense of who you are, it can be extremely difficult to change that. Dramatically evolving a positioning means getting consumers to stretch their current perceptions to include a new idea of your brand. It's like thinking of Miley Cyrus as an adult pop star. It might happen, but it's taking dramatic measures to do so! :-)

A key brand truth is that you can stretch a brand only so far. 

With the right brand strategy and enough time and money, brands can evolve. I'm old enough to remember when the words "Made in Japan" were the personification of cheap, poorly made goods. Certainly today, those words have a very different connotation, but it took a generation and the explosion of global high quality brands like Sony, Lexus, and Canon for it to happen. The same focus on product quality and innovation, and brand building is required for Reebok now.

To execute a significant brand evolution, a company has to slowly - sequentially and incrementally - bring consumers along to where you want to eventually be. Metaphorically, you've got to take their hand and lead them to the new place.

I used to work directly in this sports brand space. My perceptions about sports footwear and apparel brands now, though, most likely reflect that of an active sports fan. To me, where Nike equals hardcore high performance sports and athletics, Reebok equals soft and frilly, fashion and lowkey fitness. Yes, I've seen Reebok in hockey. Yes, I know they created "The Pump" basketball shoe. They may have even been a sponsor of my hometown New England Patriots at one time. More than anything, all of this speaks to how gargantuan a task it can be for brands to change their stripes. To me, Reebok is aerobics and soft leather, velcro sneakers. 

With this new campaign, Reebok seems to be trying to carve out differentiated space by celebrating "regular people" who embrace a rather extreme approach to fitness. They are smart to stay away from professional sports and athletes. Nike (and increasingly Under Armour), and their parent Adidas, continue to dominate in that space. 

That said, Reebok just takes things too far. If this is where they want the Reebok brand to be, they've got to slowly and more realistically move consumers along to get there. McDonald's might someday want to embrace a more health conscious branding, but it won't happen overnight. They can't just start running ads talking about locally sourced, organic tofu burgers. They would have to slowly and thoughtfully bring consumers to that new place. The same goes for Reebok.

Then there's the issue of the 'call to action', "Be More Human". What, exactly, does that mean??? How does that inspire consumers to do and be their best. How does that stimulate them to buy more Reebok? It sounds as if it were either spit out by an automated tagline creator or by an interdepartmental committee around a conference room table. :-)

"Just Do It" has set an extremely high bar in sports taglines. It inspires without judgment. It is universal to all aspects of life, but has been firmly and affectionately rooted in sports. My interpretation of the line can be wholly different than yours. It's inclusive and also quite aspirational. 

"Be More Human" seems like a mantra for an EST conference. Maybe one day it could be imbued with relevant meaning, but while also trying to lead consumers to this aggressively new positioning - it makes little sense whatsoever. The tag line needs to do some real heavy lifting. It must crystallize the essence and identity of the new brand positioning. Ideally, it needs to - in one fell swoop - tell what the brand is, who its for, and how its different.

A colleague who I showed the creative responded that it "actually feels like they are being NOT human".  I agree. This approach could more alienate potential Reebok consumers than inspire them. What percentage of the current Reebok consumer base actually will resonate with this? How many workout like this? How many even want to do so?

Here are a few thoughts about Reebok next steps:

- Confirm the positioning - is this really where you want to take your brand? Can you legitimately play in this neck of the sports woods? Is this the highest and best use of the 'brand capital' you have to grow your business or will you waste more resources than its worth trying to get there?

- If the above answer is "Yes!", create a plan to incrementally take consumers to the new positioning. Walk before you run. Plot out what you will communicate each year to incrementally get you to the positioning you want to be at. Also, ensure that some semblance of the traditional brand is retained - as a brand anchor of sorts - to ensure that there is integrity and credibility in the new brand space.

- Advertise and market aggressively. To change minds you've got to engage with consumers far more aggressively. Does this commitment exist? If this is just a short term campaign then it will fall flat on its face. For this to have any chance, it's got to be a long term commitment.

Positioning is the foundation of brand marketing. You cannot efficiently build a brand or maximize the economic opportunity of a consumer product or service without thoroughly embracing the discipline and power behind it. Too often marketers get seduced by intriguing creative and lose sight of the consumer-driven strategy that has to be at the core. 

So, what do you think? Will this work for Reebok? Does your brand have an air tight positioning that has/will stand the test of time?

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Tags: brand, brandstrategy, positioning, reebok


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