Hair up, barefaced and sweaty, Gisele Bündchen went one on one with a punching bag in Under Armour’s 2014 “I Will What I Want” ad campaign. She was taking those “just a model” insults head on after people questioned why the brand would sign her.
While Bündchen might have seemed like an unconventional choice to some, the idea of a model representing an athletic brand struck a chord. Other labels that once relied primarily on sports stars in their marketing efforts have followed suit in the past year. Now model-centric campaigns — targeted to the underserved female market — are emphasizing the holistic person, flaws and all.
Enter model Gigi Hadid.
As a continuation of Reebok’s “Be More Human” initiative, the company launched #PerfectNever, an effort celebrating the perfection of imperfection in the fight against complacency, with UFC star Ronda Rousey at its center. Fast-forward to October, when an unexpected face took on the #PerfectNever movement.
“It seems strange that a model who is supposed to be perfect is the face of a never-perfect campaign, but that was the point to me,” Hadid said during a Reebok event last month in New York. “Everyone always calls me perfect, and I’m just not. I wanted to do something that, at the end of the day, I don’t feel suffocated by [for] not being allowed to be myself in some way.”
While some questioned the decision, Inga Stenta, Reebok’s senior director for global brand communications, emphasized, “We are working with Gigi because it’s about who she is. Yes, she happens to be a model, but it’s her values and the message that she is delivering and the role model that she is playing for all these women [that is the reason why].”
Reebok’s push to challenge women to break boundaries by accepting their own setbacks and embracing their inner strength is changing the fitness narrative, which has been traditionally focused on the perfect athlete.
“We knew ‘Be More Human’ created a new platform to send out a message differently,” said Corinna Werkle, head of design and apparel excellence. “It’s a truthful message, and consumers look for brands with a point of view — and they clearly live according to this one.”
Reebok is continuing to create connection points with its consumers.
At the New York event, Hadid joined more than 100 women and a panel featuring Olympic medalist Aly Raisman and actresses Lena Dunham, Zöe Kravitz and Ruby Rose to speak candidly about redefining perfection.
Hadid told Footwear News about choosing her battles in the fashion industry: “You fight for what’s important to you, and the people that don’t agree sometimes don’t deserve to understand. That’s why I try to defend the things that I need to, and if not, then I hope people just look for the best in others.”
The Adidas by Stella McCartney spring ’17 campaign starring Karlie Kloss is another example of a brand celebrating the rule-breaking attitude of the modern female athlete.
Kloss joined the McCartney team last summer and has been a representation of the multifaceted women. “She inspires and empowers a new generation of women to push themselves further in achieving their goals without compromise,” said McCartney in a statement.
Young female consumers are looking to each other for inspiration, according to Matt Powell, VP and sports industry analyst at The NPD Group. “The control today is in the hands of the consumer,” he said. “So where is the consumer getting their direction from? No. 1 is their peers.”
Plus, these consumers live on social media and identify with of-the-moment influencers such as Hadid and her younger sister, Bella, who recently joined the Nike family. (Combined, the Hadids have 38 million followers on Instagram.)
While Nike and Reebok are embracing the female consumer in a bolder way to capture more of the growing market, Puma has already seen major success with its female-driven celebrity initiatives.
Powell pointed to Puma’s blockbuster success with Rihanna’s Fenty creeper. “Sales went off the charts and have been hot ever since,” he said. “Puma has a very strong women’s business. You can see a correlation.”
For Puma, Rihanna is just part of the cast of characters representing the company’s values.
“It’s important to have a mix of partners that reflect our consumers and the varied interests of our consumers,” said Adam Petrick, global director of brand and marketing. “In that way, it makes sense for us to reach out beyond the traditional ambassadorship.”
Model Cara Delevingne was recently added as the face of Puma’s “Do You” campaign, which aims to inspire confidence. “She’s helped us tremendously with women’s sales,” said Petrick. “We have seen a bottom-line influence. She also has that doesn’t-care-what-anybody-thinks mentality, and that is so perfectly reflective of how we’d like our brand to be received.”
With the “Do You” campaign, Puma, like many of the athletic brands following this trend, is encouraging women to view themselves without the limits or constraints that are placed on them by society.
“She wanted to do something more powerful,” Petrick said about Delevingne. “She is more than just a model.”