When Ariana Grande premiered her new music video last week for “The Light Is Coming” — the second single off her forthcoming album — it appeared exclusively on Reebok’s website, where it streamed for 24 hours in advance of the global debut.
Beyond building valuable celebrity cachet, the partnership was an important e-commerce play for the athletic brand. In the video, Grande, who has been a celebrity ambassador for Reebok since September 2017, dons several different Reebok sneakers and clothing items, which Reebok made immediately shoppable via the video on the site and on its social media accounts. When the video was released internationally the following day, it retained a section of the homepage for users to shop Grande’s look.
For Reebok, the music video dovetails with its continued push to connect with female shoppers through testing out new digital platforms. The company has been working more frequently with female celebrity ambassadors, and earlier this month, the brand released its first podcast series, created in partnership with Gimlet Creative. On the podcast, titled Flipping The Game, women discuss topics ranging from gender discrimination in streetwear to the lack of equality for female athletes. One episode in particular pays tribute to the Reebok Freestyle sneaker, one of the first athletic shoes available to women when it hit the market in 1982.
“While we’ve evolved dramatically since 1982, and great strides have been made for women in the industry, obviously there are still a lot of issues,” said Dan Mazei, head of Reebok’s global newsroom. “We saw an opportunity to take a look back at what that shoe meant, why we created it and what it says about women and sneaker culture.”
Flipping the Game was created with help from Reebok’s integrated brand newsroom, which was launched in 2016 and blends together members of the social media, content and PR teams. Manzei, who leads the newsroom, said the episodes are designed to tell interesting stories and not come across as a 20-minute advertisement for Reebok.
“We wanted to start from a place of honesty and authenticity, and so that meant talking about some of the things that were uncomfortable for us and the shoe industry,” he said. “That’s what listeners have enjoyed, based on ratings and reviews. It’s a really long, overdue, honest conversation about what’s going on.”
Steve Robaire, head of sports and entertainment marketing at Reebok, said the team started by improving its women’s apparel and sneakers on the design side, and bringing back classic women’s styles like the Reebok Rapide. When it came to its celebrity ambassadors, he said Reebok was tasked with not only identifying the right people to represent the brand but also finding unique ways to use them.
“Everyone is in the business of trying personalities to represent their brand. It’s a battleground everyday of who’s signing who,” Robaire said. “We’re really thoughtful about that process here and making sure that everything we do feels real.”
Grande’s involvement builds upon the influencer marketing campaign Reebok started with Gigi Hadid in 2016. Since then, the collaborations have continued to evolve, featuring notable figures like actress Gal Gadot and designer Victoria Beckham, as well as co-designed clothing lines with the respective ambassadors.
Bringing on celebrity ambassadors has also helped Reebok build up its social media following, particularly across its three Instagram feeds — @Reebok, @ReebokWomen and @ReebokClassics. Though Reebok Women currently has more than 500,000 followers, it’s still lagging behind others like @nikewomen, which touts more than 7 million followers. Tapping into the robust fan bases of a celebrity like Grande, who boasts more than 120 million followers, is integral to bolstering social media growth.
Looking to the future, Manzei and Robaire said there aren’t yet plans for additional podcast series, though they’re not ruling it out. The team intends to continue to find new ways to use its celebrity ambassadors to sell women’s apparel and build a loyal following, while also focusing on building out its e-commerce business. Online sales have been especially important in the U.S., which has less physical retail space compared to other regions overseas.
“We’ve made a lot of investment in amping up [the e-commerce] part of our business, and we’ve been trying to find more opportunities around storytelling with selling experience,” Robaire said.