Ad of the Day: Reebok Wants You to Be a Better Human, Not Just a Better Athlete

Venables Bell's lofty new campaign

Why do we abuse ourselves through exercise? Is there a higher purpose?

Reebok and Venables Bell & Partners really work up a sweat for "Be More Human," an integrated global campaign that celebrates ordinary people who use sports and fitness in their quest for personal fulfillment and to serve the greater good.

In the lead spot, "Freak Show," folks wake in the wee hours or stay out long after dark, risking pain and injury, pushing themselves to the physical and emotional limit. Muscles pump and strain. Blisters rise. Bodies bob in the slimy shallows of Reebok's muddy Spartan Race competition. Perspiration flies everywhere.

"We do it to be better. Period," explains the voiceover on the commercial, which airs Sunday during NBC's Super Bowl pregame coverage. Such commitment, we're told, builds "better leaders. Better parents. Better, stronger, more determined humans, capable of anything."

Director A.G. Rojas employs muted hues and smooth pacing to set just the right mood, distancing these images of personal striving and sacrifice from, say, the glitz and glamour of professional sports. Rojas mixes in shots of firefighters and busy families to forge the all-important connection, linking the obsessive workouts and weekend-warrior contests with aspects of daily living. For these folks, the physical and mental investment in being "more human" is worth the price, and they wouldn't have it any other way.

"By adopting such a lifestyle, you find yourself in a community of people joined together by a common purpose—to be better versions of themselves," says Matt O'Toole, Reebok's brand president. "We're confident that when we push ourselves, we not only transform our bodies, we transform our entire lives."

Apart from "Freak Show," the campaign has many other elements for consumers to explore, including inspirational clips ("Dig Deep!" "Honor Your Body!"), a "Human Score" video (presenting a test "designed to distill our humanness to a numeric value"), and the "Be More Human Online Experience," a cross-channel platform loaded with tools, information and activities. Even Reebok's logo has undergone a transformation. Now, it's a delta, with sides representing the physical, mental and social change that can be achieved through fitness and healthy living.

Of course, the basic theme isn't new. Nike's "Find Your Greatness" campaign, celebrating everyday athletes and timed to the 2012 London Olympics, was a nod in the same direction. "Be More Human," however, takes the premise to epic heights—like Nike-Plus to the nth-degree—positioning Reebok as a de facto fitness and lifestyle partner for the masses.

Frankly, I feel torn. On the one hand, any push for growth and enlightenment is a good thing. So Reebok, a brand which has often stood for nothing, does itself a service by aiming high. That said, there's a holier-than-thou (or maybe it's a bully-on-the-playground) subtext, suggesting, perhaps, that those of us who'd rather not blow out our hammies traipsing through the muck are somehow less human than those who would.

Should any brand, no matter how well intentioned, attempt to gauge our humanity? Has Reebok overreached? I'm going to kick back on the sofa, rest my aching muscles, and give those questions some thought.

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