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Ladies – Will YOU Be Buying Reeboks After Seeing This Ad?

This morning, I clicked on over to Facebook as I often do, to catch up on people, lives, and things. The first post I saw was the image you see to the right.

As a long-time practitioner of saying exactly the wrong thing at precisely the right time (and facing said consequences), there’s probably no better person to speak up on the subject of controversial. While the ad — only used in German markets — has since been pulled due to the (shocker) backlash, I think it’s a great time to look at the ramifications that brands face when looking to shake things up.

Why the Reebok Ad is a Fail

Shock jocks have a long a revered history. Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh — not to mention late night talk show hosts — are always looking for that thing that catches the audiences ire. But shock jocks are just that, manufacturers of sensationalism. Do I like it? In some cases yes, in others, no. But I expect it. That’s the point. It’s expected.

When a brand like Reebok comes along, a seemingly all-American brand with what one would think to be an appreciable female customer base and launches an ad like this, it’s shocking. And in all the wrong ways.

I did some digging on the web and for the life of me, can’t find any stats on what percentage of Reebok’s sales are for female footwear and apparel. But what I can guarantee is that they won’t be getting a dime more of my money. Which is sad, as I spend a fair amount on athletic apparel and footwear each year.

The Difference Between Unpopular and Unlikable

Every business, no matter your industry, will face the need to make unpopular decisions on occasion. But I’m asked more often than not what the difference is between unpopular and unlikable. It’s because of one simple fact: Most of us don’t wake up each morning wondering how we can piss our customers off. As business owners and brands, it’s the last thing we want to do! But knowing it might happen, here’s the way I explain the gaping chasm (yes, it’s a chasm) between unpopular and unlikable.

Unpopular business decisions honor your audience. They think about what’s best for the customer. Even if it’s discontinuing a product or changing business focus, a brand looks at three key things when making an unpopular decision:

  1. Audience benefit: How will this benefit my audience in both the short- and long-term?
  2. Better business: Will this allow our company to do better business and ultimately be better for our customers?
  3. Audience Respect: Does this decision insult or otherwise offend our audience in any way?

Unlikable decisions miss those things. And Reebok’s decision wasn’t unpopular and looking to shake things up. It violated all three of those criteria.

  1. Audience benefit: Their audience is both make and female. From the onset, it disrespected a key audience segment.
  2. Better business: If pissing off what’s most likely 50% of your target demographic is doing better business, then…sure.
  3. Audience Respect: Given how blue my sense of humor is, I get the humor. But it’s a bad joke and I don’t appreciate it. I don’t enjoy seeing brands I support with my wallet promoting infidelity. Thanks for the insult, Reebok.

Paying the Price

As a consumer public, we’re no stranger to brands that make unlikable decisions. Netflix. Bank of America. Groupon during the 2011 Super Bowl. So we vote with our wallets.

Netflix? Stock prices dropped 19% and consumer backlash continued for months. (check it)

Bank of America? Stock prices dropped 3.5% in one day in response to proposed debit card fees and 75% of 1000 respondents polled indicated that they would switch banks. (check it)

Groupon? There probably isn’t a single person reading this post who doesn’t know someone who unsubscribed from Groupon’s daily deals after the 2011 Super Bowl ad series. While they still had a successful IPO in late 2011, was it really a gaffe that paid off or proved damaging? Taking a company public means that the company is no longer about you. It’s about shareholders. And it doesn’t matter if you think something’s funny. Inc. Magazine had a great piece on How Not to Go Public. (check it and check it)

Reebok? Still remains to be seen. But even without my healthy dose of estrogen and consumer spending habits in the athletic apparel region, Reebok’s pissed off the wallets. The women. And I’ll just say that Under Armour should be delighted, since they’ll be getting the money I won’t be spending at Reebok.

And I’m looking to hear — what’s your take on Reebok’s “cheat on your girlfriend” ad campaign? Is there anything that could make you spend your money with Reebok again? And guys — tell me. Do you even care?



  • Andrew Nattan

    A company set up by South Africans in Bolton, England, now a subsidiary of a German company. Yeah, Reebok is the most “seemingly all-American brand” in the world.

