In 2014 Reebok and professional powerlifter Mark “Smelly” Bell released a deadlift shoe, aimed at powerlifters and claiming to be the best deadlift and flat bottomed squat shoe in the market. This, on its own, would have been a grandiose claim, but not one without some backing. Mark Bell has a large social media following, with over 180,000 followers and over 35 million total views on his gyms Youtube channel “Supertraining06.” Mark Bell also has a line of powerlifting gear and accessories under his Slingshot brand that has been used by a number of professional powerlifters and amateurs worldwide.
This should have been an easy marketing decision. The market is fairly large, as, while it is designed for powerlifters, the stability and grip of the shoes would benefit gym goers of many levels and goals. There are not a lot of other options for true deadlift shoes. Sabo deadlift shoes retail for around $90 USD while Metal’s model retails for $189 normally. That leaves the only known options of the Reebok shoe which retails at $90 USD but can be found on sale for about half of that, or the classic Chuck Taylor (Converse) route that costs even more (though I personally wear a pair of $15 knock offs). Sabo and Metal are fairly niche companies and realistically unless you are specifically looking for those brands, you probably would not find them, and Chuck Taylor’s are much more recognizable as simply street shoes. Reebok has a large following, and Mark Bell and his Slingshot brand, while less recognizable, do give credibility for the more serious lifters. It would fill the need for a reasonably priced shoe (assuming it was on sale) and given Mark Bell’s reputation, should have been well designed. Given that, it should have been a fairly straightforward entry into the powerlifting market, and another addition to Reeboks fitness shoes. I say should have been, because they alienated that entire sports base by slapping one word across the shoe: Crossfit.
Crossfit, while it is a well-recognized brand name, does not add any credibility to these shoes. David Aaker lists three kinds of associations; the good, the bad and the ugly. Good associations bring visibility, credibility, and quality assurance. Bad associations bring nothing new to the product, and Ugly associations detract from the product. This was an ugly association. Crossfit does not bring any credibility to these shoes, and actively discourages powerlifters from wearing them (see the comments here and here). While some lifters may forgive this label as a necessary evil in promoting a product for a niche market, some (myself included) will be turned off by an association with Crossfit and actively avoid wearing anything with that name on it.
Now, if the end goal is to simply churn out as many shoes to anyone who might where them, then Crossfit may not be a bad association. There are a lot of people that do Crossfit, for whatever reason, and who will pay through the nose for the newest thing to say “Crossfit” on the side. However, I don’t believe that was the goal. Crossfit and Reebok already have a very successful partnership and a huge range of Crossfit shoes available, so these would not fill any obvious need there and might actually detract from the sales of their existing products. Additionally, if these were made for Crossfit, then Mark Bell would not be necessary.
No, these were shoes made for powerlifting, by a powerlifter. Reebok was simply too blinded by their own association with Crossfit to realize that their own brand would have been better. Mark Bell’s Slingshot brand would have been better. Anything would have been better. Reebok have in one word managed to take what should have been a fantastic move into a new market, and botched it completely. Nothing about this brand association works. Crossfit is not stronger for having these shoes. Reebok and these shoes are worse for it. Mark Bell may not have lost any standing, but he definitely will gain none either.
In fairness, these could be fantastic shoes. They may live up to their own hype. I will personally never know, but I am impressed by one thing Reebok did. Somehow, someway, by slapping Crossfit on the side of them, they’ve made Mark Bell cringeworth rapping seem like the greatest marketing decision ever.
Aaker, D., Brand Extensions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. MIT Sloan Management Review RSS. Available at: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/brand-extensions-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ [Accessed August 26, 2016].
Anon, Mark Bell’s Powerlifting Shoe – Gym & Equipment. LIFT. Available at: https://www.lift.net/community/topic/3180-mark-bells-powerlifting-shoe/ [Accessed August 24, 2016].
Anon, Mens Converse All Stars Sneakers & Clothing. Shop Mens All Star Sneakers & Clothing Online. Available at: https://www.converse.com.au/men/all-star/by/gender/men/ [Accessed August 24, 2016].
Anon, METAL Powerlifting Shoes (IPF approved) – GOMETAL.COM. GOMETALCOM. Available at: https://gometal.com/product/powerlifting-shoes/ [Accessed August 24, 2016].
Anon, New Reebok Powerlifting shoes. Forums. Available at: https://forums.t-nation.com/t/new-reebok-powerlifting-shoes/192252 [Accessed August 24, 2016].
Anon, Reebok CrossFit Lite TR – Black | Reebok US. Reebok United States. Available at: http://www.reebok.com/us/reebok-crossfit-lite-tr/v59968.html [Accessed August 24, 2016].
Anon, SABO Deadlift Lifting shoes by SABO | MAXbarbell LLC. SABO Deadlift Lifting shoes by SABO | MAXbarbell LLC. Available at: http://www.maxbarbell.com/products/sabo-deadlift-lifting-shoes [Accessed August 24, 2016].