If the Shoe Commercial Doesn't Fit, Don't Buy It: Reebok Ads High on Objectification, Low on Value

By Christine Cupaiuolo — November 12, 2009

by Meg Young

Our Bodies Ourselves intern

Reebok recently launched a new ad campaign for its women’s “Easy Tone” sneakers that is definitely not focused on feet. The shoe’s selling point is that the sole is supposedly constructed in such a way that it works the wearer’s hamstrings, calves and glutes as she walks, resulting in “better legs and a better butt with every step.”

From watching Reebok’s ads, however, one would think that the company is promoting lingerie, not a new fitness sneaker.

reebok_adOne of the ads begins with a close-up of a woman’s breasts in a bra, then pans to her panty-clad backside before briefly flashing a picture of the sneakers. In another ad, the bra is long gone as a faceless woman stretches her body — almost naked except for underwear and sneakers — over a bed. The only thing missing is porno-groove music. Oh wait, it’s there, too.

In the only ad depicting a woman wearing clothes (short shorts and an exercise tank top), she is unable to get the cameraman to focus on her face (instead of her behind) as she presents the virtues of “Easy Tone” sneakers.

YouTube has tagged the videos as “inappropriate for some users” and requires viewers to state that they are 18 before watching.

The late-night style ads aren’t the only bizarre thing about this sneaker campaign. Jami Bernard at WalletPop points to this warning on the Reebok website : “Due to the instability of the balance pods, activities with unplanned side-to-side movement and/or any lateral-movement -sports such as tennis or basketball-should be avoided.”

A fitness sneaker that you can’t play sports in? Huh?

Reebok’s website proclaims that upon wearing the sneakers, “88% of men will be speechless. 78% of women will be jealous.”

I’m 100 percent sure I can find a better way to spend $110.

Meg Young recently graduated from high school in Middlebury, Vt., and will enroll at Tufts University in the fall of 2010 after taking a gap year.

23 responses to “If the Shoe Commercial Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Buy It: Reebok Ads High on Objectification, Low on Value”

  1. Well……

    The ads are offensive, no question about that. But the writer needs to either stop there, or remember a few basic facts about fitness, clothing and footwear.

    MOST shoes don’t have a lot of lateral stability, because most activities don’t require it. That’s why you never, ever wear running shoes to aerobics class. (You knew that, right?) Or to play tennis, basketball, soccer, football, field hockey, or any other cutting sport.

    And MOST fitness activities are done in a minimal amount of clothing. The reason Liliya Shobukhova wore nothing but briefs, a singlet (that’s what it’s called), an ear-band and arm warmers to win the Chicago Marathon in 34° weather was not to show off her body, fabulous as it is. It’s because that’s what’s functional.

  2. I’m not getting Dana’s minimal-clothing point. Except for the one the writer mentions, the women in the ads aren’t dressed for sports.

    In the original Olympics men performed naked. But somehow that never figures in men’s sneaker commercials.

  3. There’s no reason to try to rationalize away the chauvinism in the ads — Reebok doesn’t want you to. From the very text of the website that Meg quotes — “88% of men will be speechless. 78% of women will be jealous” — Reebok makes it clear these shoes are about image and not substance — specifically crafting a woman’s body for men’s eyes. And the main competition they are good for is to continue to foment the battle among women themselves over who better achieves the patriarchal ideal.

    I’m not going to say they are a useless shoe. They might be scientifically the greatest shoe ever made. But marketing is not about the product. It’s about the values that we should be associating with the product. And those values are pretty clear.

  4. I just sent letters to five of the top executives at Reebok stating how offensive I thought these ads were. Might be funny to watch in a bar, but not at home when you are trying to watch TV with your kids. At least Victoria’s Secret is actually trying to sell underwear with their ads. Reebok just crossed a line for me.

  5. Thanks for all of your feedback!

    Dana – that’s a great point about lack of lateral support in most running shoes, and something I was not very aware of while writing article. Thank you.

