Puma commemorates ‘black power’ salute in U.S. market push

BERLIN (Reuters) – Puma (PUMG.DE) is launching a campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of U.S. sprinter Tommie Smith’s black-gloved salute at the 1968 Olympics, shortly after rival Nike scored a hit with an ad featuring a modern-day activist for racial equality.

Puma’s #REFORM campaign will see brand ambassadors such as rapper Meek Mill call for people to post images of themselves online with a raised fist to commemorate Smith’s silent salute at the Mexico Olympics on Oct. 16, 1968.

Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden said it was a coincidence the anniversary comes soon after the Kaepernick ad, and also shortly after Puma launched its garish orange and black “Clyde Court Disrupt” basketball shoes – marking its return to a sport with close links to the social justice movement.

Both Puma and German rival Adidas (ADSGn.DE) have been taking share from Nike in its home market in the last couple of years, helped by the popularity of their retro fashion styles.

Puma’s global marketing head Adam Petrick said basketball had a tradition of supporting social justice, with the NBA backing those who speak out such as Puma athlete Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is fighting unequal pay for female players.

Matt Powell, a senior adviser with market research firm NPD, said the sports industry was ahead in seeking to align with the values of its consumers, with Puma’s rivals like Patagonia and Vans-owner VF Corp (VFC.N) putting a focus on sustainability.

Analysts expect the focus on the United States will help boost profitability, which lags well behind Adidas and Nike, as Puma currently lacks scale and distribution muscle in the world’s biggest market for sportswear.

Puma’s shares, which dipped in January when former French parent Kering (PRTP.PA) said it would spin off the brand, have since rallied on an upbeat 2018 outlook and are trading up almost a third in the last year.

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