Ad of the Day: Reebok Gets ‘More Human’ Than Ever in Evolving Aspirational Campaign

No pain, no gain

Are you striving hard toward personal growth, using exercise, physical fitness and intense competition to build your character and shape your life in positive ways?

Well, Reebok wants to give you a hand.

Today, the Adidas-owned brand kicks off the third year of its global "Be More Human" campaign, stressing physicality and personal connection across TV, print, digital assets and live activations.

Like earlier iterations of the work, this latest push from Venables Bell & Partners encourages folks to work up a sweat and make some personal sacrifices en route to being their best selves. And once again, ads position Reebok as the ultimate cheerleader and gear provider to help them succeed.

"We're not just talking about fitness for the sake of fitness, or winning and losing," Yan Martin, Reebok's vp of brand management and creative direction, tells Adweek. "This is about the transformation that happens when we move—physically, mentally and socially. So that gives us a lot of areas to play in, and a lot to respond to within culture and the current mind-set of the world."

Martin characterizes the new work as an evolution of the "Be More Human" positioning. The platform launched two years ago by "shining a light on the tough fitness community, the 'fitness freaks'—and letting them know, 'We get you,' " he says. It expanded in 2016 by showing "how fitness, and specifically running, can lead to a richer, better life," Martin adds.

"This year, we wanted to open up the aperture to even more types of fitness and people, but with the same message that physicality unlocks a better version of yourself," he says.

That mantra gets a cinematic workout in "Hands," a minute-long spot (above) directed by Bullitt's Diego Contreras in the gritty, quasi-documentary style that has defined "Be More Human" since its inception.

"Our lives are shaped by how we move," says a voiceover at one point. "By how hard we push, flip, fly and hang. Our stories are written on our calluses and scars." Indeed, when boxing, rock climbing or pumping iron, your palms and knuckles can get bruised and battered along the way.

"We saw hands as the perfect metaphor for the change that happens when you are physical," says Martin. "Because as we push and pull and fight, our hands collect calluses, and blisters and scars. They're almost like journals in this way. But as our hands, and bodies, change, we also change on the inside. Becoming braver and kinder and more connected."

The shots of punching out mirrors seem a bit extreme. (We're a bit surprised the legal department didn't insist on a "Don't try this at home" disclaimer.) Maybe that dude should think with his head instead of his hands.

Such behavior presumably won't be advocated by the thousands of trainers in the ReebokOne program who will be available this week in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Miami and other cities as part of the campaign, offering free workouts—normally priced at $50—in exchange for a handshake.

Other key elements include "Stories of Progress," an online collection of inspirational influencer testimonials, and related content at brand events, retailers and Reebok FitHub locations.

"Our hands and our shoes say a lot about what we've been through and who we are as people," says Will McGinness, executive creative director at VB&P. "We wanted to embrace that truth."

Shoes play into additional "Be More Human" commercials in a big way, taking campaign themes in somewhat new directions. The first ad below tells of a young girl who becomes inspired to follow in her CrossFit mom's footsteps (kicking off high heels to boot!), while the second spot shows a dude escaping the dreariness of Dumpsville by exploring new roads:

"We wanted to show how the wear and tear on our shoes is also a sign of our greater change," says Martin. "As our gear become beaten up, we become better."

That last statement is debatable. Some of us just develop shin splints. Which in turn makes us irritable and frustrated, so we punch out mirrors and things go from bad to worse.

All kidding aside, the cause-and-effect proposition in "Be More Human"—while well conceived and compellingly executed—has always seemed like a bit of a stretch (and borderline exclusionary, cutting couch potatoes entirely out of its sweat-soaked world view). That said, the approach provides the brand with a distinctive, malleable positioning in an crowded marketplace.

Plus, it seems to be moving product, as Reebok, long an also-ran, has made gains since the campaign's debut—including, most recently, a 7 percent year-over-year sales increase for the third quarter.

"There's a ton of fitness ads out in the world, and even a bunch of other brands that have started to play in the tough fitness genre," Martin says. "For us, we want to show how fitness changes us on the inside. How it affects our relationships. Our legacies. Our minds. In a world that often tries to make us less human, fitness and physicality has this unique power to help us find our best."

Ultimately, of course, it's all designed to sell shoes. Still, our gear can become a gym buddy of sorts—or at any rate, come to represent what we might achieve by shrugging off the pain and pushing ourselves a little harder.

