Saumya Tewari

"The sales share of our women's range has doubled to 30 % in two years": Somdeb Basu, Reebok

In Reebok's latest campaign, created by L&K Saatchi and Saatchi, a sweaty MS Dhoni urges Indians to devote an hour a day to fitness. In January this year, we saw author Chetan Bhagat take the 100-Day Fitness Challenge in the 'Reeboot campaign'.

Somdeb Basu, brand director, Reebok India, tells us that Reebok, since 2013, has been focussed on positioning itself as a "fitness brand", as opposed to a "generalist sports brand". This has a lot to do with the Indian consumer's attitude towards fitness in general.

In its latest mass media campaign, the brand looks to inspire Indians to take fitness seriously.

Edited excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

Of late, every second Indian calls himself/herself a 'foodie'. In a food-loving nation like ours, only a fraction of the population leads an active lifestyle. The campaign appears to draw on this reality...

Our consumer research clearly showed that fitness ranked really low on consumers' day-to-day activity lists. 'Time crunch' was the predominant reason people gave for not being able to exercise. That is where the campaign thought germinated.

Chetan Bhagat and MS Dhoni have little in common. Are you targeting different consumers through each ambassador?

Yes, there is a notion among people that celebrities like John Abraham and Dhoni are promoting the brand because their professional success depends on fitness. This might not hold true for an office-goer. The genesis of the Reeboot campaign came from this insight. We wanted to feature a public figure whose profession does not demand him/her to be fit; Chetan Bhagat fit the bill. Consumers can relate to him. Through the Chetan Bhagat campaign, we are trying to inspire people who need a gentle push to lead an active lifestyle.

"The sales share of our women's range has doubled to 30 % in two years": Somdeb Basu, Reebok
Interesting. Tell us more about your TG...

We have classified our TG as the fitness generation or 'FitGen' whose mental age is 25 years, while there is no barrier to the physical age. They work out three to four days a week and do not necessarily stick to a particular type of workout.

So, you have three male celebrities endorsing Reebok - Abraham, Bhagat and Dhoni - and just one female celebrity - Nargis Fakhri. Do women still lag behind on the fitness trail?

Reebok India is unbiased about the gender mix. While our advertising might have a 3:1 ratio, our products and retail store do not have gender bias. Two years ago, we launched fitness stores called 'FitHubs' and going against 'retail logic', we decided to give half of the space to the women's wear segment, which was contributing 11-15 per cent to the business back then. In the last two years, this number has increased to 30 per cent on a national level and in the metros it is 45-50 per cent of our overall sales.

Indian women, especially in the metros, wear the same products as their counterparts globally.

With product and messaging parity among top sports brands in India, does success boil down to the popularity of the celebrities endorsing them?

There are two types of consumers in our category - ones who will be attracted by what a celebrity endorser is asking them to buy and the others who are influenced by their peers and people who they admire and know. Our advertising is a judicious mix of the two.

A lot of people started running marathons in the last five years, so some of our campaigns show a celebrity running wearing Reebok shoes. That photograph does not inspire a runner; for him an influencer would be someone who has beaten his own record in a particular marathon.

We take real-life heroes; in our stores there is a huge black and white poster with faces of runners and trainers on it. We also shot a campaign with Dhoni last December with real-life running trainers in it.

How has your product changed over the last five years? Which is the most popular category?

Earlier, sportswear was available in conservative colours and fit. Usually dark colours - blue, grey, black - and loose fits dominated the market. It has completely changed with tights becoming one of highest selling categories at Reebok. Sales of fitness bra-tops have shot up. In the men's category, boat shorts - shorts that expand in four directions - are popular.

Shoes is the most popular category within which running shoes sell the most, followed by training shoes. In apparels, bottoms are our strength. Accessories are also a strong-selling category.

In what way has the role of mass media changed for your brand?

Currently, television attracts eyeballs, but I see digital challenging it soon. Activations take up a good amount of the budget along with digital and outdoors.

With rising aspirations among non-metro cities, how is Reebok leveraging this growing market?

We started going out of metros last year. We do a lot of activities in cities like Kochi, Jamshedpur, Pune and Chandigarh. We aim to reach out to top 20 cities of the country this year. Our aim is to conduct fitness workshops and sessions on a sustained basis, instead of doing just an event in a large number of cities.

When it comes to preferences, a non-metro consumer is not picky when buying a sports wear product because of lack of exposure. But the demand is there. We have stand-alone stores in many non-metros and a presence through MBOs. We also reach out through e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Myntra.

What are your main marketing challenges?

The biggest challenge is to expand the fitness base in India. It is like what FMCG companies did for the breakfast category a decade back, by trying to replace paranthas with cereals. The growth in the fitness space is encouraging, but it will take at least 3-4 years for it to become significant.

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