IQ Interactive Quarterly: Interactive Marketer of the Year – Reebok and ‘Terrible Terry Tate’

Editor?s Note

When the editors and reporters at IQ were discussing our criteria for Interactive Marketer of the Year, we decided to recognize a marketer that made the Internet a central part of an integrated effort, relying on it to continue to build the momentum of a campaign long after its offline debut. We found that in Reebok, the athletic-shoe manufacturer that introduced the world to
an unlikely hero: Terrible Terry Tate, office manager. After reading reporter Ann M. Mack?s story we think you?ll agree this campaign has legs. – Patricia Orsini


Grabbing Market Share

The character of an overzealous office manager inspires sports fans and techies alike to talk up Reebok’s Terrible Terry Tate

One lazy weekend in March, three University of Southern California sophomores attempted to recreate what they deemed to be “the best Super Bowl commercial ever.” Sporting a red football jersey, Daunish Aboobaker assumed the role of Terrible Terry Tate, the bone-crunching “Office Linebacker” introduced by Reebok during the third quarter of last winter’s Big Game. The 20-year-old computer engineering major perfected the militant character after studying the original 60-second spot and subsequent Terry Tate films on the Web. “I’ve downloaded them and watched them over and over again. Hundreds of times,” says Aboobaker, a resident assistant who transformed himself into Daunish Day, “Dorm Linebacker” for the remake. “Our goal was to copy the first Terry Tate film almost exactly, just adapt it to the dorm. We wanted it to be a true parody that people would recognize.”

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Reebok is blushing. From West Point to NBC’s the Today show, people everywhere were mimicking the overzealous office manager who tackles poor-performing co-workers.

“Every week or couple of weeks, someone would e-mail us or tell us about skits they did in their office,” relays Marc Fireman, global director of interactive marketing at Reebok. As the winter wore on, the buzz surrounding the most-watched commercial in TiVo households of Super Bowl XXXVII, (which only aired that one time) did not diminish, but continued to flourish, thanks in large part to the Internet. “While there was a spike [in Web-site traffic] after the game, it was much larger the next day and the weeks following,” says John Christie, vp of technology at Hypnotic, the New York-based production company responsible for the Terry Tate Web site, which is accessible from Reebok.com. While the site recorded 1.8 million visits the week following the game, it tallied 13 million during the next three months, he reports, adding, “The online audience grew and fed upon itself.”

Reebok continued to satisfy fans’ hunger by releasing four long-format films on TerryTate.com that uncovered Triple T’s origins, his unique approach to hotel management and the trials of rookie season.

“As traffic would start to ebb, we would launch a new film that would drive the traffic right up,” says Fireman.

The formula worked. At its height, more than 20 films were downloaded per second, and to date, 19 million films have been downloaded.

For Reebok’s innovative and winning use of the Web to build upon – rather than merely maintain the momentum of – an offline campaign, and for its recognition that the Internet should play a significant part in an integrated campaign, Adweek Magazines’ IQ has named the Canton, Mass.-based company its Interactive Marketer of the Year.

“For Reebok, there’s really been a coming of age in the company, and we’ve really started to understand that the Internet needs to play a critical role in our advertising,” says Fireman, acknowledging that 2003 was the first time in Reebok’s history that the Web acted as the hub of a campaign. (The company’s roots go back to the 1890s, when it was founded in Great Britain. Reebok chairman and CEO Paul Fireman negotiated for the North American distribution rights to the brand in 1979.)

“Very few communications and marketing strategies have the same level of power, attention and focus on all the media fronts,” says Peter Arnell, CEO and chief creative officer of Arnell Group, the New York-based Omnicom Group agency that oversees Reebok’s advertising. “All the parts play off of each other.”

Aside from the Internet films, Reebok expanded Terry Tate’s fan base through features such as instant-messenger buddy icons, desktops, screensavers and bobblehead dolls. About 150,000 buddy icons and 80,000 autographed pictures of the linebacker have been downloaded. Nearly 1 million people have subscribed to the database, a.k.a. “Terry’s HitSquad,” and Web site visitors have sent more than 300,000 e-mails, or “HitMails,” to their friends.

“The database is so large now that it actually has the effect of television when you send an e-mail telling consumers that there is a new film or that Terry Tate is running for governor,” says Fireman, referring to Lester “Terry Tate” Speight’s write-in candidacy in California’s gubernatorial recall election in October. For that particular e-mail, three-quarters of the recipients opened the message – a victory considering industry norms.

Though Reebok declined to divulge how its integrated ad efforts have influenced sales, at the time of its Q3 earnings report in late October, Paul Fireman (uncle of Marc) attributed market-share gains at athletic specialty, sporting goods and better department stores to new products and advertising programs.

In the United States, sales for the Reebok brand for the first three quarters of 2003 increased 15.3 percent to $1.2 billion. Globally, sales for the flagship brand for the nine months ending Sept. 30 rose 13.8 percent to $2.2 billion; excluding the effect of foreign currency adjustments, worldwide sales were up 8.3 percent.

