Why Puma put A$AP Rocky in charge of creative for its F1 partnership
The brand sees the contributions of the rapper and self-proclaimed ‘Fashion Killa’ as key to crossing into the worlds of fashion, culture and lifestyle, says head of entertainment marketing Allyssa Rapp.
A$AP Rocky is the new creative director for Puma's F1 partnership / Puma
Earlier this week, German-owned sportswear giant Puma announced that rapper A$AP Rocky will serve as creative director of the brand’s partnership with Formula One (F1). The artist will, according to the announcement, “focus on the intersection of the sport and streetwear,” directing campaigns and working to create “bespoke capsules … that will influence the brand’s seasonal design directions moving forward.”
The news comes less than six months after Puma launched a multi-year partnership with F1 that enables the brand to produce F1-licensed apparel and accessories and cements the brand’s exclusive right to sell F1 and team merchandise at some Grand Prix races.
The appointment of A$AP Rocky comes amid a smattering of celebrity creative appointments at major brands – earlier this year, musician and producer Pharrell Williams took the post of men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton (succeeding the late fashion icon Virgil Abloh), while in 2021, Playboy named Cardi B as its creative director.
In the eyes of Allyssa Rapp, head of entertainment marketing at Puma, the trend simply speaks to the ongoing evolution of celebrity endorsement in marketing. “Artists are artists for a reason. They’re creative beings, and for them to be able to express themselves through tangible products, campaigns and narratives for a brand is [valuable],” she tells The Drum. “They’re creative beings in one world, and they want to be creative beings in another world.”
A brand will know they’ve nailed it with a celebrity creative, Rapp says, “when the partners really have a joint vision. That’s where you see it come across, resonate, reach new audiences and serve both the partner and the brand really well.”
The vision for the collaboration
As for Puma, she explains, the ‘Praise The Lord’ rapper represents the brand’s vision for the future. “Internally, for Puma, it starts with a conversation of, ‘Where’s the brand going? And where does the partner’s passion lie?’”
The answer to this first question? Puma wants to embrace its heritage as a sports brand (that has long invested in motorsports since 2001, when the brand inked a deal to outfit the Jordan Grand Prix team) while evolving to straddle fashion and culture.
The brand hopes that Rocky’s cultural significance and creative vision will help propel it into this next phase. Rapp says that A$AP Rocky embodies the “intersection of sport and culture.” For Puma, she explains, it’s a chance to integrate “fashion and streetwear culture” and to “disrupt far beyond the track” with a new strategy that informs everything from product development to marketing.
A handful of other celebrity partners have pushed Puma further into the realm of fashion and lifestyle in recent years: Dua Lipa has released two collections with the brand, and Rihanna (Rocky‘s baby mama) has collaborated on designs with the sportswear label since 2014.
Outside of celebrity partnerships, Puma has also worked with a handful of fashion designers, art collectives, streetwear labels and social merchandising brands, dropping limited-edition collections that have boosted the brand’s contemporary cultural relevance.
Marketing industry experts believe the new partnership with Rocky – and the broader philosophy to collaboration – is sure to pay off for Puma.
Adam Hanft, an independent brand strategist and trends analyst, is one such thinker. He says that the new collaboration is likely to help both Puma and F1 connect with their roots while branching into a new, culture-obsessed future.
“Puma itself in many ways is a throwback brand,” Hanft says, crediting the brand’s renewed popularity in recent years to “the memory, the history and the excellent brand equity of the company.” F1, for its part, has been part of the US’ cultural fabric since 1950, but has seen an explosion of popularity – particularly among newcomer fans – across the globe in recent years, thanks to the success of entertainment and marketing efforts like Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ docuseries.
A partner like A$AP Rocky, Hanft suggests, could help both brands evolve into a new era that integrates sport with fashion and culture. “The collaboration with a fashion and music figure – similar in a way to what Louis Vuitton did with Pharrell Williams – is an example of … nostalgic brands trying to trade not only on their heritage but finding contemporary relevance at the same time,” he says. “That’s sort of the magic moment: the convergence of the nostalgic equity piece with something that is highly culturally relevant.”