    American is not synonymous with wholesome. Not all good things are American. Un-American does not mean bad.

    Hope this helps you in the future.

    • The Redhead

      Of course American isn’t synonymous with wholesome. And I never called anything un-American. And regardless of where the company is headquartered, founded, or otherwise, it’s a huge branding misstep.

      But of course, thanks for the demographic info on the company ;)  

  • Doyle Albee

    The problem with this to me is not that it’s sexist — it’s that it’s stupid. Reebok is a sports company, and cheating is not something real sports people aspire to in any form. Not on your girlfriend, or your boyfriend or your workout or anything else. 

    When I coached hockey, many other coaches had a an entire list of team rules. We had only one: Respect the game. If you do that, everything else falls into line. For example, I didn’t need to give my guys a curfew. By respecting the game, they would do the right thing and show up rested and ready. Cheating on anything or anyone shows disrespect to your sport, your teammates and yourself. This is a head-scratcher of the highest order.

    • The Redhead

      Agreed. And I can’t seem to figure where the math on cost/benefit works out in the positive. Ever. Anywhere. *scratches head as well*

  • Shanna Mann

    It’s not even a joke! As a one liner, it fails horribly. It’s like *that guy* that tone-deaf jock who makes comments like “never known a ring to plug a hole” and “hey, it’s biology, man”. That guy you’re too embarrassed to be seen with because he’s such a troglodyte (he’s usually good at sales or something).

    And yes, he represents a demographic, but such a tiny, tiny one, and unlike targeted messages to other demographics, this one sends the message, “Oh, so that’s who you pander to? I’ll be taking my business elsewhere, thanks.” and the whole business leaves you feeling like you need a shower. 

    And I think men will feel that way, too. I mean, I’ve seen how groups of men deal with this type, and there’s the general sense that they don’t want to be known for keeping this company. 

    It depends on how loud the outrage gets, to see whether Reebok gets shunned. I’m a Merrell girl, so I likely won’t remember. But if Merrell had pulled this stunt, a brand I have loved and recommended to absolutely everyone… yeah. I might not stop buying– comfortable shoes are hard to find. But I’d stop recommending them. My loyalty would be gone. 

  • John Lusher 

    I agree with Doyle’s comments on this; it is just stupid.  In this case, along with Netflix, BOA, etc., I would be curious to see who the person was that had the original idea that exploded or rather imploded upon deployment.  Were they or are they young or old? Male or female? Experienced or inexperienced?  My point is, even marketers with minimal experience realize that there is a very fine line you walk if you attempt to use shock to gain attention for a campaign or product.  Did no one at Reebok say, “this may backfire on us?”

    Another example that makes me literally shake my head.

    • The Redhead

      I’ll grant that European standards for humor are different, as is the play of innuendo in their ads. And I’m by no means a prude. But when you run a campaign like this, surely someone in the office says, “Ummm…is that…funny?”

  • Phil Gerbyshak

    Gotta say – stupid is as stupid does – and this Reebok is just plain stupid. What do you possibly hope to gain from this? Get more guys who cheat on their girlfriends to buy your product? And seriously – if you were a guy who cheated on your girlfriend – would you be caught dead in these shoes? I think not.

    Almost as bad as the Milwaukee jewelry company who thinks guys need “wife insurance” so they should buy their diamonds. Really? HATE IT!

    • The Redhead

      Wife insurance? Please. I’m a woman and that’s just not even representative to women I know. Oy vey!

  • NikkiGroom

    If the slogan was, “Ladies, cheat on your boyfriend and not on your workout” would you feel as outraged? I think I would feel it was distasteful and assumptive, but I might also feel a sense of smug one-upmanship over another “win” in the battle of the sexes.

    I think that was what Reebok was trying to achieve here. They’ve obviously decided that their target demographic is male, not female, and don’t care about alienating their female followers.

    Having played Devil’s Advocate (I like to do that once in a while), I wholeheartedly agree with you. I find the ad sexist, offensive, and actually pretty effin’ ridiculous. No more Reeboks for me — who wants to do business with someone who couldn’t give a flying crap about them? Not me.

