Go to the gym. Load up a barbell. Pick the bar up off the ground ten times. Then jump up and down off a twenty-four inch box ten times. Follow that with ten pull-ups. Repeat the sequence as many times as you can in sixteen minutes. Congratulations, you’ve just done a CrossFit workout! To some people, it sounds like hell. To Reebok, it’s a way to invigorate a brand.

CrossFit is an exercise regimen that combines elements of gymnastics, weightlifting, and endurance sports with the goal of creating the ultimate level of cross-functional fitness, and it’s caught on like wildfire. The first CrossFit gym, called a “Box,” opened in 2000. Today, there are more than 8,000 worldwide. In 2007, CrossFit launched the “CrossFit Games.” Reebok began sponsoring the Games in 2011 and inspired the idea for an “Open,” basically a giant qualifying round open to any athlete who wanted to enter.

Reebok is constantly working to design apparel that helps athletes achieve their best possible workout, no matter what their sport, with a special emphasis on products that have the durability and functionality that Crossfit, the Spartan Races, and other demanding regimens require.

Reebok’s line of CrossFit shoes and apparel has grown along with the sport. Revenue from Reebok’s CrossFit merchandise grew by 13% in the first quarter of 2013, and sold millions in business just selling gear at regional CrossFit Games. In fact, Reebok is so committed to CrossFit that the brand opened a CrossFit Box in its corporate headquarters.

The Way I See It

  • I see Reebok as the official “CrossFit gear,” much like lululemon is synonymous with yoga. I see product development continuing to be a large part of the brand’s business model, and not only a way to connect with customers, but to engage and support them.
  • I see Reebok as a trendsetter in the durability-focused fitness gear. As cross-functional fitness continues to expand in popularity, brands will look to Reebok to set the benchmark.
  • I see that Reebok is onto something interesting. Unlike sponsoring professional sports, and receiving endorsements from professional athletes that go along with it, Reebok is sponsoring the sports equivalent of a grassroots movement in which the fans are also the athletes.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Chris Froio, ‎Vice President of Fitness & Training at Reebok, to discuss how its CrossFit partnership has opened opportunities for its brand and aided in product development.

How do you see CrossFit fitting into the issue of exercise trends? Do you see this as a long lasting change or a reflection of the moment?

As far as trends are concerned, the biggest trend that is shifting is fitness enthusiast have moved away from solitary jogging, running, and weightlifting on their own to a more group focused environment.  We are seeing a shift to communities, tribes, etc. and people are doing functional fitness in a CrossFit gym – or a “Box” as CrossFit calls it – with 20 to 25 people in a class. We are also seeing people do Spartan Races alongside a couple hundred people.  Group studio classes are starting to grow as well, such as Spinning or SH’BAM.  People are taking the idea of “I have to get the work out in,” and rather than making it a chore, we are seeing people turning workouts into a lifestyle and social thing. We see that working out with others increases motivation and helps eliminate the excuses, now you have people counting on you to come in for that class because you have formed relationships with the people in your class and your instructor.

How did Reebok decide to focus its energy on CrossFit? Was it attributed to the community-based workout trend shift that is underway?

The whole aspect of social media, social lifestyle, and the way people interact is where fitness trends are going. 4 years ago, we decided to go back to Reebok’s roots – fitness – and identify or create on our own a fitness regimen that was engaging and social. We wanted something that was more relevant than a gym full of treadmills or a weightlifting machine, and that is what spurred our relationship with CrossFit. I don’t see CrossFit as something that is going to go away. The more Reebok can make fitness engaging, the more it will inspire those who are not yet motivated.

Continue Reading Reebok Gets Fit with an Intense CrossFit Sponsorship

Let’s say a senior at MIT is about to graduate with a double major in Computer Science and Comparative Media Studies. Career Services tells the student, “You can make six figures at a Manhattan consulting firm, or you can apply to ‘Venture for America.’ Oh, and if selected by Venture for America, you will be sent to a city in need of entrepreneurs. There you will make less than $40,000 a year working for a start-up.” Which would you choose as your first job?  Fortunately, in 2013, hundreds of America’s best and brightest college students chose the latter and applied for the seventy fellowships offered by Venture for America.

Venture for America is the brainchild of entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Yang saw the Ivy League-to-hedge fund/investment bank/consulting firm conveyor belt and thought, “What a waste of talent.” Venture for America re-allocates that talent to where it has the potential to do the most good. Specifically, start-up companies in mid-sized cities across the country that are trying to revitalize their local economies. Recent college graduates receive invaluable experience that they would likely not get at a large, established company, and the start-ups are provided with access to talent they otherwise probably would not have the resources to recruit.

