While it might seem like the hot CrossFit brand emerged out of nowhere, it began back in the 1970s when former gymnast Greg Glassman created a scalable strength and conditioning program
suitable for people at any fitness level. Today, the CrossFit training methodology is in use at more than 3,500 affiliate gyms worldwide. The CrossFit Games, which began in 2007 with less than 100
participants, are now televised live on ESPN3, with thousands taking part in the competition billed as the ultimate proving ground for the world’s fittest athletes.
CrossFit’s growth is impressive given that the company didn’t engage in traditional marketing for years, instead relying on in-person outreach — Glassman has a lot of dinners with affiliates and is known to throw some fun parties — and word of mouth. Affiliates and athletes use social marketing to keep their enthusiasm levels high, share videos and photos of their latest achievements, and organize informal competitions.
But that changed in the summer of 2010 when CrossFit forged a 10-year sponsorship and marketing partnership with Reebok that kicked off with Reebok sponsoring the 2011 games, re-dubbed the Reebok CrossFit Games.
CrossFit didn’t enter this deal lightly. The brand had been approached by other major companies over the years, including Under Armour and Adidas, but hadn’t found the right fit until Reebok came along, according to Jimi Letchford, CrossFit’s chief of branding. “We started talking with Reebok, and it turned out that their chief marketing officer, their head of sports and fitness, and a number of their athlete ambassadors were CrossFitters,” says Letchford, noting, “That really hit home with us.”
In fact, Letchford recalls spending initial meetings with Reebok talking solely about how CrossFit works and answering the executives’ personal questions about how to improve their fitness levels. “The first couple of days we didn’t talk anything about what a deal would look like, which was really nice and refreshing for us,” Letchford says.
Once the subject turned to business, Letchford and his colleagues appreciated Reebok’s respect for CrossFit. “In all honesty, they were super candid with us. They were like, ‘We recognize that our brand lacks this kind of edge,’” says Letchford, adding, “They said, ‘We don’t want to change CrossFit at all. That’s not our intent. We want CrossFit to really give us that edge.’ ”
In addition to opening a CrossFit apparel site as part of the sponsorship and marketing partnership in 2011, Reebok launched an all-out media blitz in early 2012 via an integrated global marketing campaign themed “The Sport of Fitness Has Arrived.” Created by mcgarrybowen, the effort touts CrossFit’s brand of fitness through TV, print, digital and out-of-home media as well as consumer events and activations.
The campaign began with a commercial that aired during last January’s NFL divisional playoff game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers on Fox. The spot depicts shipping containers departing Reebok World Headquarters and being transported to public spaces in cities all over the world by ship, train and even helicopter. When one curious man dares to open the door of a container, he is awestruck by the sight of Rich Froning and Annie Thorisdottir (proclaimed the Fittest Man on Earth and the Fittest Woman on Earth, respectively, at the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games) and other people engaging in an intense CrossFit workout.
The scenario shown in the commercial will play out in real life when Reebok sends shipping containers to city centers across the world and uses them as mobile CrossFit gyms, giving people a chance to see firsthand what a CrossFit workout entails.
Reebok will also employ its all-star roster of athletes, including NFL stars Chad Ochocinco and Roddy White, MLB All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander and NBA star John Wall, in various elements of the campaign as it plays out over the coming months.
Letchford says Reebok’s massive marketing campaign — every element requiring CrossFit’s stamp of approval before being produced — will benefit CrossFit by driving people to its worldwide affiliates, while allowing the executive team at CrossFit to focus on fitness. “It’s a way of life for us here and what we’re best at,” Letchford says.