One of the oldest and prominent athletic and apparel brands, Reebok, has been around us through its unmistakable trademark logo. From sports apparel on your next-door neighbor to globally celebrated events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the logo of the oldest athletic company in the world has been around since the 1950s. While the brand, similar to all businesses, has had its ups and downs. Be that as it may, that makes Reebok a solid example to learn how to build a brand that leaves a legacy as strong as the same.
The Beginning of an Era
Trained as a cobbler, at the age of 14 in 1895, Joseph Foster Williams made his first pair of running shoes with spikes, called pumps. Fast forward 5 years, his skills turned into a business at an ear;y age of 19.
Providing shoes for Olympic teams, in the year 1924, Joseph started a legacy by welcoming his two sons into the business. Struggling for a few years, they returned to Fosters, which ended in the year 1958. This is where Reebok saw the first light. In the year 1960, as the name got official, one of the partners (sons), Jeff, decided to travel and tap the market globally, whereas the other, Joe, worked on a book to build a brand that was foreseeably huge.
Understanding the need of the market at the time, Reebok – at the time known as JW Foster & Sons – found its big break when it created a foreseeable market for women’s aerobic shoes. With the marketing efforts, the sale topped at 1.5 million dollars in the year 1981. However, similar to all the products ever made, people grew out of it. After facing a few hiccups concerning the sales, the brand was back on its feet after the launch of aerobic exercise; not only were these shoes comfortable for exercising, but also aesthetically pleasing especially with the introduction of bright colors in the sports shoe industry.
With a history of more than 60 years, it is impossible to discuss it all in one go. However, missing out on lessons and strategies entertained by this iconic brand is an unaffordable mistake. Therefore, here are some instances, lessons, strategies, examples, and everything else in between that Joe and Jeff Foster applied while building Reebok.
Name matters: While, I, for one, have come across branding experts explaining how putting weeks into coming up with a brand name is not necessary – and agree to the same; it does not always have to be that way. Upon being unable to register the name Mercury, as it was taken, the agent pointed towards Kodak and said ‘it means nothing, that is the kind of name you want.’ After browsing dictionaries, the Foster brothers landed on the name Reebok as it means African Gazelle, which is meant to represent the grace, speed, and swiftness of the company.
Word of mouth: Reebok was not doing great in terms of popularity; this was until 1979. As this was a running boom in the US, Joe came across Paul Fireman, who made a deal to distribute the sneakers if the Foster brothers could get a 5-star rating of their sneakers by a publication, named Runner’s World, that used to test shoes in a lab, and rate accordingly. They got a total of three 5-star ratings, and next they knew, the shoes were on a display at the Chicago International sneaker trade show. Moreover, Fireman introduced Reebok to the USA by licensing it officially.
Designed to simplify: Wearing shoes is not a difficult task for most of us, right? Nonetheless, the brand believes in improving things for a better customer experience. Thus, the origin of speed lacing was brought by Reebok. It is a system – which is used to the extent of hardly noticing it anymore – that makes the shoelaces move faster and more comfortably.
Besides a long history of leaving a legacy in terms of branding, a lot of the background activities go unnoticed and unshared. Reebok logo history is one of those.
Reebok Logo: History, Tweaks, and Identity
The iconic Reebok logo that we have known for a long time, is a result of several tweaks and revisions of the same over the years. While there have been a few changes along the way, the Reebok logo is certainly one of the most popular apparel logos in the history of the sports industry.
While the original Reebok logo was a Union Jack, it had to be changed as the company moved to a new name. Starting with a modern light sans-serif typeface, and two horizontal zig-zag lines above an abstract symbol, the logo was not as powerful as the brand itself. In the year 1977, the Reebok logo was a bold letter logo with the British flag placed to the right. The typeface represented the tone of the brand to an extent that it is used to this date.
Moving ahead, the iconic Reebok emblem was introduced to the world in the year 1993. Here, the British flag was replaced with the Reebok emblem, and the entire color of the logo was a lighter shade of blue as compared to the previous one. For the next 3 years, the brand switched to a gray color palette for the entire logo, with an emblem on the top of the brand name. While this made the brand seem elegant, it did not work out for long. With an attempt to do something holding the light gray color, the brand changed its logo drastically in the year 2000. The emblem was not changed, but moved to the left of the name, with both the elements in a divided parallelogram. Here, the red color for the brand name, and gray background for the emblem, with blue boundaries for a parallelogram, did not work in favor of Reebok.
For the next 3 years, the company used a shortened name of Reebok: RBK, along with the emblem. Then there was an all-black simple logo, for the growing millennials, and years after that a new emblem was introduced: three equal segments forming a seemingly sharp triangle; known as the Delta logo. In the year 2019, the brand changed back to its vector emblem to the beloved (two smooth lines merging in one with sharp edges), below the brand name, and added a sense of power and uniqueness to its logo design.
While the changes made to the Reebok logos were frequent, they were also certainly well-thought. For instance, the emblem lines represent social, mental, and physical transformation. Whereas, the red and blue color hints at the color of the flag of the UK, where the company was founded.
In all honesty, Reebok has faced its fair share of challenges. With Adidas buying it, to Adidas selling it upfront, the brand has popped up in the minds of critics quite a number of times. Regardless, this legendary athletic brand can never be faded, for its contribution to the athletic world and sports industry is too much to be forgotten.
It goes without saying, the brand is a remarkable example that shows determination and consistency can play a role in branding, only when combined with all forms of designs: from logo to website.
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Head of Design at DesignBro and is responsible for UI/UX Design, managing the global designer community, and ensuring quality levels of both designers and designs remain high.