Reebok is depending on a famous rapper to save the business


Kendrick Lamar Reebok

Instagram/Reebok Classics

Kendrick Lamar wearing Reebok sneakers.

Reebok's sales pale in comparison to sneaker behemoth Nike, which is the top apparel retailer in the country.

Just over a decade ago, Reebok held 8% of its market, and as of last February, it held only 2%, Adweek reported.

One way Reebok is changing the way people think about the brand is by partnering with a star rapper.

This tactic has been successful for Adidas and Puma, with Kanye West and Rihanna, respectively.

And there's certainly a storied connection between famous rappers and the fashion industry.


"Hip-hop and fashion are the same thing," Lamar said to Fashionista. "It's been that way since Run-DMC in the '80s. You've got to attach yourself to something that represents you."

Reebok has been partnering with Kendrick Lamar since late 2014, and most recently, he's been promoting a Reebok's classic leather gum shoes, as evidenced by Reebok's Instagram posts. Last year, he launched a pair of Ventilators that served as a call to end gang violence in his hometown of Compton, Mic noted.

But can that -  as Complex wondered  in early 2015 when Lamar partnered with Reebok for a campaign surrounding the classic Ventilator shoe - enough to save Reebok?

It just might be what Reebok needs.

It's worth nothing that Lamar's partnership is different from other famous hip hop partnerships - namely Kanye West and Adidas. That starts with the price point, which Complex pointed out was something that was important to Lamar. Men's Ventilators are $74.99, and the Supreme version runs for $109.99. Yeezys are famously expensive (and show up on eBay for tens of hundreds to well over a thousand dollars, to boot).


"A lot of artists approach high fashion, but for me personally, I just like a more classic, comfortable feel," Lamar recently said to Fashionista. "Not to exclude any of these artists' tastes, but I feel you should always do what represents you, so I'm glad I was able to find a brand that complements not only what I do, but where I'm from."

And Reebok, apparently, represents Lamar. When the partnership was first announced in late 2014, he told Reebok that "Reebok has a history of helping kids in the community realize their potential is limitless. I saw what the brand was doing, and I wanted to be a part of it and make it even stronger. It's as simple as that. Kids that listen to my music are looking for inspiration. It's important that I continue that message in anything I represent."

This is a crucial component to what makes this collaboration work.

University of Southern California marketing professor and celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev pointed out three tenets for this collaboration.

"One [reason] is to align with Reebok's new positioning which is to be more human ... a celebrity which will be able to humanize the brand and keep it real," Sehdev said.


Secondly, Sehdev believes that Reebok is "trying to achieve further leverage [with the] connection between hip hop and fashion." Thirdly, Sehdev points out that "Lamar will help Reebok [by] better connecting Reebok with the black youth and black Americans, in particular, who have felt more alienated than other groups by Reebok's less than stellar sneaking design. And they [Reebok] seem to be doing that once again...through a grass roots approach."

Lamar has been doing exactly that: going back to his roots.

"You always have to come back to the streets. You always got to look at what the next 13-year-old is wearing because these are the people who make the culture," Lamar said to Fashionista. "We can't run from the kids, period - and that's something that we always try to do in our own way. We throw the high cost on shoes and clothes and try to distract it from the kids, but they make the culture." 

Billboard pointed to how he (with the help of Reebok) surprised a group of young rappers at a hip hop workshop in Manchester. Reebok captured it on video:


Consider it a tale of two brands: Kanye West representing the high life and aspiration, and Lamar serving, as Sehdev called it, "an insider to the community." That's not to say one is better - Kanye West has cultivated a tremendous following. They just represent different ends of the spectrum.

"Kanye is so larger than life, he's almost the opposite, he's dehumanizing," Sehdev said. "And I think that Kendrick Lamar is incredibly humanizing. That is probably the largest difference."

All of Lamar's appearances have exemplified his human qualities versus his celebrity status.

"It was important to invest my time, it's not always about the money. You can throw millions of dollars at people but they don't see your face or hear your words. That money doesn't always mean everything. The fact that we're all right here, in this same spot where I grew up, that's giving back-along with a lot of other things we are doing," he said to Complex  last year.


In terms of the bigger picture, Reebok has been overhauling its entire brand. It switched up its logo and replaced it with a delta sign, perhaps signifying its own change. The company has also been zeroing in on the CrossFit acolytes of the world.

The company has been focusing on fragmenting its brand - be it through Lamar's partnership highlighting one segment, and CrossFitters appealing to another, Sehdev points out.

And Reebok could be on the right track.

"I think they approach that Reebok is taking certainly seems to be the right approach. They've obviously got a big challenge on their hands," Sehdev said, adding that "if Reebok plays their cards with Lamar, this could be the start of a very promising partnership." 


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