The company, which spent about $35 million on measured media for the first eight months of this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, said it upped its overall ad expenditures in the third quarter by 45 percent over last year. The interactive ad expenditure for the first three quarters was $500,000, per TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

When it came to this year’s Internet efforts, Reebok refused to rest on the laurels of Terry Tate alone. To support its street-inspired ATR by RbK footwear collection, for instance, the marketer leveraged an all-star lineup of four NBA stars: Baron Davis of the New Orleans Hornets, Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets, Kenyon Martin of the New Jersey Nets and Jason Richardson of the Golden State Warriors.

The “Whodunit?” campaign kicked off in June with TV, print and outdoor ads from Arnell Group that directed consumers to a Web site where they could unravel a crime that took place “Above the Rim.” Online ads, via Grey Global Group’s Beyond Interactive in New York, ran on MTV.com, BET.com, UGO.com, NBA.com and Yahoo! Launch and drove some 750,000 consumers to the site, reports Reebok’s Marc Fireman. The Web portion encouraged participants to determine which one of the four players was guilty of overwhelming an opponent with a crossover dribble. “We built the site very much like a videogame,” in an attempt to reach teens and young adults interested in technology, sports, music and entertainment, explains Fireman.

The “investigators” could examine the crime scene, interrogate the suspects and analyze clues. They also could register to receive e-mail alerts and text messages to signal breaking news in the search.

“We took the logic from [the game] Clue and applied it to the Whodunit? site,” explains Matthew Szymczyk, CEO of Zugara, the Los Angeles-based interactive shop that developed the site. “The logic was almost, ‘How do you eliminate Colonel Mustard?'”

The Whodunit? campaign is “a great example of how you can integrate an idea and bring it to life through multiple agencies,” says Beyond Interactive vice president Nick Pahade, discussing how the multidisciplinary units united to implement Arnell Group’s integrated strategy. “The business cards were left at the door. It was, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out the best way to create an experience that’s going to resonate with the consumer, as well as drive results.'”

Reebok reports that more than 97,000 people took part in the six-week investigation, which culminated in August with an online-only spot revealing that the perpetrator was Steve Francis. An exit survey found that 90 percent of the participants were 12- to 24-year-olds and consumers were spending up to 13 minutes on the site at the program’s peak. “We were right in the sweet spot of what we were trying to do,” says Fireman.

In addition to Terry Tate and Whodunit?, Reebok this year collaborated with Runner’s World for a co-branded site, which thus far has welcomed 1 million visitors. And the company is playing up its affiliation with basketball star Allen Iverson on the Web. An online trivia game called Toe2toe pits the 6-foot Philadelphia 76ers guard against Netizens. “They can have fun and interact with Allen, which is something that they never get to do unless they are seeing him on the court or on TV or watching him in a commercial,” says Fireman.

For Reebok, tacking a URL onto an offline ad is no longer sufficient, says Fireman. “In the past, I think online has been considered as sort of a bolt-on to an advertising strategy. Now, online is integrated into the advertising strategy,” he explains. “Media is so fragmented nowadays that you have to really leverage every vehicle. [The Internet] can do things that the other media can’t do. And when you put that entire integrated marketing package together, you have something that’s more powerful than the sum of its parts.”

Adds Arnell: “The Web allows for a more intimate and more seductive and longer-lasting relationship with our consumers. So we use the Web to manage relationships, as well as portray the brand and product.”

While Reebok counts hoops great Iverson and rap artists 50 Cent and Jay-Z among its endorsers, Terry Tate remains unrivaled on the buzz-ometer.

“[Terry Tate] was so unexpected that it caused a huge pop culture tremor, and the Web is the best place to manage pop culture tremors,” says Arnell, who describes the character as “an animal” who epitomizes Reebok’s message “to outperform.”

As for Aboobaker, the USC coed was surprised to hear that the 6-foot-5, 300-plus-pound faux linebacker was the brainchild of a Trojan alumnus, Rawson Thurber. Thurber, a USC film-school grad student, hatched the idea in summer 2000 and produced it on digital video that fall. The work was later bought by Hypnotic, which brought it to the attention of Arnell Group in the interest of “branded entertainment.” “I did not know that,” exclaims Aboobaker after the brief Terry Tate 101 lesson.

Aboobaker, a rugby player, says the “funny and outrageous” campaign “made me have a lot of respect for the company.” However, it did nothing to influence his footwear-buying behavior. Fortunately for IQ’s Interactive Marketer of 2003, he already wears Reeboks.

Ann M. Mack is a reporter for Adweek and edits the IQ Daily Briefing newsletter.

Tale of the Tate

Visits to TerryTate.com the week following the Super Bowl: 1.8 million

Visits to TerryTate.com in the first three months following the Super Bowl: 13 million

Number of films downloaded per second at the height of the campaign: 20

Number of films downloaded to date: 19 million

Number of Terry Tate instant-messenger buddy icons downloaded: 150,000

Number of autographed pictures of Terry Tate downloaded: 80,000

Number of people who subscribed to the database known as “Terry’s HitSquad”: 1 million

Number of “HitMails” sent: 300,000