SBJ/December 3 - 9, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Puma gets its la las out, along with its message on new shoe line

In a PR campaign, developing the key message (what you want your targeted audience to hear, read and feel) is more important than developing the methods of delivering that message.

Consider the challenge to Tony Bertone, Puma's director of global marketing, who was charged with creating a unique theme for the company's New Collection of footwear when designing a marketing and communications campaign for the line.

Bertone noticed a trend among sports and fashion apparel companies, and it was a trend he didn't like. He felt that many companies' PR and advertising programs were confrontational, too in-your-face. Tired of images that glorified unfriendly competition, heated stare-downs, trash talk and general negativity, Bertone went to work to develop a kinder, gentler approach.

Bertone wanted to differentiate Puma's new line, which is scheduled for worldwide distribution in January, from those of its competitors, whose messages he felt were overly solemn. He decided that Puma would distinguish its line by promoting the fun that is supposed to be associated with sport, fashion and lifestyle footwear and apparel.

Bertone did something unconventional. He named the shoes in the new collection after lighthearted sounds: "Va la la" (running), "Fa la la" and "Ba la la" (cross training) and "Spa la la" and "Ta la la" (cycling). He took his "la la" idea to Puma North America's Lisa Beachy, international marketing manager of public relations, and Ed Wholley, marketing manager. Along with Gyro, a Philadelphia-based creative and advertising agency, the Puma team created additional messages to accompany the shoes.

Expressions such as "Life is good when you are your own engine," "Runners make their own breeze," "Treat the world like a really big back yard" and "Be your own high-performance vehicle" were developed. They help reinforce the theme of bringing fun back to sport, the basis for the New Collection's marketing and public relations program.

Puma prides itself on its street credibility. For years, it has not made a massive media splash to launch many of its products. Instead, it tries to build street buzz first by product seeding (placing products on targeted, popular people, often celebrities, whom Puma's core consumers can relate to or respect).

To stay in line with the laid-back, fun-filled approach of the New Collection, no initial video news releases or publicity events are planned. Instead, Beachy explained that Puma will put the shoes on film and television celebrities and selected musicians. In a unique twist, Puma will also put its new shoes on the feet of comedians. The idea is that there is no better group to help convey the witty, light-hearted message.

In late December or early January, Beachy said, press releases announcing the new line will be distributed to general interest, health/fitness and fashion publications. Puma has set up a spotlight on the new collection in the December FHM Magazine, a lifestyle, entertainment and fashion magazine for men. Puma offered FHM an exclusive, and the magazine accepted.

As Bertone and any PR person who has crafted a communications campaign knows, development of a key theme is no guarantee that consumers will accept a product. The typical Puma customer is 16 to 28 years old. Beachy estimates that the consumers who purchase the unisex new collection will be older. It will be interesting to find out if a 35-year-old male cyclist is attracted to a shoe called "Spa la la."

To ensure that its message is heard and understood, Puma plans to hire a PR firm with a fashion focus that will assist the efforts of Beachy, Bertone and Wholley. Stay tuned to see if the "la la" line hits the right note with consumers or falls on deaf ears.

Wayne Henninger can be reached at wayne@statelywaynemanor.com.

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