Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2001Kellogg School of Management
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Playing to win
Henry "Que" Gaskins '93 explains how he helped build an NBA superstar

  Henry "Que" Gaskins
Henry "Que" Gaskins has demonstrated his marketing prowess by working with basketball star Allen Iverson.

With his hair styled into corn rows, and his hip-hop-inspired wardrobe, Henry "Que" Gaskins '93 doesn't exactly fit the mold of the typical MBA grad. But it's that combination of business savvy and street credibility that have earned the marketing maven a reputation for understanding and predicting the tastes of ethnically diverse young consumers.

Gaskins is best known in marketing circles for his role in helping Reebok sign -- and keep -- Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson to a $40 million endorsement deal in 1994.

As Iverson's "corporate minder," Gaskins spent six years making sure Iverson stayed out of trouble and made good on his end of the deal. Gaskins describes the deal as a gamble -- Iverson wasn't anyone's idea of a media darling. No one was sure that the then-second-year Georgetown Hoya would be the first draft pick. Add to that Iverson's much publicized run-ins with the law and surly off-court reputation, and signing the rising star seemed risky at best.

Still, Gaskins knew the rookie's edgy persona was eminently bankable. So he approached the situation like a portfolio manager. "We needed to have somebody managing that investment on a daily basis so that we could capitalize on the opportunities," Gaskins explains.

"Traditionally when you gave a guy a sneaker deal, you sent him a lot of product, cut him a check, and that was the extent of your relationship,"says Gaskins. "One of the things Kellogg taught me was teamwork and the value of relationships. I wanted to make sure we became a part of Allen Iverson's life."

To that end, Gaskins relocated to Philadelphia, where for six years, he was Iverson's constant companion, acting both as a confidant, adviser and friend. Because of his commitment, the relationship remains today. Gaskins left Reebok in 2000 because he felt the company's marketing strategy had lost its edge and was relying on market research that catered to demographic stereotypes. Failing to realize that their products had an appeal that crossed race and income lines, Reebok continued marketing mostly toward young African-American consumers. Consequently, sales started to slip.

Realizing the need for an ad agency that was committed to understanding the changing tastes of young adults with broader cultural horizons, he and three colleagues formed the ad*itive, an ad shop with an approach Gaskins calls "fusionism."

"People don't fit into boxes," Gaskins says. "Nine out of 10 times, when people hear the word urban, they think it's a black consumer. But you have African-Americans who are interested in Asian culture and Italian designers. And Caucasian kids are consuming rap music at a higher rate than African-American kids."

A subsidiary of Boston-based Arnold Worldwide, the ad*itive helps Arnold's clients better understand the hip-hop culture and marketplace. Current clients include American Legacy and Choice Hotels.

In his new venture, Gaskins plans to take the lessons learned during his Reebok stint and combine them with intense scrutiny of young adults' buying habits to better target consumers in a global marketplace where diversity and multiculturalism mean greater opportunity.

"If you're using traditional demographics to understand people," says Gaskins, "you're going to be missing the point."

--Chad Schlegel

©2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University