PUMA Hoops
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Reclaiming Cultural Credibility

Understanding the Challenge

After a 20 year hiatus, Puma decided it was ready to reenter basketball, but the game had changed in the intervening years. Perennially the challenger brand in every category, Puma could not play by the institutionalized rules of the game if it had any chance of standing out.© Combo strategists’ challenge was to define what role Puma had in the game today.

© Despite a broad array of options, Nike is the predominant shoe by choice in the NBA. The below chart reflects preferred shoe choices amongst NBA athletes.

Outthinking Giants

Nike’s Jordan brand, alone, is similar in revenue to the entirety of the Puma Corporation. Add Adidas into the mix, and clearly Puma had a massive task to regain any traction in the category. The worst thing Puma could therefore try and do was to battle giants on their stage. Thankfully, while the noise of the court was consuming the giants, an entire culture existed around the game that was being ignored. That’s where Puma would focus.

Success is being able to build culture. Social capital is really important.
Focus group participant

Seeing Outside the Game

While the game of basketball had not changed in 50 years, the culture that surrounds basketball had transformed. For brands, it was easier to appropriate the game and follow the familiar path than challenge any conventions. But that’s not where the game was going. Young people had redefined the game as born from a hunger to have their voice in the community and reclaim their definition of the spirit of the game. Hyper-individualized goals and aspirations were defining success and celebrating people’s creativity, and innovation was sought as much as the victory and dominance. This sense of individual focus and culture beyond the court was a clear space that Puma’s legacy gave them license to play in.

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Positioning Puma Basketball Off the Court

Combo strategists proposed that Puma could not win playing on the court. Rather, the focus on a brand presence would take a more individualized, off-court approach authentic to the brand. Combo strategists suggested a plan to recognize and support the expansive culture of basketball more than the game.

I ain’t f-----’ with nobody else but Puma.
Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets
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