Puma is following in the footsteps of competitor Nike by kicking off a social justice-skewed initiative — #Reform — that it revealed at an event in Atlanta on Saturday.
Last month, Nike Inc. signed a multiyear deal with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who became famous for dropping to one knee during the national anthem — to be the face of its Just Do It campaign on its 30th anniversary.
Puma AG, the $4.75 billion German sports brand, brought ambassadors rapper Meek Mill, WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Olympian and human rights activist Tommie Smith to the Atlanta History Museum for a panel discussion on social justice and to launch Reform, which is inspired by Smith’s “Silent Gesture” at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The sprinter’s raised fist at the Games sparked debate around the world about civil rights and equality.
In a move to achieve faster progress, Puma will work with the three ambassadors, who encompass what it is calling Team Reform, to spread the word on various issues: Mill will focus on criminal justice, Diggins-Smith on gender equality, and “captain emeritus” Smith on universal equality.
The brand will also be partnering with entertainment company Roc Nation to spread the message through live and social engagement, Puma said, adding that future ambassadors will be named in the coming months.
Adam Petrick, global director of brand and marketing for Puma, said Reform is “not a campaign but a new communication platform to drive social change. We won’t be in and out in a season, but we’ll support this until there is no more inequality in the world.”
He said the ambassadors and their messages are integral to the program, which extends beyond sports into all aspects of life. “How can we say we truly support athletes if we don’t support them in their causes,” Petrick said. “We believe we have a moral obligation to stand with our ambassadors.”
That includes Smith, who has been a Puma athlete for 50 years. Reform will be a multipronged campaign that will include a collection of product, grants and summits where individuals can gather to work together to promote change. Petrick said the ambassadors will be the ones to set the agenda.
On Saturday night, Puma kicked off the campaign by awarding Smith with the inaugural Reform award at the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative Gala and made a donation to the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative Foundation. But the platform kicks into high gear on Oct. 16, the date of the 50th anniversary of the Silent Gesture, when the ambassadors will seek other like-minded people to join Team Reform and support Smith and his causes by joining the Third Salute.
Petrick explained that after Smith was booed in 1968 by raising a fist and lowering his head on the podium during the Olympics, he raised his fist a second time — the second salute — when walking off to reiterate his point. So later this month, Puma is asking individuals to post an image of themselves with a raised fist, and make a donation to charities pursuing universal equality, including the American Civil Liberties Union. Puma will match all donations up to $100,000 through Dec. 31.
Also on Oct. 16, Puma will launch the Power Through Peace Collection, designed to commemorate the Silent Gesture, that will feature graphics designed by Lance Wyman, creator of the logo of the 1968 Olympics. All profits from the sales of this collection will be donated to charities pursuing universal equality.
“We make stuff,” Petrick said. “So the number-one way we can support our captains it to make things that support their causes.”
Petrick said Puma has participated in other social reform causes in the past, but nothing to this extent. “But like 1968, this is another period of extreme social change and we’re reaching a point in our culture when consumers are looking to brands to lead the way.”