Reebok aims to change perceptions with ad that mixes sport and fashion

A still from Reebok's new 'Storm the Court' ad, launched in March 2019

Sportswear brand Reebok has launched a new ad campaign that mixes its performance and fashion sides for the first time.

Its "Sport the Unexpected" campaign kicked off in the U.S. Monday with a film called "Storm the Court," showing an unexpected guest who dances at an outdoor basketball game and seems to hypnotize the players. She's wearing a pair of Aztrek Double sneakers, an update to Reebok's all-terrain adventure shoe from 1993, the company said in an online statement.

Speaking at an event previewing the new campaign, the company's Vice President of Marketing, Melanie Boulden, said it was Reebok's "first fully-integrated campaign" that promotes both fashion and sport, according to a report on industry website Women's Wear Daily. She said that consumers don't see the two as separate. "They don't delineate brands like that. We are working on integrating. In 2019, we'll do it in a much stronger way. In 2020, we want the brand to have one brand voice, one brand vision, one brand," she added.

The brand has struggled somewhat since Adidas bought it in 2005 for $3.8 billion and the company is in the midst of a 2020 turnaround plan. In August, CEO Kasper Rorsted told CNBC that he was confident Reebok would be "into black territory" by 2020. "That's been the primary target and it also means in certain regions we are willing to take a slower revenue growth or even a declining one."

"If you look at the marketing coming from our industry over the years, it looks similar. With this campaign, we're breaking convention and offering an alternative point of view on sport and life. We want consumers to know there is an alternative in the category. We want them to be proud to sport the unexpected," Boulden said in an online statement published Monday. "These are young people who love to be active, love to be stylish. They want to mix it up and call their own shots. They want to do — and wear — what's unexpected," she added.

But Rick Burton, professor of sports management at Syracuse University's Falk College said he was concerned about a campaign being able to straddle both the sport and fashion community.

"It's very difficult to be everything to everybody. While it is an exciting piece of film-making that grabs your attention, the ad does not make a sports performance claim nor a fashion claim nor does it articulate a brand benefit. And keep in mind, they're going up against products like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas on the sports side, and brands like Skechers on the causal comfortable shoe side," Burton said in a statement emailed to CNBC. 

Peter Reid, CEO and co-founder of ad agency group MSQ Partners, said Reebok needed to be braver in its approach. "My one concern is that it doesn't differentiate Reebok particularly in the category from Nike or even Adidas. In some ways, it is reminiscent of a style which has been a feature of the category in recent times," he said in an email to CNBC. Reid cited Nike's "Nothing Beats a Londoner" and Adidas's "Pogba x Stormzy" films that have a fashion and sport focus.

Reebok's "Storm the Court" is the first of three ads. The second is "Back Where we Started," featuring classic Reebok sneaker the Club C, but Reebok did not provide details of the third ad due out later this year. The campaign will run online and on social media as well as on traditional media platforms and was created by agency Venables Bell & Partners.