Unethical Advertising Slogan of the Month: Reebok

You read that right: the slogan, which Rebok printed up for use by an affiliated gym in Germany and which quickly went viral on the web, is


As blatantly unethical exhortations in pursuit of commerce go, this one is pretty spectacular. Consider:

  • It is disrespectful of women.
  • It advocates betrayal, dishonesty, disloyalty, infidelity, promiscuity and cheating.
  • It designates a higher priority to narcissistic self-maintenance over love, commitment, and stable relationships.
  • It represents an athletic equipment company giving the stamp of approval to cheating.

That’s a remarkable amount of bad ethics in just eight words. A masterpiece of economical cultural poison. Bravo!

Cheaterville.com, a website that could be fairly called the anti-Ashley Madison as it discourages adulterers and relationship cheaters by outing them online, sent Reebok a letter of protest that read…

“This form of advertising shows a dishonest and disrespectful attitude towards women and your company should be ashamed to have even placed this ad in various places thinking it would be perceived in any other way.”

I think that’s a fair assessment. Reebok, recognizing terrible publicity when it saw it if not a terrible slogan, quickly pulled the signs and related materials and apologized through a spokesman, saying,

“The signs were removed as soon as we were made aware of them. I can assure you that Reebok does not condone this message or cheating in any way. We apologize for the offensive nature of these materials, and are disappointed that they appeared at all.”

Now that’s one dishonest apology!

Come on. Are we to believe that a Reebok promotion was released without the approval or knowledge of the company? I doubt it. If Reebok doesn’t condone cheating, why did it approve a slogan that encourages cheating? How can it be disappointed that its own promotional materials “appeared at all”? Is Reebok laboring under the delusion that the Ethics Elves protect companies from embarrassingly unethical messages by making them vanish before they see the light of day? If Reebok didn’t condone the message, is disappointed that the signs appeared, and wasn’t even aware of the campaign, why does it feel it has to apologize at all?

Unethical slogan+Unethical apology = Untrustworthy company

But we already knew that.

9 thoughts on “Unethical Advertising Slogan of the Month: Reebok

  1. I don’t see the same problems with the apology you do.

    It’s not like all marketing materials are going to go by the executive board. Major commercials? Yes. Something for an individual gym? I highly doubt it.

    That said, I think this apology is missing something. No matter who in the company was involved with this particular marketing campaign, Reebok should take the mantle of responsibility. They failed, be it by approving this slogan, hiring bad people for marketing, or not reviewing marketing materials. They messed up, and acting like innocent bystanders is inappropriate.

    • A proper and accurate refinement of my remarks, tgt. The tone of the apology appears to disclaim all responsibility. It’s a little like Ken Lay claiming he had no idea Enron was a sham. In corporate law, if you run it, you own it, and you also own the misconduct of the boobs you hire and delegate to.

  2. Could the German connection have anything to do with Reebok’s gaffe? I mean, as might happen due to a language barrier or mis-translation.

    Is it possible that someone meant for the sign to say instead, “Cheating on Your Workout Cheats Your Girlfriend” -?

    • All I can say is that when I read that motto, it seemed completely consistent with the ethos of the industry, and could have just as easily been the brainchild of Nike. And you’d think if it was a translation error, Reebok would have said so, no?

      • Yes it does look like Reebok tripped-up and trapped themselves so badly, they practically denied themselves any ethical way out.

  3. One more possible angle: the ads appeared as a product of an advertising business that Reebok outsourced to. The outsourcing arrangement could have been so “loose” (trusting, on Reebok’s part?) that the ad provider did not even obtain a prior OK from anyone in Reebok, before posting the ads. That could explain plausibly why the spokesman said that Reebok is “…disappointed that they appeared at all.”

  4. A company- like an individual- has to take responsibility for what they say or endorse. If it was the doing of some lower echelon executive or of a foreign subsidiary (and this DOES happen with large firms, BTW) Reebok should have made that clear with their apology… along with assuring its clientele that steps are being made to prevent a re-occurrance.

  5. This is most blatant form of irresponsible advertising I have ever seen. This reflects the erosion of our society. If a company thinks it is better to promote their tennis shoes than a successful relationship, we have a big problem.

    I hope the Germans feel the same way as many Americans. I do not wear Reebok because they are ugly compared to Nike.

    • Nike though is unethical in its forms of labor though, they’re infamous for underpaying their labor and for using child labor.

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