In 1987, at the height of the Reebok boom, the company felt it had the next big thing in athletic footwear – and it was right.
The idea, which was led by Reebok’s current Head of Advanced Concepts, Paul Litchfield, was to improve the fit of its sneakers, by utilising inflatable chambers that “pump up” – giving the shoe a custom fit. With no two feet being alike, it was believed that air could be the great equaliser – filling in those areas where the shoe could not with a snug, comfortable fit.
While this might seem like a logical and practical idea today, in the late ‘80s this was a unique, bold and perhaps somewhat far-fetched (some would say crazy) idea.
So, tasked with a huge challenge and tight timeframe, the team worked diligently to create what would become one of the most iconic shoes in history.
The biggest issue was how to keep the air stable in the flexible film pouches. The team looked outside the box and looked to the medical industry for inspiration and the Pump air bladder was created.
Reebok had what it needed to launch The Pump.
In late 1989, the shoe hit the shelves – at $170, which today is a steep price for athletic footwear, but back then was almost unthinkable.
But Reebok was not deterred.
It would launch a shoe that would change its brand, and the industry, forever.
People had never seen a shoe like it … and it took off immediately.
Reebok entered into an era where its marketing rivalled its product in terms of its daring and original approach.
They launched a now infamous TV commercial that showed two bungee jumpers – one in The Pump and the other in another brand’s footwear. One fell to his obvious demise, while the other – due to the unmatched fit The Pump provides of course – executed a successful jump. The spot was bold, daring and completely fitting for the brand and the product.
Their “Pump Up and Air Out” campaign was a smash success and with it Reebok brought a bold attitude and fresh expression to the industry.
Then, relatively unknown Celtics guard Dee Brown’s performance at the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Competition – where, in front of the world, he pumped up his Omni Zone IIs prior to his winning dunk –was merely icing on the cake. Reebok were here to stay and had another winner.
Throughout most of the 1990s, The Pump remained a huge success, and pumped up Reebok’s sales and profit numbers for years to come – elevating the brand to its rightful place as one of the premier brands in the industry.
The Pump is perhaps the best example of a brand challenging convention, taking a risk and even ignoring the naysayers. Reebok took a chance and it ultimately shaped the future of the brand.