Among the many interesting projects Venture for America has supported is “SocialProvidence,” a social media analytics and consulting company based in Rhode Island, that is supervised by executives from HavasPR, but is run day-to-day by two Venture for America fellows. One of SocialProvidence’s main selling points is that digital natives – like the two young men running the company – have a much more intuitive and accurate sense of what kinds of social media marketing techniques will be most effective.

The Way I See It

  • I see a growing intersection between start-up culture and community development. Some of that is driven by a consumer niche that wants to buy local products and have real relationships with the people whose businesses they patronize. But a lot of it is driven by the genuine desire of a certain class of entrepreneur to use their business as a way of building community.
  • I see a millennial generation that is really driven by a sense of connection. They want to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. Millennials are one of the reasons that community service has become such a big deal on college campuses. Venture for America has certainly tapped into that spirit.
  • I see entrepreneurship gaining in popularity among the youth of today, and not just in the sense of entrepreneur as business owner. But embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and building things, creating new ventures, and solving problems.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Venture for America CEO, Andrew Yang, to discuss entrepreneurship and his upcoming book, Smart People Should Build Things.

Before you started your own company, you were on the same Ivy League to law/finance/consulting path that you’re trying to knock your Venture for America Fellows out of. What shortcomings did you find in that path?

When I was graduating from college, law, finance, and consulting were the options that were presented to me – mainly because the consulting firms and financial services firms were recruiting heavily at Brown.  It just seemed natural to go down one of these paths on the road to success and prestige.  After becoming a corporate lawyer, I found that it wasn’t a great fit for me because of how narrow and specialized the role was, and that I didn’t enjoy acting as a document reader and deal facilitator.  These “prestige pathways” of finance, law and consulting, as I call them in the book, are still the options that are being presented to college seniors. The professional services firms have millions of dollars to spend recruiting talent on college campuses each year. The salaries and benefits that they can offer are certainly appealing. These kinds of resources are not available to early stage growth companies that are actually creating jobs in this country and are most in need of the nation’s best and brightest minds.

Your last business was a test prep company. What did you see in the students you were working with that made you think that maybe they were open to a different kind of opportunity?

When I was at Manhattan GMAT, I met hundreds of bankers and consultants who were preparing to enroll in business school. Many of them seemed a little lost, like I had been when I realized I no longer wanted to be a lawyer. They would talk about wanting to make a real impact in an organization, and I think they were going to business school often to reset and seek that kind of opportunity.  Our young people want to build things; they just aren’t being presented with the choice to do so. I started Venture for America because I believe that if we provide the path to entrepreneurship to smart, enterprising young people, they will embrace it.  And early returns suggest that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Continue Reading Building the Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow: A Candid Discussion with the CEO of Venture for America, Andrew Yang

The way we get our news is changing.  Every morning and throughout the day people around the world log on to Twitter to find out what is making headlines, new key developments on topics of interest, and what is “trending” – literally and figuratively.  And Twitter is not the only social media network being utilized to gather news and check for updates.  Facebook’s “Timeline” offers users the ability to share news articles within their network. Many social media users will check various social media sites more often than they may like to admit, looking for news or articles posted by “friends.”

The New York Times may have caused a stir when it introduced a paywall to access unlimited news content, but for many people, established news organizations are no longer that critical.  After all, they don’t have to look beyond their social networks to find the news they want.  Critically, with this shift in media consumption, advertising dollars are shifting too – the industry is going social.  Based on exponential increases in ad spend on social and digital networks, a recent BIA/Kelsey study predicts that social media ad spending will grow significantly over the next few years, from $4.7 billion last year, to $11 billion in 2017.


I see the shift to social continuing and more advertisers spending less on traditional media including digital news outlets, TV, and print, and spending more on social networks.

  • I see the shift to social continuing and more advertisers spending less on traditional media including digital news outlets, TV, and print, and spending more on social networks.
  • Continue Reading Ad Dollars Go Social

I talk here on Madison Ave Insights a good amount about digital, social media, and mobile advertising trends and developments, and how they are changing the industry.  Advertisers are shifting dollars from traditional print and television to online media outlets and novel platforms – that is no question.  However, televisions are still in nearly every home in America, tuned to leading sitcoms, special programming, news, and sports.  So, how do advertisers determine which programs are worth allocating ad dollars to in order to reach target audiences?  Cue Sweeps periods.

The Way I See It

  • I see Sweeps, which are a data-collection periods used to determine local viewing information and provide a basis for scheduling programs – what gets renewed and what gets cancelled – and making advertising decisions for local television stations and cable systems, as a sort of precursor to the type of data-collection processes that advertisers are able to initiate online and on mobile.
  • I see many arguing that Sweeps are an outdated process and one that are no longer relevant in the age of new consumer data and because viewers can be determined through other aspects, especially given the new “second screen” trend of using social media to discuss TV programming while watching.

The Way The Industry Sees It

I sat down with Matt Seiler, CEO of Mediabrands, Interpublic’s media-buying division, to discuss the upcoming annual Sweeps periods and the relevance for the advertising and entertainment industries.