On some level, perhaps it's heartening to believe Reebok really is on our side, so that maybe, just maybe, we won't have to run the grueling race for self-improvement alone.

CREDITS
—TV/Broadcast
Client: Reebok
Agency: Venables Bell & Partners
Founder, Chairman: Paul Venables
Executive Creative Director: Will McGinness
Creative Director: Tom Scharpf
Art Director: Aisha Hakim
Copywriter: Jimmy Burton
Head of Strategy: Michael Davidson 
Group Strategy Director: Jodi Shelley
Senior Brand Strategist: Jake Bayham
Group Communication Strategy Director: Gavin Jones
Director of Integrated Production: Craig Allen
Executive Producer: Peter Blitzer  
Assistant Producer: Julia Oetker-Kast
Production Company: Bullitt
Director:  Diego Contreras
Director of Photography: Guillermo Garza
Executive Producer: Luke Ricci
Producer: Jon Dawes
Editorial Company: Whitehouse Post
Editorial Executive Producer: Joni Williams
Editorial Producer: Leah Carnahan
Editor: Sam Gunn
Junior Editor: Devon Bradbury
Assistant Editor: Brad Dupuie
Visual Effects: Carbon VFX
Executive Producer: Matthew McManus
Producer: Devon Irete
Flame Artist: Pete Mayor
Flame Assistant: Jim Gomez
Sound Design: 740 Sound Songs for Film & T.V.
Music: Hands – RIVVRS, "Walk In the Wild"; Slide – Rafferty, "Apple Pie"; Mom – Marmoset, "Huntley"
Mix: One Union
Mixer: Joaby Deal
Executive Producer: Lauren Mask
Color: CO3
Colorist: Tom Poole
Color Producer: Clare Movshon
Group Brand Director: Michael Chase
Brand Director: Nicole Spinelli
Brand Supervisor: Julia Connelly
Brand Manager: Lindsie Levinson
Assistant Brand Manager: Ursula Reichle
Senior Project Manager: Katrina Strich
Director of Business Affairs: Quynh-An Phan
Business Affairs/Talent Manager: Sametta Gbilia
Senior Traffic Manager: Jermelia Holling
Assistant Traffic/Business Affairs Manager: Malcolm Konner

—Static
Agency: Venables Bell & Partners
Founder, Chairman: Paul Venables
Executive Creative Director: Will McGinness
Creative Director: Tom Scharpf
Design Director: Cris Logan
Art Director: Byron Del Rosario
Designer: Paul Rice
Copywriter: Jimmy Burton
Head of Strategy: Michael Davidson 
Group Strategy Director: Jodi Shelley
Senior Brand Strategist: Jake Bayham
Art Production Director: Jacqueline Fodor
Photographer: Jake Stangel (agent: Giant Artists)
Retouching: Portus Imaging
Retouching, Prepress: Pacific Digital Image
Mechanicals: Williams Lea Tag
Group Brand Director: Michael Chase
Brand Director: Nicole Spinelli
Brand Supervisor: Julia Connelly
Brand Manager: Lindsie Levinson
Project Manager: Hannah Oliff

—Digital
Agency: Venables Bell & Partners
Founder, Chairman: Paul Venables
Executive Creative Director: Will McGinness
Creative Director: Tom Scharpf
Art Directors: Byron del Rosario, Aisha Hakim
Copywriters: Jimmy Burton, Jake Reilly
Design Director: Cris Logan
Designer: Paul Rice
Head of Strategy: Michael Davidson 
Group Strategy Director: Jodi Shelley
Senior Brand Strategist: Jake Bayham
Director of Digital Strategy, Analytics: Jeff Burger
Senior Digital Producer: Sarah Betts
Director of Experience Design: Jeff Teicher
Social Content Producer: Kimberly Lewis
Social Content Production Generalist: Alexis Hazelwood
Group Brand Director: Michael Chase
Brand Directors: Nicole Spinelli, Kammie Sulaiman
Brand Supervisor: Julia Connelly
Assistant Brand Manager: Ursula Reichle
Project Managers: Katrina Strich, Hannah Oliff
Development and Rollout: DigitasLBi Malmö
Client Partner: Rikard Paulsson
Production Manager: Anna Rolfsson
Project Manager: Sarah Söderlind
Technical Lead: Anders Guldstrand
Creative Developer: Oscar Johansson
Interface Developers: Tommy Ahlbäck, Björn Söderqvist
System Developer: Philip Eliasson
System Developer, Rollout Manager: Robert Katra