And with F1 gaining popularity among audiences of all kinds, leaders at the elite racing organization see the potential value-add. “As F1 continues to grow around the world, we have been reaching new fans through exciting collaborations and are seeing the sport enter areas of mainstream culture we have not seen before,” said F1 president and chief executive officer Stefano Domenicali, in a statement earlier this week. “Puma has a rich history in motorsport, making them the perfect fit for F1 as we take the sport’s apparel to the next level for fans on the street, drivers in the paddock and everything else in between.”
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Rocky’s role at Puma
Rocky, who is no stranger to commercial creativity, has already hit the ground running (or should we say driving?) in his new role. The announcement of his appointment was ushered in with a slick, streetwear-meets-anti-gravity brand campaign that the rapper himself fronted. He’s pictured break dancing and levitating in the air as if driving an invisible racecar, rocking head to toe Puma (and, in some cases, his signature balaclava).
And unlike some brand partnerships, Rocky didn’t just appear on set ready to pose for a few pictures and duck out – in fact, according to Rapp, he’s committed to playing an active role in every step of the creative process. “He creative directed this campaign. From the very beginning, he’s like, ‘Here’s the inspiration. Here’s how I want it to come to life.’ He’s involved in the styling and even how it’s shot. It’s more than the traditional endorsement or face-of role that you see in the celebrity space.”
The brand sees this hands-on, collaborative approach as a surefire way to tap into bold, new ideas and transition authentically into the fashion and culture spaces. “Puma historically provides a lot of creative freedom to our partners,” Rapp says. “And Rocky will definitely have his hand in everything. His influence is immediate. He’s super passionate and dedicated to learning more about the sport, which is where Puma comes in [to help], but he’s also [embodying] our motto ‘Forever Faster.’ He’s pushing us to act quickly, think differently and move very fast in terms of the content we’re creating, the products we’re designing and really thinking about the sport and flipping [traditional narratives about it] on its head.”
Through the end of 2023, the artist will be focused on developing additional creative for the brand’s partnership with F1. He’ll also release an exclusive, limited Puma x F1 collection of apparel and accessories.
Additionally, as part of the new arrangement, Rocky will helm an incubator for up-and-coming creatives. “He will … [help Puma] tap into the next wave of designers and creators and make sure that we are pushing out new stuff that the sport hasn’t seen, and that, on the fashion side, we haven’t really seen from Puma,” Rapp says.
In the coming year, he’ll work with the Puma and F1 teams to develop a handful of special collections to complement all the top F1 races of the year. The artist will also concept brand activations at key races and direct marketing efforts around them.
Next year, Rapp says, will be an especially important year for Puma and its relationship with F1 racing. “2024 [will be] … a year of great cultural events, whether that’s in the fashion space, the music space or huge events in the sporting space – like the Olympics and other events,” she says. “So our vision is to try and elevate the brand across more moments … a lot of what you see [from us will be] that beautiful meshing of culture and the brand’s sports DNA.”
The brand plans to have a presence at all of the major F1 events moving forward. Consumers should keep their eyes peeled for Puma happenings at the Las Vegas Grand Prix in mid-November, Rapp says.
In Hanft’s estimation, the trend of celebrity creative directors isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s a trend that resonates with consumers, he says, “because we are generally in a world where cultural relevance trump category expertise.”
Of course, this hasn’t always been the case. “There was a period when a creative director at a fashion house had to be somebody from the fashion world,” he says. Today, things are different. “We’re now seeing that cultural significance is not limited to just one domain; you can cross domains. It’s a trend we’re going to see more and more – if you are good at one thing, the culture lets you be good at anything as long as people believe that you’ve got some taste, some style and some authenticity.”
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