Foresight goes along way: is Puma positioned to win at South Africa 2010?

12 Jun

This summers World Cup is perilously close. The big sporting goods manufacturers have unveiled their strategies for the competition and last minute injuries are hampering on pitch preparation on a daily basis. Team shirts have been launched; some made out of recycled plastic bottles others made the conventional way. Player, team and brand led campaigns are under way, some making more noise than the others. Nike has again focused their strategy around the individual with a mind blowing ‘write the future’ ad, which is seemingly everywhere. It’s very much focused on how one man can become hero one minute, villain the next. Adidas being adidas prefer to focus on the value of the team, queue ‘every team needs a spark’ and the history of the shirt to understand where they are coming from. Throw in for good measure a reminder that football is not just about performance and seeps into other areas of popular culture and we see Daft Punk and Noel Gallagher hanging out with David Beckham and various other international travelers in the Star Wars bar.

The above-mentioned brands are the obvious candidates for major activity around SA2010, adidas being official sponsors and Nike being the omnipresent competitor. What though of Puma? They laid their cards out for this tournament a long time ago (almost 10 years previous), in fact many where questioning the logic behind such a decision. The tournament in South Africa is seen as the defining moment in what they have intended all along. Puma’s alignment with Africa has long been questioned, almost primarily and naively for its focus too much on a single continent, a continent that has always flattered to deceive. Certainly the rationale behind this decision was not to sell replica shirts in Africa; instead it was a much deeper long-term approach to building a clear positioning for Puma and Puma football. What they have done is very smart; quietly and confidently planting the foundations of a strategy which is only now becoming obvious to the outside world.

Approaching the tournament they are ideally placed to steal the prize, not by ambushing the marketing side (appearing as if they are an official sponsor) even though they will, but by being much smarter than that. The whole brand has been adapted and created to feel like it comes from Africa, the communications, the promotional campaigns, the product and the values and energy that it takes from the continent. It has smartly aligned the continents love and passion for football and built a football offer around this, framing it with the simple message ‘love = football’.  The smartest thing they have done leading upto the last few months is to actually change their brand mark, replacing the iconic Puma stripe with a cut out of the African continent. This is smart, consumers and web 2.0 brands are used to this but for a more traditional brand to change a sacred mark is something else – imagine Apple taking away the apple or Coca-Cola the ribbons.

(the Puma identity with Africa cut-out, plus the love = football idea)

Without using dirty tactics, they are in a position where they could be perceived as ‘the’ sporting brand of the South African world cup. Additionally not being officially aligned with an organisation like FIFA means the brand can stay flexible and cool enough to do things radically different. Synonymous with what is going on in Africa, in tune with customers and timed to perfection. As the intrigue builds in African football; with the run-up to this tournament and the performance of its players in major European leagues, so to does Pumas strength and stock rise in the football category. Could it be finally time for others to step aside and let Puma take the top prize?

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