Puma's Design Ethos

In this extended edited interview transcript, Jochen Zeitz, CEO, Puma AG, discusses Puma's design ethos.

FC: What's the story behind the Puma brand name?

Zeitz: Its very simple, you know the story of the two brothers, one was Adolph Dassler and he called his company Adidas, and his brother was Rudolf Dassler, so he was thinking of calling his brand RUDA, but someone said it would sound awkward, so he decided to switch two letters, put a P in the name, and out came Puma.

FC: How would you describe the Puma design ethos/philosophy?

Zeitz: We're mixing sport lifestyle and fashion in a unique way. We always try to reinterpret sport in an innovative fashionable way, and when we do fashion we're always trying to bring our sports heritage into the fashion world. Obviously we don't define sport in a traditional way anymore. To us sport is living an active lifestyle, whether you are a businessman, active traveler or a marathon runner, it's a different kind of interpretation of sport today. It's a much broader definition than what it used to be—it's not about traditional categories anymore, it's about living an active lifestyle.

FC: Have you ever considered changing the logo?

Zeitz: The Puma logo evolved over the years, it looked quite different in the 40s but the last logo—the way it looks today was created in the 70s.

FC: So since you've been at the helm it hasn't changed?

Zeitz: One of my key decisions was not to change it, because I felt it was such a powerful logo that it really didn't need any change. Obviously a lot of corporate identity companies thought it would be good to update the logo, and I just always felt it was so strong it really didn't need any touching up. I wanted Puma to regain strength with the existing logo rather than try to get rid of the past.

FC: Had Puma ever considered the fashion category?

Zeitz: Not at all. Puma was all about function and not at all about design. The founder of the company always believed functionality and performance were the only ingredients that could make Puma successful and design never mattered. It was just a very straightforward functional approach, and a very manufacturing-driven approach. It was never about comfort, feel, emotion, excitement, design—none of that.

FC: At what point did you realize you wanted to infuse all of those things that were missing?

Zeitz: From day one of course. The image of the brand was very poor. But it took some time to find the USP (unique selling proposition) for the brand, because when you talked to the consumer and you asked, "Should Puma be about elegance, design, colorfulness, freshness, emotions?" It was like, "What do you mean?" It just wasn't something the consumer could really relate to, because there was a certain image in people's heads.

In fact when you talked to consumers they said, "Puma's a very masculine brand, you could never ever sell to women. It's impossible, don't even try. And when you talked to retailers, they would say, "Well Puma is a sports performance brand, so you have to say sports performance." The last thing anyone would do is talk about fashion. Forget about it. So it was trying to find the USP, which could bring the past strengths of the brand into the equation, but nevertheless completely changing the formula.

That's what we started to do after we managed to post four years of record earnings and put the company back on a strong financial platform and felt comfortable that we could. We had an opportunity to use the small size of the company as a competitive advantage and establish ourselves as the alternative to the established fashion players. It wasn't something that came out of research it was just something that was a gut feel ing at the end of the day. Looking at the logo, looking at the brand, looking at Puma the animal, and what actually could become the alternative in the sporting goods market.

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