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Case Study: PUMA

In 2001, PUMA was facing a crossroads. The German brand that had been born out of the infamous Dassler family feud in 1948, which launched PUMA and Adidas, was in big need of rejuvenation.

After early successes with its sports footwear products through the sixties, seventies and eighties, the company found it had become less relevant to the urban youth market. The business was wedged between sports giants like Nike and Adidas, and the small, edgy footwear independents, that had spun out of the skateboarding and dance music scenes of the late eighties and nineties.

Ten years on and its rebirth is palpable by every measure. Not only has PUMA increased its brand value steadily in line with the major brands, (according to Brand Finance's annual Global 500 study); the brand has snapped up six D&AD Yellow Pencils to boot. Last summer, PUMA hit EURO 3bn sales for the first time, and with sprinter Usain Bolt as brand champion for Olympics year, 2012 is looking promising.

Sports Brands - Growth in Value

  2009 2010 2011
Nike $14,583M $15,808M $18,437M
Adidas $4,700M $5,702M $6,754M
Puma $1,493M $1,990M $2,291M

D&AD Award Winning Projects

The re-birth of the big white cat

Having established the need for a radical change of direction a decade ago, the decision was taken to try and re-connect PUMA to the market by re-defining the brand and creating a PUMA retail network, which could support a new tranche of brand activity worthy of the PUMA name. The hunt was on for a suitably radical bunch of agencies to carve out the new direction.

In its bid to leap forward, PUMA had brought in a young avant-garde CEO Jochen Zeitz in 1993, who had been undertaking a worldwide restructure of the business with dramatic effect. It was thanks to Zeitz that an even younger American in the business, Antonio Bertone, was given the job of head of brand. Bertone was a straight talking skateboarder with a compellingly down-to-earth attitude and a healthy disrespect for the corporate status quo. To him fell the job of defining a contemporary voice for the brand that would re-ignite Puma’s sales.

"It was about ten years ago now, that we decided we had to prove to ourselves that this brand had potential. We said what if we put the key edit of our brand in a cool little experimental store somewhere? Would we be able to appeal to a new bunch of people in different categories with different products? So we took the chance. And we did it in Santa Monica, California. And it worked."

Antonio Bertone
Head of Brand

PUMA becomes a retailer

PUMA becomes a retailer'Antonio said he wanted to try us out on a ‘big problem we’ve got’', explains GBH director Mark Bonner. 'He told us how he’d found us and that PUMA were looking to change their wholesale distribution model and start retailing their own products. He wanted us to help.' If retail was going to be the answer, Bertone knew he needed outside help. One day, waiting for the Eurostar train in Paris, he was blown away by the black and white wall projections in the Philippe Starck lounges. Painstakingly, he tracked down the installation’s originators – a London design agency called GBH – and he called them up.

'Antonio said he wanted to try us out on a ‘big problem we’ve got’', explains GBH director Mark Bonner. 'He told us how he’d found us and that PUMA were looking to change their wholesale distribution model and start retailing their own products. He wanted us to help.' 

PUMA had seven stores at that time in various countries, but they were mostly white box formats and they just weren’t doing what Puma needed them to. Bertone got GBH in to tell him what was wrong.

"What Tony wanted to know was ‘why don’t we have our personality alive and kicking in these spaces and what can we do to get it in there?"

Mark Bonner
Creative Director

PUMA Red World

Over several weeks, the agency visited the stores and made a number of trips to PUMA’s US headquarters in Boston for a series of show and tells. GBH distilled its findings into a document called ‘Why can’t the stores be more like the brand?’

It was a ‘ballsy’ and ‘critical’ document, remembers Bonner, but it struck a huge chord with Bertone, who agreed with all the issues they’d uncovered. Instead of firing them, he looked up and said, ‘I totally agree, so what are we gonna do about it?’

Part of the problem that had been uncovered was the fact the PUMA was struggling to reconcile the split personalities of the two PUMAs: one that was trying to behave like a sports brand and one that was trying to behave like a fashion brand. They had co-existed but in a very antagonistic way. It had never been comfortable.

GBH’s work explained how the brand didn’t need the “two different frequencies”, according to Bonner, and so together they began articulating a new direction, which Bertone finally encapsulated in his ‘SportLifestyle’ epithet.

'We started working on the brand idea of ‘Clever Little World’, which would carry its personality out to its stores', says Bonner.

GBH created a visual language and tone of voice for the new route, including an interesting series of 500 ‘thought for the day’ pieces of graphic junk to capture something of the irreverence of the brand’s flavour. One big move was convincing Puma to ditch its haphazard colour palette in favour of an alpha brand red look and feel. 