    • The Redhead

      I’d be JUST as offended…as it goes both ways. ;) And maybe someone should tell Reebok’s shareholders that they don’t give a fig for their female customers anymore. Hmmm…

      • NikkiGroom

        Yeah, just curious. You’d think Reebok would have a team without balls for brains. I’m starting the DON’T BUY REEBOK campaign pronto.

  • Larry S. Evans II

    I see a number of campaigns out there that believe they are being “smart” or “edgy” and end up just basically insulting the buying public.  I’d like to find the genius that thought “funny” was the best approach for insurance and banks, because that’s everywhere. I don’t want my banker, lawyer, accountant, or doctor to be funny. I’m good with so dead serious you bore me.  That way I know you’re paying attention to what’s important. 

    I suspect that this is the result of agencies hiring “young” talent and listening to them without a gutcheck because of a mistaken belief that “old folks” can’t get what works in the market. 

    Here’s a clue. Value works in the market. Since Oog came out of the cave and bought his first wheel. 

    There are a number of brands I won’t buy from because the stupidity of their ad campaigns make me gravely concerned about the decision making skills of those at the top.  If you can’t figure out what’s going to insult a massive part of your customer base, I think you might also make an inferior product and/or provide lousy service, so I’ll just save myself the time and aggravation. 

    As far as Reebok goes, I wasn’t a customer anyway. I have a pair of Converse Coach All-Stars I bought back in the early 80s that still fit and are like new. That is value. 

    • The Redhead

      The English signs in German gyms doesn’t surprise me given the bi- and multi-lingual nature of Europe.

      • Larry S. Evans II

        When I was in Germany last there was plenty of brand signage but it was usually translated into the local language. That’s been some time ago and I guess the EU market has changed things a bit.  

        My comment was meant to imply they were testing an English language campaign planned for the US market somewhere they thought word would not get back. (The nuances made perfect sense in my head as I typed them ; ) ).

  • Amantha Tsaros

    They’ve decided that their customers are not just men but men who treat women like garbage – or at least think it is funny to do so. Bad. Bad. Bad. The ad is a gift because they’ve exposed their own attitudes toward women. And I am so grateful to know that I should skip right over products when shopping. 

    • The Redhead

      Brands tell us all the time whose business they want. Glad Reebok told me :)

  • Bryce Alan Katz

    English signs in German gyms? That doesn’t strike me as all that surprising. Most gym-going Germans in the target age demographic will be fluent in both languages, and I’ve been told that English is widely acknowledged as the language of  international business.

    I’m in the “Wow, that was stupid” camp. The first thing I thought was, “Gee these guys are aping that cheat-on-your-spouse ‘dating’ website. Bo-ring.”

    Larry’s point about “edgy” and “smart” hits the mark. This ad was neither.

    • The Redhead

      Agreed. Just a branding casualty that they’ll have to deal with the fallout from. Totally avoidable.

  • ANDmountains

    I’m offended for women because I keep on seeing company after company chasing after male customers (to the detriment of their female customers). Maybe they think men are more prestigious but I don’t see why considering women are responsible for 85% of all US consumer purchases. They should be kissing our asses.

    And I’m offended for men because any time an advertiser tries to reach them, they assume the men are chauvinist pigs. As a woman, I internalize that and it makes innocent men look bad in our eyes. The ads are causing unnecessary social problems and mistrust. I want to mistrust men because they cheat on my friends in real life, not because thousands of ads and tv shows tell me that’s what they do!

    It’s just bad advertising all around.

    Redhead – I’m making a video right now about this absurdity (the discounting of women in advertising) and offering a solution. I might include this ad as an example, so thank you. Let me know if you want to see it when it’s done. It’ll be very female-positive and a little bit intense/funny.

  • ✿ڿڰۣ(̆̃̃ღ Amy

    I’d been an on-and-off-again customer with Netflix for years.  I loved the price, loved that even if you had 3 DVDs at home for over 6 months and had charged you, if you returned them, your money was refunded (that was in 2005).  Last year, though, when they pushed the split through so clumsily…I’m still with them, but, it’s streaming only.  Even at $7.99 each, that’s still an incredible price for the selection.  But what got me was the HOW.  So they now get less money from me, when, had it been done right, they could have gotten more.

