NBA Jams: Dominique Wilkins + Reebok’s Call To “Pump Up And Air Out!”

10.17.13 4 years ago

Right now, we’re seeing Reebok attempt to resurrect the brand’s good name and offerings through a variety of strategic releases and alliances. The reemergence may be why it’s hard for many to remember the time when the company was a considered a legit threat to Nike’s bottom line.

One of the leaders of the Vector’s charge: Dominique Wilkins, aka “The Human Highlight Reel.” His name still gets omitted in conversations of ballers who helped uphold the league’s torch in the late ’80s/early ’90s alongside Jordan, Ewing and others but the Hawks main man was once superstar status and a key face in Reebok’s marketing push of the Twilight Zone pumps, all coming together here to take a not-so subliminal dig at Nike’s Air technology.* ** The ads, created by Lois/GGK challenged readers to forget the Swoosh, as George Lois explains.

“The Pump needed to be repositioned in the consumer’s mind and with the trade as a serious sports performance shoe to save the dying brand. So I went one-on-one with Nike, telling consumers that the next time they buy sneakers they should nix Nike and Pump up!

“Reebok jocks talked up the Pump…And each ended with a jibe at Nike’s famous athletes. Dominique Wilkins stabbed their imagery with Michael my man, if you want to fly first-class…Pump up and Air out! and then took a smooth 15-foot foul shot, swishing an Air Jordan in a wastebasket! Boomer Esiason said: Boomers knows something Bo (Jackson) don’t know…Pump up and Air Out!”

The ad campaign reportedly pushed the company’s sales from $100 million to half a billion. But more importantly, Reebok regained their position in the front of consumers’ minds. Sneaker Freaker has a very detailed account of the Pump’s place in sneaker lore that’s worth checking out. And if we’re talking about forgetting, I’ve tossed in Dennis Rodman’s commercial as well. This was back when the Worm was still regular (thus a safe marketing choice) and a key fixture in Detroit’s Bad Boys run.

Previously: Dominique Wilkins, An Original ATLien

* — The Pump concept was one Nike never could get correct enough to take it to the mass market. Three specific models – the Air Command Force, the Air Force 180 High and the 1989’s Air Pressure – tried unsuccessfully.

** — ‘Nique’s name isn’t even the first basketball name associated with the Pump as Dee Brown holds that distinction and rightfully so. But Wilkins wore the model in the 1990 Dunk Contest, probably one of the most forgotten contests of the time.

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