Outspent by Nike and Adidas 10x, PUMA needed to connect with youth culture on the ground and in the flesh in an innovative way. By acknowledging the industry trends of plagiarism and productization of youth subcultures, Combo turned PUMA's booth at ComplexCon into a job fair, giving the community the chance to design PUMA products, model in campaigns, create content and co-create the brand for the next year.

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Testing an Egalitarian Creative Model

Outthinking Being Outspent

As PUMA geared up for the annual streetwear expo ComplexCon, it faced the challenge of showing up alongside the likes of Nike, Adidas and other large competitors whose budgets outsized PUMA’s tenfold ©. As a challenger brand, the task was to outthink—not outbuild—their competitors, taking advantage of this rare moment to engage directly with an enthusiastic community of creators and consumers.

© Only Nike and Adidas have shattered the $5 billion sales milestone, with annual sales of $34 billion and $23 billion, respectively. The two sports giants, Nike and Adidas, occupy 56% of the market share, leaving PUMA in a position to outthink, not outspend. The below graph reflects market share amongst major brands. Figures represented in in USD, billions.

Unlocking a Key Community Insight

Combo strategists worked with PUMA to rethink what it meant to meaningfully show up to this industry-wide showcase. The core insight was that ComplexCon was essentially a horizontal gathering. Attendees understood that it was a space where everyone was mingling, their heroes (designers, musicians, artists, etc.) all walking around the same floor. Young people viewed ComplexCon as a networking event, even shopping around their portfolios. Using this insight, Combo strategists proposed that PUMA turn its booth into a job fair. It was staffed with mentors who evaluated attendees’ work against six briefs. Attendees-turned-applicants interviewed for these jobs and heard back by the end of the weekend.

Rethinking Industry Practices

Turning the ComplexCon PUMA booth into an opportunity for cross-pollination presented PUMA as a brand that was rethinking creativity within the constraints of an industry that often appropriated youth culture, repackaged it and marketed it back to that very same audience. PUMA effectively used its presence on the industry stage as a laboratory to explore a creative process that has the potential to be mutually beneficial rather than extractive.

Do clothing brands owe their customers more than great products? What is the line between appropriation and appreciation?

Community Sourced Creativity

Over two days, PUMA met 650 young creatives and reviewed their portfolios. Out of that group, PUMA filtered out 208 truly talented individuals that the brand would work with in the future. And out of that subset, found 6 stars that PUMA hired on the spot to shoot a campaign, design a product, film an ad, model and create music.

Partnership with Scope of Work Talent Agency

Combo’s partnership with the youth talent agency Scope of Work provided this project with an additional source of insight into the community of emerging creators PUMA sought to engage with. At the booth, SOW mentors gave professional advice and feedback throughout the weekend.

Design, Production and Operations

The design phase included the creation of a visual identity and accompanying assets, as well as the spatial design of the booth architecture and layout. Combo designers worked with PUMA to produce the programming, including scheduling and staffing, as well as other aspects of the feedback and interviewing process.

Whether you're a photographer, musician, model or designer, there will be opportunities of a lifetime.
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