    I never saw the SuperBowl commercials (any of them…or the game, really…), and didn’t really hear about it.  But I have heard lots of negative press about Groupon.  And for banks…I am still with my credit union, with the account that my mom originally opened for me when I was still little.  I tried a different one, but the experience was awful.  It’s difficult to have a bank in a whole different city, but I make it work.  My credit union, Ent Federal Credit Union, will have my business for life.

    And Reebok…if I bought their stuff, I’d stop.  This ad is tasteless.  I can see where they’re kind of coming from, but it’s an idea that should have never made it to the drawing table.  Since you’re looking for a new supplier of workout gear… lucy and Skirt Sports are both amazing.  I love their gear, and their customer service is incredible.  And totally targeted at women.

  • Pamela Brackett

    This looks like one of those times the client and advertising agency went with “clever” instead of “smart”.  Happens all the time  - short sighted and dumb, dumb, dumb.  Not only will they not be selling shoes to as many women, but guess who usually buys their children’s shoes (including their son’s)??  Yep. The MOM.  

  • alvalynlundgren

    Any message that advocates lack of integrity is a huge misfire, in my thinking. Not only does this ad elevate the value of a product above the value of a human being (the girlfriend), but it is disrespectful to both women and men. It assumes men will cheat. Bad form, Reebok.

  • alvalynlundgren

    This ad disrespects both men and women, in my thinking. The devaluing of women is obvious. The assumption that men will cheat is subtle. When a business advocates poor character, it’s a misfire. Bad form, Reebok!

  • D.T. Pennington

    “Cheat on your boyfriend, not your workout.”

    Same? Different? 

    • Doyle Albee

      Same. Still stupid!

    • The Redhead

      Same. Because it makes the same assumption about women. Just stupid. Or, stoopid.

  • Marin Untiedt

    Truth is, I find this stupid, though not particularly offensive. I would find the same if it encouraged women to cheat on their boyfriends. It’s the kind of situation that makes me question the sanity and savvy of the marketing arm of the company.

    Would it keep me from buying Reebok if I were a loyal customer? No.

    Does it send me on a “boycott Reebok ” rampage? No.

    If I’m in the store looking for a new pair of shoes and the ASICS and Reeboks are staring me in the face, is it going to make me put the Reeboks back on the shelf? Absolutely.

    I think this is precisely the right level to turn off fence-sitters, and isn’t that who advertising really wants to target?

  • jimstoltzfus

    To me it’s a case of substituting creativity with shock value. Even if I disagree morally with the premise, I can take a joke as long as it’s funny. I get that it’s difficult to get people’s attention with simple “here’s why our shoes are great” statements, but lame attempts like this are all shock, no value. Here’s our take on humor from a while back. 

  • Tessa Harmon

    The fact that the ad is heteronormative adds another dimension of offensiveness to the situation. LGBT folks purchase athletic apparel, too.

    I never was a Reebok customer, and never will be now. This is a great example of how to create an ad that appeals to virtually no one.

    • The Redhead

      Going to steal that: “a great example of how to create an ad that appeals to virtually no one.”


  • Lauryn Doll

    I don’t think the Reebok campaign was remotely tasteful. I’m not a big Reebok fan to begin with, so I’ll definitely have to look over my use for the company and the brand itself when I’m shopping again. 

  • aboubakar dramé

    chacun fait comme il veux ahhhhhh c’est bizard !!!!!!

  • Tanya Storm

    I’m just sitting here trying to imagine a room full of people, including some women inevitably, all agreeing that this is a good idea. And I just. can’t. see it. My immediate reaction was a ~wrinkle nose, curl up lip~ thing, usually reserved for that website on the People of Wal-Mart. I mean, really Reebok?

    I guess this image is 180 degrees from the 1980′s white Aerobic shoe / Mom jean thing they are trying to leave behind. But I’ll take Midwest Mom Jean style over Cheating Bastard Couture any day.

    • The Redhead

      I couldn’t have said it better!