SBJ/January 19 - 25, 2004/SBJ In Depth

Reebok sees rappers as ‘must-have’ pitchmen

Reebok's stable of endorsers now includes not only Jay-Z, but also hip-hop stars 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige and the music producer/performer Pharrell Williams (better known simply as Pharrell).

The company began considering deals with entertainers as a way to strengthen communication to young consumers, said Que Gaskins, vice president, global marketing for the Rbk brand.

"We sat down and asked, 'What are all the things that youth are into?'" Gaskins said. "With all the stuff we analyzed, sports and music came up as the two loudest, most vibrant things they're involved with."

As they decided to pursue a greater presence in music, Reebok marketers wanted to determine which artists would have the greatest influence over the widest swath of their target market.

Gaskins insists that Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Pharrell were the three must-have artists on Reebok's wish list from the start. He is quick to point out that although their songs are played on the same radio stations, each artist occupies a separate niche. Here's how Reebok dissected their appeal:

50 Cent: With a rougher, more hard-core sound and persona, he's the most "street" of the three. He is to hip-hop what Reebok endorser Allen Iverson is to hoops.

Jay-Z: In his music and appearances, he references the "finer things," so his appeal is to the "aspirational" consumer.

Pharrell: Perhaps the broadest appeal of the three; represents urban-meets-alternative-meets-skate culture. Known for impeccable style.

With those deals, some of Reebok's most visible endorsers are musicians. (Quick, name a professional athlete — other than Iverson and Yao Ming — who endorses Reebok.)

So has Reebok eschewed its sports lineage and become a lifestyle brand?

"That's always going to be a great debate," said Gaskins. "We always want to put things in neat boxes, but consumers have become a lot more complex. Eighty percent of our product is never used for [the sport] it's intended for. So a lot of it is used for fashion anyway. But sport is always going to be our heritage, so we can't leave the performance side, because that's what gives us credibility.

"But we're not looking to go out and sign more musicians. We're not going to start a 'rapper' line. It'll never get to that point."

Sean Brenner is a writer in Chicago.

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