Mass Media & Pop Culture
September 19, 2001
Reebok: Defying Convention
This Reebok advertisement from the August 2001 issue of Self magazine shows off the company’s new shoes in an exciting, fast-paced, eye-catching way. To determine this ad’s effectiveness, it is important to examine the demographics and purpose of the magazine in which it was placed and to study the visual content of the ad, both from a technical perspective as well as by making inferences about the ad’s central characters.
First of all, Self, a women’s fitness magazine, is aimed at women ages 18 to 24 who value exercise and looking good. One could infer that this type of magazine is successful because many women of this age are unmarried and therefore probably want to look good to impress a boyfriend or fiancé, and they have the time to exercise because they are not yet tied down with several children. This is only my opinion, of course. The magazine’s audience may also be women who want to assert their independence and strength, as exhibited by their physical prowess. At any rate, because the magazine’s audience is young women interested in fitness, it makes sense that Reebok athletic shoes would be advertised within its pages.
Now for the ad itself: The advertisement is found in a prestigious spot in the magazine, right toward the front before even the first article appears (many women will inevitably have to flip past it to get to the table of contents). It stars two main characters: a young, white, blond woman and a young black man, both probably in their early 20s. Her white, collared shirt and black skirt show the woman’s femininity. She looks properly dressed for a day at work. Yet, on her feet are neon green and black Reebok shoes, which seem to be ultra-modern-looking tennis shoes; quite a contrast from her dressy outfit. Beside her, the man is similarly dressed: white collared shirt, a tie, and black dress pants, also with funky black shoes. Are they colleagues at work who have decided to entertain themselves on their lunch break by racing shopping carts? Or are they in fact grocery store employees who maybe are defying their responsibilities a bit or have found a fun way to gather the carts and take them back to the store? The message sent by the characters is that they are grown-ups with jobs, maybe fresh out of college, yet the kid in them still shines through at times: they want to be daring, maybe even a little reckless and “defy convention,” as the ad says.
Technically speaking, the ad attempts to capture the energy, the motion, of the scene. In a parking lot, two characters are racing along in shopping carts. By blurring the road and keeping the background out of focus, the viewer gets the sense that the carts are moving at a rapid pace, and, as one cart is ahead of the other, the idea that the carts are racing each other as well. The female character is in focus, smiling, maybe laughing with delight at the thrill of the ride. The man, beside her, has his mouth open, but more like he’s screaming. The female is bold and confident, whereas maybe the guy’s a little wimpier: this would appeal to the more independent females in Self’s audience. Many contrasting colors are also used in the ad: the black and white outfits contrast with the bright red plastic on the shopping carts, while the blue sky and brown road compose a more neutral background. The metal square grid of the shopping carts gives the ad texture and reflects the sunlight, too. The season is summertime, as the characters are not wearing coats, it appears to be a sparkling sunny day, and even palm trees appear in the background behind a building; the traditional image of a California summer day. Below the eye-catching picture is simple white space containing a single shoe at the center, which the reader recognizes as the ones shown on the woman’s feet. At the bottom right is the simple slogan: “Reebok. Defy Convention.”
As many readers tend to look first at the upper left-hand corner of the page (perhaps from the habit of reading left to right), the woman’s smiling face is most likely the first thing they will see. When they one see the characters astride their carts, the thought that occurs is, “Why are these people in carts? What is this ad for?” Then they see the shoe and all becomes clear.
This is an unusual ad for many reasons: first, shopping cart racing is something I have only ever seen elsewhere on the MTV show Jackass, and second, because most shoe advertisements, (like one for Asics also found in the same magazine), show a woman running, whether to clear her mind or impress men. In this case, the woman’s shoes do not directly help her accomplish a task with her legs. Maybe they brace her against the front of the shopping cart, but that’s about it. Perhaps Reebok’s intention is to show that the shoes are fashionable: they can be worn with a dressy outfit, and also come in handy for more athletic activities, even informal ones like shopping cart racing. The woman is ready to do whatever comes her way without having to worry about changing her footwear first, as a high-heel-wearing woman would. The cultural value of the woman being equal to the man is shown because the girl in the ad is being just as daring as the guy, and maybe a little tomboyish by wearing tennis shoes with a skirt. The attitude of the ad is laid back, relaxed, and enjoying the thrill of being alive.