We’re only a third of the way through 2015, which might be a little early to discuss yearly superlatives but that’s what the Internet is for. When it comes to sneakers, it’s hard to deny that Reebok is trying to make waves with a fairly aggressive first few months.
They recently signed two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and made the announcement by showing off how freakishly athletic he is for a 290 pound lineman. Its celebrity co-signs went 0-100 real quick, getting Z Pumps, its newest technical running sneaker, on the feet of Kylie Jenner, Christy Teigen, and endless UFC and Cross Fit athletes.
YOU CAN THROW MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AT PEOPLE BUT THEY DON’T SEE YOUR FACE OR HEAR YOUR WORDS.
— KENDRICK LAMAR
Oh yeah, they also inked Kendrick Lamar to a deal last December and made him the face of its upcoming Ventilator campaign. More than a marketing plan, Kendrick has been incredibly hands on with Reebok’s strategy for the 25th anniversary of the sneaker and has even been designing his own stuff that could debut around the fourth quarter.
Ever since his flame-throwing Control bars and the Nike Cortez shout out that broke the Internet worse than any Paper Magazine cover, Kendrick has helped push units and Reebok took notice. The word “influencer” has a more negative connotation than sneakerhead at this point but when an entertainer builds hype, a brand would be foolish not to try and capitalize on it—especially someone as genuine about who they are and where they came from.
Nike and adidas did it with Yeezus and it’s been the epitome of a power move for both brands, regardless of what Sports One Source will credit for influencing sales. Puma teaming with Rihanna, Meek Mill, and Usain Bolt has earned them a lot of buzz in multiple countries. One of Reebok’s most successful campaigns was with Jay-Z and G-Unit in 2003, and teaming with two of the biggest hip-hop icons at the time had its sneakers and apparel on everyone from elite high school basketball players to college kids in the 'burbs.
If Reebok sees a similar success with Kendrick as they did a decade ago, the Ventilator might be the jumping point for a promising 2015.
The shoe will debut tomorrow in a gang of colorways from highlighter yellow to baby blue and will actually be affordable for the every day kid at $75—just as Kendrick wanted. Between the product, the price, and the co-signs—is Reebok back? We had a chance to talk to Kendrick about his future with the brand and how important it is for him to remember where he came from.
Complex: Part of your partnership with Reebok has to do with giving back to the community. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Kendrick: The initial thing me and Reebok done, which I thought was cool when it was presented to me, the fact of going back to my old high school. Showing that they can see these cameras and this unique brand, in your own neighborhood. So when we did the first look, that’s giving back right there.
It was important to invest my time, it’s not always about the money. You can throw millions of dollars at people but they don’t see your face or hear your words. That money doesn’t always mean everything. The fact that we're all right here, in this same spot where I grew up, that’s giving back—along with a lot of other things we are doing.
C: As a kid, how important was it to rock a fresh pair of kicks?
K: I always go back to me being in middle school and wearing Reebok classics. My favorite artists at the time, The Hot Boys, Juvenile, Lil Wayne and them cats rocked them.
C: Are you interested in doing work on the design side with Reebok?
K: We got something in the works. You gotta wait. Reebok has always been a part of my sense of style. It’s almost like going back to being a kid and wanting to do that, drawing on my desk what shoes and designs I’d like to wear. Fast-forward 10 or 15 years later and I’ll be able to do that.
Are moves like teaming with Kendrick and JJ Watts enough to pick up momentum for the brand? It’s worked well for adidas over the last year and social media influence from credible athletes and entertainers continue to prevail.
Brandon Edler is a contributor for Complex and content strategist at Finish Line. You can follow him on Twitter here.