'Puma had been a mixture of different colours like grey, black, green and silver, it was just a mess. In store, they had a white cat on a white wall - we convinced them to go for the cat in a much bigger way,' says Bonner.

Puma Redworld

PUMA Red World – key features

  • The culmination of the first phase of work was an in-store digital installation by GBH consisting of a motorised projection of a life size puma that could walk along shelving, jump and sleep. It went into eight stores around the world. There was also an interactive video flower, which came into bloom if you lifted a shoe off the shelf, and died when you put the shoe back down.
  • Small box changing rooms with 12 different environments themed around sports and lifestyle spaces like garages with graphics on the back of the curtains and half eaten doughnuts on the floor, a locker room, and a forest. 
  • Real life mannequins waxworks cast from real people designed to subvert the store. They appeared in changing rooms and in the queues, and were rolled out for all the global markets. 
  • Design roll-out expanded the chain from seven to 250 stores worldwide.

What followed for PUMA, GBH and its partner agencies would span brand definition, graphics, product design, structural packaging, video and TV advertising, interface design, environmental design, viral campaigns, and even boat design. 

Il Mostro – PUMA and the Volvo Ocean Race

PUMA’s search for high profile and eye-catching brand channels was instrumental in the decision to design a PUMA boat for the Volvo Ocean Race, the famously tough round-the-world professional yacht race, which could become a platform for its own product innovation. Here too was a sport ripe for a dose of subversion from a cheeky challenger brand.

Together with GBH, the brand team decided to create a world class ocean racing PUMA yacht inspired by its most prized and successful shoe to date – Il Mostro, ('the monster').  GBH’s design was intricately detailed, with the black and red boat serving as the canvas for an ocean going hybrid of the monster, complete with stitching, tread and a giant PUMA sail. 

Says Bertone, 'We used the entire boat as the medium so it has an attitude from the get go. It’s not just a logo slapped onto the side of a boat, it’s a work of art.'

PUMA Il Mostro

"Nowadays it’s so hard to cut through. Everybody wants to cut through, no matter if you’re spending $100m or $1, brands want to have some visibility. So bringing a sailboat to the gunfight, it’s not a bad one."

Antonio Bertone

Version two of the boat, designed for the 2011 race, goes even further, with a hand painted hull by graffiti artist Dean Loucks. It took Loucks and his team 600 hours to render GBH’s 700 square foot CGI design from stencils, depicting the PUMA Aqua Cat emerging from the spray off the bows and Mar Mostro wrapping his tentacles around the hull and sail.


PUMA also commissioned GBH and architects Lot-ek to build its corporate environments at the Volvo Ocean Race 2008.

The award-winning design was created from 24 shipping containers bolted together and branded piece by piece with the deconstructed red and white insignia of the re-worked PUMA branding.

PUMA City contained three stores, two offices, hospitality areas and a bar, which were simply and sustainably broken down at the end of the race. The project won a D&AD Yellow Pencil for environmental design in 2009.

Puma City

Corporate social responsibility and the PUMA brand

Following the introduction of the unified brand, the last few years has seen a very important shift in another direction for PUMA, in the implementation of its corporate and social responsibility through its creative and design initiatives.

'We were the first brand to eliminate PVC from our products - we’ve been doing CSR seriously for 20 years,” says Bertone. “We always wanted to redesign the shoebox because when you begin to see how much material you’re using in your packaging, you want to do what you can to start reducing it.'

PUMA's Clever Little Bag

'We started talking about how we could rethink our shoeboxes starting right back in the warehouse, because at the end of the day the boxes have to be workable from the shipping and logistics point of view. We created a critical path to define how we were going to make the project work,' Bertone explains.

Bertone asked Yves Behar of Fuseproject to look at the structural packaging with a view to re-building them to save on waste, and asked GBH to oversee the application of new Clever Little World brand graphics.

After 21 months of experimenting with different cardboard solutions, Fuseproject set upon the idea of making the box itself disappear. The innovative solution was a vastly reduced box, die-cut from a single piece of material, with no additional assembly or printing requirements. It incorporates a non-woven bag that doubles as the customer’s shopping bag, and is fully re-usable. The bag uses 65% less cardboard than the standard shoebox, has no laminated printing, no tissue paper, takes up less space and weighs less in shipping.

PUMA Clever Little Bag Statistics

  • Approximately 8,500 tons less paper consumed     
  • 20 million Mega joules of electricity saved
  • 1 million litres less fuel oil used
  • 1 million litres of water conserved
  • During transport 500,000 litres of diesel is saved
  • 275 tons of plastic saved by replacing traditional shopping bags.

