Commentary

Puma Deserves Penalty For Ash Wednesday Stunt

The Olympics are behind us, and now the stage is set for the FIFA World Cup. Fans everywhere are gearing up and companies, including powerhouses like Puma, are setting plans in motion to be part of the action. Soccer — or football as it’s called around the world — is a multibillion-dollar industry, and every one wants a piece of the pie. But, my question is, “At what cost?”

As the lead sponsor for Italia, Puma recently kicked off its “Nature of Believing” campaign with the launch of its evoPOWER football boot. Already catching fire on social media and fueled by Italia’s latest pick-up of Mario Balotelli, “Nature of Believing” has the makings of an extraordinary marketing campaign.

At least it did. Until Puma Football, in my opinion, misplayed its match.

On Ash Wednesday — one of the holiest days among Catholics — Puma launched an experiential marketing stunt that invited people to kneel down and praise not God, but Italia. The makeshift altars, which popped up in New York and Chicago, showcased an Italia jersey, roses, and candles with the Italia and Puma logos.

As the owner of an experiential marketing firm, I appreciate creatives who push the boundaries of creativity but not at the expense of alienating people.

The first day of Lent is about reflection, reverence, and religion. It is not about bowing down to soccer. Unfortunately, I think marketers have reached a point where dollar signs outweigh consideration for humanity. They don’t care if people are offended. After all, any press is good press, right? I think wrong.

Campaigns that alienate consumers will inevitably fall flat. They narrow their market and, at the same time, make the marketing industry look bad.

Must we remind Puma that Italians make up a critical part of the Puma Football target audience? And that “Italy” is practically synonymous with “Catholic?” This is not to mention the number of Catholics who live in New York and Chicago.

An ad campaign marginalizing Muslims, Jews, or other religious groups simply wouldn’t fly these days. So, why potentially offend Christians? Is the risk of doing so greater than the reward? I’ll let you decide. But, if I were refereeing the match, I’d hand out a red card.

We in the marketing business have a responsibility to help our clients win. We also have the choice to play with class every time we take the field.

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