  6. I hate these new reebok commericals. I feel uncomforable watching these with my family. I am glad my kids are not old enough to google over a woman. There is a line and it was crossed. There are a lot better ways to sell shoes with out using breast and butt. I love Reebok classic, but will discontinue my tradition of replacing them every year. i am disappointed with reebok.

  7. Please WOMEN — contact Reebok to let them know of your outrage at this OVERTLY sexualized advertising.

  8. I completely agree with you. This ad left me scratching my head. Is Reebok looking to arouse men, or sell shoes to women. Why not focus on the performance of the shoe instead of naked women.

  9. It is so gross. The ads speak volumes about the corporate culture at Reebok. When they have every opportunity to lift women up and inspire them to break past the old stereotypes, they instead choose to pander to the most base male inclinations, and reinforce body image issues in a whole new generation. I’ll never buy another product from them. The should be ashamed.

  10. I love the commericals and the shoes. They want men to buy them for women, as if we cannot afford to buy them for ourselves??? They are the must have gift of the year; and a gift women want and men can buy without too much effort or thought:)

    The Today show did a test of the shoes – and they loved them too.

    The commercials are to show what “you can have”….like every other product out there – they show the absolute best possible scenerio. Not everyone will end up with a butt like the models, but hey….one can have a vision of what they would like to look like while they walk in the shoes.

    I say brilliant ad campaign Reebok – keep up the good work. Many trainers tell you to have an image of what you want to look like or a dress you want to look good in to keep you motivated…..well they nailed it in a commercial!

  11. Kelly, I don’t condone violence but If my boyfriend bought me sneakers to improve my body as a gift I’d knock him into 2010. lol The scantily dressed women do not offend me. The “women will be jealous” part does. I don’t gain my self-esteem that way!!! 🙁

  12. Oh and I have news for Reebok. Those so called “exercise” shoes have been around for awhile and they do NOT work. It’s all a scam so please don’t waste your money. How sad that Reebok is so desperate they have to stoop to such cheesy sleezy ads that are appearing during a time when small children are watching. I wrote to my local television stations and complained and I suggest anyone else who finds these ads offensive should do the same. As always the best way to complain is with you wallet.

  13. I am not so offended by the commercials, I happen to like the Axe commercials will scantily dressed good looking men, but I am unsure about promoting an untested shoe to change your body mechanics while walking. How about injuries? Lateral movements, anybody that has walked any distance has had to side step something. Ankle stability? effect on heavier people? repetitive injuries to back, hips and knees? That is what I am worried about. We want women to exercise to be healthier not just look good.

  14. The shoes are not meant to be worn while working out or doing any other fitness endeavors. The instability they provide forces the body to work more to stand and walk thus you get a “workout” doing your every day walking around.

    They are the same as the MBT’s that have been around for years and cost 3’x as much

    They do “work” in you have to use your stabilizing muscles more but they are not going to change your body SO dramatically

    Some people do swear by the MBT’s that they have less back pain and better posture etc etc

    I will hand this to Reebok the shoes are not near as ugly as the MBT’s are

    man that is one ugly shoe

  15. Wow, where have I been- I don’t think i’ve seen the commercials on tv. i did see the print ads and got a pair about a month ago- I hate to say it-but i love them. i have a pair of mbt shoes- very clunky. these sneakers are so comfortable I wear them everyday and I wear them on the treadmill- no problems. Wouldn’t think of wearing them to aerobics class- I’m too smart for that. Also, they are good to wear when doing balance excercises-kind of like being on a stability board or bosu ball.So, let’s not ” throw the baby out with the bath water.” They look great-feel great and maybe they have some benefit.Not bad for a sneaker.

  16. Where is the outrage over the Axe or men body wash commercials. Grow up ladies, you want equal rights and equal treatment, it goes both ways. It’s not a one way street. Right an article about the latest half naked dude on a horse trying to sell “body wash.”