How and when did the Sweeps process begin? How have they evolved over the years to remain effective?

The concept of sweep periods are almost as old as television measurement itself. Nielsen began sending out viewing paper diaries in 1954 to capture demographic information, a practice that continues today in the smaller TV markets—almost sixty years later. Because the data is only collected at certain times of the year, networks and stations tend to heavy up on first-run and special programming in order to influence the ratings. This is especially mind-boggling when you consider that top and mid-tier markets are being measured electronically, fifty-two weeks per year. In terms of evolution over the years, there’s been virtually none, and better measurement of local television is something we strongly believe in. To Nielsen’s credit, they are currently exploring different forms of improved electronic measurement in smaller markets and we are involved in several committees to help guide the process.

How important are the Sweeps periods and data collected for advertisers in terms of allocating spend? Are there other factors that impact that decision as well?

To our dismay, it is still a significant consideration for our local investment staff because of the nature of the measurement. However, it is hardly the only factor involved in their decision-making, as we leverage all of the data at our disposal to help us buy smarter.

Continue Reading Television Sweeps Periods: Still relevant or outdated?

Men’s fashion has evolved over the years to incorporate more styles and fashion forward items.  Other men’s-only retailers offer customers the option of designing their own custom dress shirts, providing choices of size, pattern, collar type, buttons, cuff link style, monogram options, and other features.  The custom tailored concept is very popular among men, young and old, and it is now being introduced in online shopping to make it more convenient for men to custom design their shirts without even going to retailers.  While the industry often focuses on women’s designers and luxury fashion houses when examining marketing and advertising initiatives, the world of men’s fashion cannot be ignored.

The Way I See It

  • I see men’s fashion retailers owning the custom tailored space through sharp ads and marketing campaigns that highlight this service, with men in custom-made dress shirts with coordinating ties, sports coats, and accessories emphasizing a sharp, coordinated, classic look.
  • I see more men’s fashion retailers leading the way in digital and social media for marketing, taking advantage of the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms to reach target male demographics.
  • Menswear emphasizes quality and fit in marketing, and the importance of brand reputation and awareness is of utmost importance.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Alan Behar, CEO of Ike Behar, to discuss how the menswear industry has evolved and what advertising and marketing tactics most men’s fashion retailers find best.

Let’s talk about what sorts of advertising and marketing avenues the menswear industry typically finds the most success with.  How has that evolved over the years and where do you see it changing, if at all, in the next five to ten years?  Does it differ in any way from marketing women’s fashion brands?

Like most of the menswear industry, Ike Behar has traditionally focused on popular print media as our main avenue, and while it has been and continues to be quite successful, our tactics have certainly had to evolve.  The landscape is crowded, and for smaller niche brands it can be quite difficult to stand out, especially considering the degree to which the larger well-known brands have come to dominate these more traditional advertising venues.  So to that end, we’ve taken a move towards a more collective approach to our marketing strategy.  We’re using social media to help create and frame dialogue around our company.  We’re targeting key markets through direct retail, using such localized tactics to service our more traditional advertising, while appealing to our customers more directly.  For us, it’s all about trying to cut through the noise so we can have the chance to show our customers what a fine brand Ike Behar is.

Ike Behar’s brand is focused on custom tailored shirts and ties, the history of Ike Behar, his journey to the U.S., and the high-quality classic styles of his shirts.  How do men’s fashion retailers build brand awareness and brand reputation, and how important is it to drive return customers and sales?

Well, while historically our brand has been known for our exquisite shirts and ties, we have really grown far beyond that.  In recent years, we’ve brought that same reputation for quality and style to a huge array of products for both men and boys, including suits, sport coats, loungewear, and much more to complement those shirts and ties.  So, our history and Ike’s journey play an important role, mostly because they show that we produce a great quality and have done so consistently for over half a century.  However, we also find it important to remind our customers that we are very much a contemporary brand, and that a large part of our continued success can be attributed to the fact that our product line is diverse and constantly evolving not only to meet trends but to create them.  And one of the best ways to strengthen that reputation is simply by proving it to our customers with our line, because we really believe that someone can buy any one of our products and will be satisfied enough to try all that Ike has to offer.

Continue Reading Spring Fashion Series Part 2: Men’s Fashion

In this post I will examine the growth of retail store sales.  Sales at brick-and-mortar retail stores constitute 90% of all retail sales in the United States.  And many major retailers have found that their digital consumer engagement and investments made toward boosting their online presence has actually resulted in increased in-store visits.  In fact, with the economy rebounding, some major retailers who were forced to close stores during the financial crisis are now implementing large-scale growth strategies and seeking hot real estate in key markets.  So, how are the retail stores remaining relevant and competitive in the age of e-commerce and online shopping?

