Branding With Purpose

Branding With Purpose

You would be forgiven if you didn’t recognise the logo below - so dramatic and thorough was Reebok’s rebrand in 2014.

old reebok logo

Rebrands are often judged very quickly based on a shoot from the hip initial reaction, and I’m sure many were questioning the reasoning and legitimacy of the rebrand in 2014. Three years on we have the benefit of some hindsight to assess and glean some valuable lessons.

Lesson 1 - Reasoning

The number one question people should and normally do ask when a company changes its brand image is ‘why?’. For this, we need to look at the state of Reebok just prior to the rebrand and the truth is... it wasn’t good. For the last quarter of 2012, Reebok reported an operating loss of 293 million Euros. This came off the back of scandals and fraud charges that went very high up within the organisation. It was clear the company was in a total mess, so Adidas (holding company) used it as an opportunity to refocus and rebrand the organisation.

So Reebok had good reason to relook at itself in depth and rebranding does offer this opportunity. The key lesson though is making sure the reason is substantial and typically, the deeper the reason the deeper the rebrand needs to be.


reebok 80's fitness

Lesson 2 - Looking back

When a brand loses their way (it was clear that Reebok had), it often works for a brand to look back at its history to find points of truth and success. In looking back, Reebok saw that in the 80’s it was at the forefront of the then ‘Fitness revolution’ which was centred around the female body, aerobic exercise and spandex. Anyone remember those Jane Fonda videos?

“When [Reebok] was the most powerful and meaningful … it was centred around fitness,”
~ Yan Martin (VP Reebok brand management)

You can then also look to the present and future because history often repeats itself. And sure enough, it has. With the rise of the functional fitness movement, a new fitness revolution has begun. The focus is now on the benefits of fitness in everyday life. Thankfully this time, the revolution is mostly spandex free- at least for the guys anyways.


Lesson 3 - Go where others aren’t

By refocusing on fitness, Reebok was leaving behind the pro athlete, aspirational positioning it was trying to share with its many competitors: Nike, Adidas, Puma etc. Instead of looking for top endorsements with household names in mainstream sports, Reebok seeks to position itself as a human brand for everyday heroes. It also sought to associate itself strongly with fitness brands on the rise and sports just below the mainstream.

Reebok timed its involvement in key fitness movements and sports so incredibly well, that they in a sense owned them, securing key naming as well as exclusive rights to the apparel. They then followed this up with endorsement deals that they initiated with key individuals in the sports. This showed a complete buy-in from Reebok's side, on both the overall sport and individual level.

reebok ufc conor mcgregor


Lesson 4 - Live it out

We always say that for a brand to succeed, one fundamental remains true no matter what - a brand needs to deliver on its promise and there is no better way to do that than for its staff to be living its promise out in their day to day life. It shows that your people fundamentally believe in what the brand stands for and delivers.

“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. We believe the benefits of an active life go beyond the physical benefits and impacts your whole self and your relationships with others”.
Matthew H. O'Toole - Reebok CEO


reebok staff doing crossfitThis is evidence of Reebok living out their brand, they have a 500 member CrossFit training centre at their head office.


Lesson 5 - Strong Positioning transcends Geographic Locations

After the rebrand, Reebok stabilised financially and then showed good growth for 2014 and 2015.

If you Google Reeboks revenue results for 2016, you will see the company is again under some pressure, mainly due to slowing growth trends. Adidas (holding company) has been under pressure to sell the brand but it isn’t. While they are looking to restructure the company to make it more efficient, fundamentally they believe in the brands long term potential.

The brand has firmly entrenched itself in the fitness lifestyle, and, while growth in North America is slowing as the fitness trend expands globally, the brand is well placed to gain value. This is evident in the brands 17% growth in revenue in the Chinese market in 2016.


reebok store chinaReebok Fithub stores - they aim to have 500 open in China by 2020.


Closing Thoughts - Purpose is the ultimate differentiator

Reebok is by no means a perfect brand and by no means did their rebrand solve all their commercial problems (no rebrand does). But what it did do in no uncertain terms is clearly communicate the company's purpose - ‘what it stands for’. And very critically to date they have aligned themselves operationally to this purpose.

What this does in a world where brands are competing equally for talent as they do for customers - where consumers face a ‘misery of choice’ and innovation unless absolutely groundbreaking simply fades into the day to day

- Is give them a clear advantage, a clear point of differentiation over their competitors.




Monahan, No. (2014, August 06). Reebok rebrand 6 months on.

Markelz, M. How Crossfit Made Reebok Relevant Again?

Reebok's Rebranding- A Comprehensive Analysis. (2014, August 12).


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