  17. It looks like a porn commercial for men to relieve themselves. I turn the channel everytime it comes on. I will never buy Reebok again. I like women shown as healthy and athletic and strong. This is done like a type of porn thing.

  18. I’m so glade that I’m not the only one that hate that Reebok commercial. Before i had nothing against Reebok, but now i would never buy their shoes. At college, there many programs trying very hard to make the women in the school to love their body the way they are. But you get home, turn on your tv and girl butts are on your face like in these commercial, it is hard to make the world see us as human being not as a body part or a piece of meat.

    Ps sorry about my English, it is my second language.

  19. I had a disagreement about these tasteless commercials with my boyfriend and was thrilled to read I’m not being ridiculous because it seems alot of others feel the same way. Advertising is about targeting a specific market. Who in the world are they targeting? It should be the women who will be buying the shoes but all it did for me is piss me off that I’m sitting watching TV with my family and I have to watch butts jumping out at me for the next couple of minutes. These ads are targeting men, not women. And if a man would buy me a pair of those shoes based on these advertisements I’d burn the shoes. These are chauvenistic advertisements that in my opinion are projecting false advertising. I work out hard and it sure as heck isn’t the pair of shoes that’s going to give me a butt like that. Besides, as some have said, the women in these ads have no butts. But – that’s beside the point. Reebok has stooped to a level I never thought a reputable shoe company could. I’ll take my business elsewhere to a company that doesn’t splash trash across my TV screen. Come on guys, there’s better ways to promote an athletic shoe with taste.

  20. So, ok, I have seen the what you seem to call Reebok porn ads, but I still have gone and bought a pair of TrainTones, and today I am buying the Nvee sandals. Many years ago, I bought a pair of the first generation MBTs; very comfy, and great for my posture but, unfortunately, butt-ugly. At least the Reebok ones are much better looking.

    As far as I know, these Reebok shoes/sneakers DO work, and they work quite well. My daughter, a very sporty and fit type, bought the sneakers and the flip-flops, and absolutely loves them. I tried them on, too, and the feeling was that of comfort, good fit, and and overall well made shoe.

    Frankly, many of you, including the writer of the article, are such drama queens it’s not even funny, much anyway. So Reebok wants to sell shoes that give us better thighs and butts. What’s wrong with that? Are we that jealous and insecure of the (let’s face it) a very good looking model in a piddly commercial, that it puts us in a PMSsy psycho rage, and we just must write everyone and their dog how sexist and chauvinistic these ads are? This is marketing101, people; the companies need to stay afloat and, for that, they need to sell stuff. And “sex sells”, always had and always will. Why aren’t you offended by the VS commercials? The women in these are beautiful, too, and they wear nothing but sexy (albeit ill fitting) bras and panties. Yes, VS sells underwear. Reebok sells what I would call “butt improvement” shoes. And, for that, they actually have to show the good looking butts. Would you buy their EasyTone shoes if the woman in the ads was fat and/or cellulite-ridden? I highly doubt that.

    Let me tell you this, I am in my 50s, gained quite a few pounds since my size 3 days, and my backside looks badly dimpled and pitiful. So, should I feel all out of sorts because a (much) younger woman in the ad has the body I once used to have? Who the hell cares! I am getting the shoes for the built-in workout because I am a very busy person and not able to hit the gym whenever I please. But, I can put these shoes on, and walk, and maybe improve my body a bit. Nothing wrong with getting some core strength now, is there? And, for the record, the Reebok clearly stated which footwear is meant for which activity; there are EasyTones, TrainTones, and RunTones, just to name a few flavors, and they are designed with walking, aerobics, or running in mind. Oh, and if my beloved husband bought me these shoes, for whatever reason, I would happily accept the gift.

    So, please, put your insecurities aside and give these shoes a chance. Your butts, and spines, just might thank you.

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