One of the Greatest Marketing Plays of All Time Was a Pair of Untied Pumas
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, is widely considered to be the greatest soccer player of all time. He’s nearly worshiped in his native Brazil, and TIME magazine even included him in their list of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century. In 1970, when the Brazilian team was on the road to winning the World Cup, his fame and influence were at a fever pitch.
Although millions of people around the globe tune into the World Cup every year, this one was special. For starters, it was the first World Cup broadcast in color which gave the game a new vividness and intensity. Secondly, the matches had been especially thrilling as the Brazilian team was on fire leading up to the final matches. And of course, there was Pelé.
His popularity was obvious, his influence undeniable, and shoe companies were almost afraid to endorse him. Adidas and Puma, the two biggest soccer shoe companies in the world at that time, even had a “Pelé Pact” which barred them from signing the athlete for fear it’d spark a bidding war that would ruin both companies. But Puma broke the pact in what was arguably one of the shrewdest marketing plays of all time.
A representative of the company named Hans Henningsen reached out to Pelé and offered him $25,000 (with an additional $100,000 in subsequent deals) to do something that would make Puma synonymous with the sport for decades to come.
Mere seconds before the World Cup quarter final match between Brazil and Peru kick off, Pelé walked out straight into the middle of the field and asked the officials for time so he could tie his shoes. Cameras zoomed in and millions of people around the globe watched as he bent down and grabbed the laces.
The thick curved stripe was unmistakable, as was the message it silently shouted to the world. Pelé, the greatest living athlete at the time, was wearing Puma sneakers.
Risky. Bold. Simple. Effective.
A version of this piece was originally published on my Linkedin profile.
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