The Way I See It

  • I see major fashion brands continuing to build brand loyalty among customers and encourage return in-store visits among frequent shoppers in an effort to boost sales and word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Shopping remains a social activity, with family and friends using trips to retail stores and/or shopping malls as a social outing, but also tying into social and online media: people will check-in at retail stores on FourSquare, post photos of themselves trying on a new spring outfit at a retail store on Instagram, or Tweet about their latest obsession or shopping trip.
  • I see physical retail stores starting to use new tools to collect digital data on in-store visitors in order to improve the competitive edge retailers have, and they’ll use their access to data to improve customer experience and target marketing.
  • I see retail stores meeting a critical need: they allow customers to try on items for fit and styling options.  Many retailers have seen that while customers may visit their websites or social media pages to explore new apparel or jewelry, they still visit stores in order to be able to make sure the particular item fits well and fits their personal style – and also to score sale or clearance items only available in certain stores.
  • While the fashion industry must continue to embrace social media engagement and a digital presence in order to build brand loyalty and presence among customers, I believe brands will also continue to develop retail growth strategies through marketing and advertising to boost in-store sales and visits.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Seth Farbman, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Gap, to discuss brand strategy to maintain a competitive edge and continue retail growth.

Gap is well-known for having a strong brand presence traditionally, with advertising, in-store marketing, and retail offers, as well as online in social media through customer engagement, online promotions, and other tools.  In the spring, we see a lot of bright colors coming into play.  What advertising and marketing tactics compose a strong retail strategy to drive sales both in-store and online?

It all starts with keeping our brand relevant and connected to culture.  I’m very proud of our iconic marketing campaigns, because they’ve been strongly grounded in what Gap stands for— American optimism, democracy and the belief in the power of the individual.  However, a strong retail strategy must go beyond the traditional – it requires constant development of content and telling of stories that builds a lifestyle consistently across the brand.  Customers expect us to have personal, two-way relationships with them, so we’ve hired a team of digital experts and community managers to speak with them, instead of to them.  Our Styld.by social commerce program is an excellent example of how we deliver relevance that’s constantly fresh and exciting. It has been incredibly successful.

Are there certain in-store only promotions that retailers perceive as a factor in visits?  Do window displays remain important in this age to draw in potential customers, or is brand recognition and brand loyalty still the main factor to attract shoppers?

A brand that a customer feels is relevant to their life is the first step.  But windows and in-store marketing are a very important way we can share new styles and collections with customers.  We are fortunate to have amazing flagship stores in some of the largest cities around the world.  These are living billboards for us.  The store experience is a very effective way to turn casual shoppers into loyal customers.  Promotions are part of the excitement of shopping — everyone loves getting a great product at an excellent price – but simply being able to emotionally display new items in windows is still a great way to connect with people.

Continue Reading Spring Fashion Series: Retail Growth in the Digital Age

A few weeks ago, Chester Cheetah, the beloved “spokescat” for Cheetos, joined Twitter as @ChesterCheetah with a campaign to reach 50K followers.  And when he does, “a family gets a kitten.”  Chester Cheetah is just the latest of many brand mascots that have taken social media by storm in recent years.  Furthermore, digital media is allowing brands to create more developed story lines and detailed backgrounds for their mascots, resulting in consumers becoming more drawn to the characters, and, of course, to the brand and product they represent.  The insurance industry has made quite a splash with its brand mascots, including the GEICO Gecko and Allstate’s “Mayhem,” launching YouTube channels and earning verified Twitter accounts (i.e., celebrity status).  Creating such humorous and quirky characters allows insurance companies to engage with consumers and help them better understand the complex insurance offerings, while also staking a claim in the competitive insurance landscape.

Take Progressive’s “Flo,” the now infamous female insurance broker who dominates the company’s commercials.  Known for her humor and larger-than-life personality, Flo is the same way on Twitter – posting witty one-liners and tips on insurance topics of interest, things making the news, and Progressive Insurance offerings and updates.  She has over 19K followers on Twitter and more than 5 million “likes” on Facebook; Progressive’s Facebook page only has 58,000 “likes”.  Flo is featured in many YouTube videos and has led social games and giveaways through Facebook and Twitter.

The Way I See It

  • I see online and social media allowing brands to further develop characters and brand mascots to be more than just the face of the brand, but standalone, likeable characters.  They have colored histories, interests, and well-defined traits.  Brands have found success in fully developing their mascots, as consumers are more likely to engage with and like more complex characters.
  • I see companies taking risks with brand mascots on social media, as it allows them to test how consumers respond to initiatives without making too much of an investment.  For instance, M&M’s sassy Ms. Brown held a live video chat with Facebook fans and even has her own Pandora music-streaming channel, both of which take the traditional social media campaign one step further.
  • Continue Reading Brand Mascots Come to Life on Social Media