By the Associated Press
The images that sell Reebok sneakers these days are edgy.
One ad depicts the devil. Another has fingerprints on what appears to be a police booking form, as rapper 50 Cent advises buyers to “take advantage of today because tomorrow is not promised.”
A controversial television ad last year had 50 Cent, a former drug dealer who lives in Farmington, Conn., counting aloud the bullets that have been fired at him. The rapper laughs and then looks into the camera as a voiceover asks, “Who do you plan to massacre next?” The ad was withdrawn in Great Britain.
Reebok’s “I am what I am” campaign is a significant shift for the sneaker brand that first gained traction pitching subtly styled, lightweight shoes to American women who embraced the aerobics phenomenon of the 1980s.
These days, however, there’s more money in selling to teenage males — a reality not lost upon Adidas-Salomon AG, which completed a $3.8 billion buyout of Reebok International Ltd. Jan. 31 and plans to keep the Reebok brand name alive.
Adidas must now decide whether to stick with a marketing campaign that has yielded short-term sales gains among younger consumers. But the campaign is angering activists — although it has spurred no boycotts — and industry analysts say it also risks alienating customers who prize sneaker performance over fashion.
“Promotion and marketing footwear, or any clothing, is not, and must not be a moneymaking tool referencing gun violence, drugs or gangs,” said Liz Bishop-Goldsmith, president of Rosedale, N.Y.-based Mothers Against Guns.
Reebok, which has also featured rapper Jay-Z, has gone further than market leader Nike Inc. and other rivals in embracing hip-hop culture and youth-oriented entertainment alongside athletics.
The Congress of Racial Equality, a civil rights group, says Reebok promotes negative messages about black men. “50 Cent was a drug dealer and proud of it,” CORE spokesman Niger Innis said. “The fact that corporations are going to reward that kind of behavior is an outrage.”