In the summer of 1990 in New York, while working at Ogilvy & Mather, Bill Hamilton told me not open my mouth for the next 10 years. It wasn’t directed at me personally, just all of the account executives in the company. I did not observe his monastic recommendation, but I always admired the voice he created for his clients.
You may not remember Bill like I do, but he was the creative genius behind the iconic U.B.U. campaign for Reebok in the late 80’s. Described by Philip Dougherty in his 1988 New York Times article as filled with “generally weird segments” including “a fairy godmother type in a crowd emerging from a subway exit, all white and bouffant with her crown and her Reeboks; a surreal shot of a Greek chorus in amphitheater surroundings; a bevy of wood nymphs tiptoeing through a forest glade, and, in baseball cap and raincoat, a three-legged man.” Here is the ad below:
The visual chaos of this 80’s infused spot overshadowed copy that will live well beyond the time anyone remembers Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. That is because Bill Hamilton didn’t write it. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote it. It was borrowed. And, it is perfect:
- Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
- A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
- To be great is to be misunderstood.
- There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.
- Insist on yourself; never imitate.
- God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.
- Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.
- Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
- Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
- To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.
The Fellini visuals of the U.B.U. spot mask a brand voice that seems to have found its way back into the Reebok brand. The new global marketing campaign called “Live With Fire” brings back the themes resonant in Emerson’s essay entitled “Self-Reliance” that provided copy for U.B.U. in 1988. Here it is:
The loss of the NFL contract and the impact of the NHL labor dispute have challenged Reebok, but sometimes there is opportunity in loss. Michael Jordan once said, “It’s not what you have at the beginning of the game, but what you have at the end.” In the case of Reebok, it seems that taking a look back at what they had at the beginning might illuminate their way forward.