Access to international superstars at the cutting edge of mainstream creativity is what has lured Puma, the 71-year-old German athletic and casual footwear manufacturer, to work with its new media agency, Havas Media.
After taking its $300m account out of another French business, Publicis Media, marketing chief Adam Petrick states that it was the lure of the relationship with Vivendi – the owner of Universal Music and the sister media giant of Havas – that sealed the deal as it prepares to embark on a major brand push.
In a market long dominated by rivals Nike and Adidas, Petrick is taking a new look at Puma's approach towards consumer marketing. The global director of brand and marketing now has his sights set on the "culture" of sport.
“That is the stuff that really interesting [to our audience] so for us, cultural partnerships and cultural alignment becomes absolutely critical,” explains Petrick of the work he and Havas have begun to undertake.
“When we had the opportunity to decide who our media partners were going to be, the relationship that Havas has with all the other cultural influencers was the number one reason to work with them. But the other thing that they had, which was important to us, was this concept of meaningful media which aligns very well with our focus on ‘authenticity and relevance’ – we use those words a lot, but for us, meaningful media captured that spirit.
“It’s about reaching the right consumer or audience with the right message. And that they are excited about the message that we are telling them, and it is relevant to their lives. We believe that having that authenticity and being meaningful to that audience means that they are getting something and giving up some value – that is when we are successful when our audience gets value back from what they are seeing.”
Also involved in the conversation is Havas’ global chief strategist Greg James who offers some background on the brand partnership and the opportunities brought through Vivendi.
“If you’re going to create stories and then figure out how you amplify then… it all becomes about the ‘how?’ and so little of it about the ‘why?’," James says. "Of course, both of those things are important, but my mission with the agency has been… to talk about media. So that vision we basically wrapped up in some research called ‘Meaningful Media’ and that was about returning to form and understanding the media moments that provide authenticity, and then building an agency that champions that.”
Meaningful Media; Understanding Media That Matters included a study undertaken by Havas in a bid to help marketers understand the media ecosystem that exists today – from the complexity of digital to big data and brand safety. As part of that project, it also generated the ‘Meaningful Brands’ ranking, which featured both of Puma’s biggest competitors within the top 30 of the list. The top 10 brands for 2019 were Google, PayPal, Mercedes Benz, WhatsApp, YouTube, Johnson & Johnson, Gillette, BMW, Microsoft and Danone respectively.
“We’re going to be working together for a very long time, so we’re hoping to leverage Havas’ access to music, to culture, to publishers," says Petrick. "I’m excited about the creativity that they’re going to be able to bring to us."
Petrick adds that another attraction what that Havas was not “impressions driven” and will be able to help bring more partners on board to help it tell stories that link back to Puma products: “That’s unique and interesting and exciting for me.”
Asked where that growth is likely to come from, James believes it will stem from generating “the correct, authentic cultural connections with multiple audiences because there are so many different types of products and sneaker drops that are going to happen throughout the year”.
“Getting those cultural connections right is how you’re going to drive growth if you are a contemporary, relevant brand that people feel recognizes its heritage and drives its authenticity,” James goes on. "The second way you can drive growth, from a media agency point of view, is being smarter with the data; that means when you think about spend, those big ideas that you want to spend on large scale media platforms… you’ve also got to make decisions and tactical choices about where you’re going to gather more data…”
However, Petrick admits to having “a healthy skepticism” around data as he continues to believe in creativity and intuition when it comes to story development.
“Data is great for gathering insight and finding ways to become relevant," he says, "but in a lot of ways, it’s a rationalization tool. At the end of the day, you have to be using your intuition to find what feels right and a lot of that is going to come from anecdotal conversations or conversations with retailers or emails from consumers.”
Continuing to discuss the topic of data, James emphasizes his belief in the importance of ‘unstructured data’ and how it is help form the new Puma strategy: “You don’t make a decision about an ambassador or an influencer or a collaboration without knowing it’s a good decision but the way you know it’s a good decision is often through unstructured data. It’s not because you saw a spreadsheet… it’s good to recognize that it’s still helping you, it’s just different kinds of data.”
As a result, the relationship is already changing Puma's media philosophy, Petrick explains. “Frankly, media in the traditional sense hasn’t really been a very powerful tool for us because we’ve been focused on the story and doing strategy and the idea itself is the thing that will carry the day. Now we’re seeing that as we’re growing, we need a partner like these guys because we need to amplify, we need to reach more people."
Asked to outline the brand values of Puma, Petrick says he sees it as a company that likes to “listen more than we like to speak” and describes it as aiming to have a “fun” and “self-deprecating” tone of voice.
“We like to be confident; we like to challenge. We are trying to be an unconventional brand, a provocateur. We enjoy the position that we’ve got to take more risks because we’re not the market leader. People, individuals, athletes who represent the idea of being a challenger, that’s when we say yes you are Puma, you represent Puma. It isn’t necessarily about following sides; sometimes when we’ve made decisions that have been more data-driven it’s taken us off the path of the true values of the brand. So, we really try and say, do their values match?”
Petrick also passionately highlights Puma’s involvement in women’s football for the past two decades as he reflects on what has proven to be a watershed period for women’s sport following the football and netball world cups during the summer.
“I actually think there’s somewhat of an unfortunate situation when you have the Women’s World Cup every four years there’s a resurgence of interest in women’s football. I don’t think that’s right, to be honest. Frankly, even the idea that we have a designation and it’s a specific thing where we’re talking about empowering women. It’s patronizing. These are athletes, they’re competing at the highest level of their sport and we support them because we support great athletes.
“The fact that there’s a lot of cultural relevance to the women’s World Cup right now is great, but it has to be sustained. It can’t be that in a few weeks this is all over and everybody goes back to their day to day business.”
As to the role that he aims to take in ensuring that conversation is maintained, he cites other sports that Puma is also a supplier for, such as women’s basketball, where the stories of the players and teams will be highlighted.
“We’re trying to tell stories to women in general about athletes because that’s what’s important,” he states, promising that this will continue on, with female athletes a large customer-base for Puma. “We have to be relevant and that means continuing to support all areas of sport.”
Basketball has become a new focus for Puma in the last year, a sport that Petrick describes as “the mixing of cultures; sport and music, sport and art.”
He continues: “The formulas we’re using in basketball are now influencing what we’re doing in football and golf. We’ve learned the recipe of bringing culture to sport and now we want to maximize that.”
Talking about what is to come from the still fledgling relationship between the client and agency, James reveals the scale of the operation, with around 45 individual campaigns having been produced during the first 90 days alone, which Petrick hopes will become more consistent in order to improve their resonance with consumers.
“What’s great about the brand is there’s something fresh every week and we’re trying to work with platforms to make sure there are certain key media partnerships,” outlines James.
Finally, when questioned about the move to clean up media in general and what he would like to see happen, Petrick is firm in his belief that media companies must better understand their audiences in order to allow advertisers the ability to develop stronger creative solutions based around consumer expectations.
“Advertisers, partners, and agencies in media just need to go back to understanding the power of what their platform or media means to their audience, not obsessing about whether they can re-sell to this audience multiple times,” James adds of a sector that has weighed itself down in complexities that are proving tougher and tougher for advertisers to traverse without issue.
The beginning to this multi-year partnership has begun with the agency having to hit the ground running, but Petrick and James both have a clear view of the strategy they have embarked upon, and it's still likely to include many more famous faces wearing Puma along the way.