"The Clever Little Bag you see today is a last minute adjustment of what was originally created... Once we got to the final step of testing the carbon footprint of the new box, the old box actually won. We were gutted. So we went back and looked at how we could de-construct what we had and re-assemble it. Finally it beat every target and measure we could set for it."

Antonio Bertone

PUMA Phone

The brand development work implemented by Bertone and his agencies over the last decade has evidently provided a firm enough foundation for a wide-ranging raft of concept projects to evolve around PUMA’s unified and irreverent brand approach to ‘SportLifestyle’.  One of the best examples is the 2011 D&AD Award winning project, the PUMA Phone.

 The project was undertaken by GBH with handset maker Sagem. It took 18 months of design and development, with the agency responsible for the design of the user interface, the application design, brand packaging, user guides and a viral video campaign. It was built on the Java platform and packaged in an eco-friendly way, with a solar battery cell on the back of the handset itself.

'I’ve always been gun shy about technology, but with the PUMA phone we were approached by a manufacturer who said you get to design the interface. We took the view of don’t start with technology in mind, we wanted it to be about an experience so we put time into thinking how it should behave rather than what features it should have.' says Bertone.

The experience fits completely to the sport and lifestyle sides of the brand, with an overtly friendly interface that ‘talks’ to you in a natural homespun way with messages like ‘Get me to a charger’ or ‘Hang on a second’. It’s got a big splash of retro too. Big analogue number displays in red LEDs play to the white and red brand iconography, and big bold red and white block graphics hint reverently at Space Invaders. A DJ deck converts MP3s back to vinyl and lets you scratch and mix them just like you used to. Its piece de resistance is a Dylan on Demand button, which lets you call up the virtual PUMA that lives inside the phone…

PUMA Unity Project

Not only does PUMA’s portfolio of work germinate from a coherent set of ideas that rebalanced PUMA’s heritage in sports, fashion and lifestyle, it created an inter-agency approach that’s still going strong, as with the PUMA Unity project created for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

PUMA Teamsports’ in house designers, together with GBH, created kit designs for all of PUMA’s African nations competing at the 2010 cup, including Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana. The designers also created a unified African kit for teams to wear as an official third strip. It was inspired by the African landscape and takes its colours from the sun, sky and earth with pigment obtained from actual soil samples.

The PUMA Unity project won a D&AD Yellow Pencil for brand experience and branded environments in 2011.

The PUMA Unity Initiative
The PUMA Unity Initiative

Lessons and agency relationships

PUMA’s team have learned a lot about working with agencies during the last decade. According to Bertone, there’s only one way to work with an agency, and that’s to be genuine partners.

"We have to be buddies. We have to really like each other. I don’t like the agency client model where the client talks down to the agencies and whips them to deliver what they want. I don’t like short-term relationships because I think you’ve got to grow together."

Antonio Bertone

What's next

Bertone certainly appears to be seriously committed to the idea that brands should become much more responsible, sustainable and customer empowered.

'I think that the whole CR, transparency and open source behaviour is where brands need to go nowadays. Ideally I would like to see technology make products more on-demand ready in a regional or consumer level more than you do now. I think old school manufacturing behaviour and technology are coming together to rebalance the world from a production standpoint and give consumers more participation in a brand and its trajectory,' he says.

By some measures, the brand has achieved a great deal. According to research by TNS published in 2009, PUMA now has a six percent market share of the UK sportswear market, behind Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Umbro.  Surveys of US college students in 2010 ranked PUMA as the number seven sports-shoe brand of choice for females, and the number eight for males, aged 18-24 (e-marketer.com).

'We want to be the most desirable and sustainable SportLifestyle brand in the world. It doesn’t put us above anybody else, we just want to be desirable and sustainable. I’m really proud of what we’ve done and who we are.'

PUMA Business Growth (1993-2011)

  • In 1993 Jochen Zeitz is appointed PUMA chairman & CEO aged 30.
  • Zeitz heads a worldwide restructuring of Puma, which was in ‘financial difficulties’
  • Within a year PUMA delivers its first profitable performance since 1986, posting considolidated sales of 210 million Euros.
  • By 2010, PUMA hit consolidated sales of 2.7 billion Euros.
  • From 8.6 Euros in 1993, the share price hit an all time high of 350 Euros in April 2007.
  • In 2007, French luxury fashion retail group PPR acquired more than 60% of PUMA.
  • In July 2011 Franz Koch is named successor to Zeitz after 18 years as CEO.
  • Koch to lead the transformation of the company into a European corporation.   
  • Zeitz to continue as Executive Chairman and PPR’s Chief Sustainability Officer.

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