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Inside Man: The FitGen Leader

Reebok's president is reshaping the company to take over the tough fitness movement. He'll start by teaching you how to "Be More Human."

A few years ago, Matt O’Toole took a day off running, something he hadn’t done in more than nine years. His streak of pounding through at least a mile a day turned monotonous; he felt like he really wasn’t in great shape. So, he signed up for a CrossFit gym.

Around the same time, fitness apparel giant Reebok realized something; a growing number of young, educated millennials wanted to lift heavy tires, roll around in mud, and generally torture their bodies to get in better shape. Essentially, they wanted their training to be less monotonous.

Now as Reebok’s president, O’Toole has overseen the brand’s takeover of the extreme fitness industry. Reebok is the new calling card of CrossFit boxes and mud runs around the country; the chief promoter of what the company calls “FitGen consumers.”

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Which is why Reebok is launching the “Be More Human” campaign. An immersive online and video experience that celebrates getting sweaty, dirty, ripped, and as the name suggests, more human.

Watch the new 60-second commercial and you’ll see why. It might just make you rush away from the screen to go roll some heavy tires.

We spoke with O’Toole about the new campaign, his own fitness regimen, and what it really means to be more human.

Men’s Fitness: Can you describe the goal of the new campaign? I have to say, after I watched the video I wanted to stop everything and go run around.

Matt O’Toole: That’s the reaction we were hoping for. I think the “Be More Human” message is a pretty big idea, that we all as physical beings – humans and animals – have a need to move, and that sometimes in our hyper-connected world of hand held devices and computers we’re a little too tied to this technological age. We need to forget, put our hands in the dirt, lift something, or pull something. It’s part of who we are as physical beings, so this idea of being more human is a call to action.

MF: What do you want people’s reaction to be after seeing the video or taking part in the campaign?

MO: Creative work reminds people of a truth, something that already is understood. To me the real truth is we do have a need to be more human, more physical. One of the copy lines in our campaigns is “honor the body you’ve been given.” There are a lot of consumers out there that already know this and are living this way, and they become the members of this new tribe that’s leading this tough fitness movement.

MF: So who is in this tribe? Who is the typical member of the tough fitness movement?

MO: This consumer has a new definition of wealthy, which is spelled “wellthy.” I’m old and 50; when I was a kid we dreamed of a nice car and fancy house. Young people now are saying, “I want to climb a mountain and do the Himalayan loop and be on all seven continents.” These are the new versions of being rich, and I think these experiences, whether it be CrossFit or Spartan Races, have all become ways to do that. 

MF: Why do you think we have this primal desire to wrestle in the mud, llift tires, and torture our bodies? What is it about being more human that Reebok thinks it’s discovered?

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MO: When people do these things they feel more alive. I would say there is both subjective experiences people know and enjoy, as well as now the objective science that proves this is the right way to live a full and healthy life.

MF: So what’s the goal for Reebok after this campaign launches? How do you want the brand to be positioned?

MO: Our objective is to win the war on tough fitness. We think this is a space where a brand like Reebok is authentic. We’ve focused on building the best products for these activities; we have totally overhauled our product line in both apparel and footwear. So in the end, it’s winning over what we call the “FitGen consumers” who are doing these activities.

MF: What was your reaction when you first saw the campaign?

MO: It was really powerful for me because there’s this idea that athletes are out there trying to shave off a tenth of a second for an 800-meter race if they’re a track athlete, or whatever else it is. But the rest of us, we’re training to be better at life. When you see this you realize why you’re working out every day; it’s so that I can be fully alive for my kids or be the best manager at Reebok. This is really a different idea; we have to reconnect with what makes us human, and stir up bigger things than winning the game. It’s really about getting better at life.

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