By Emma Thomasson
Puma is launching a campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of US sprinter Tommie Smith’s black-gloved salute at the 1968 Olympics. Rival Nike recently scored a hit with an ad featuring a current activist for racial equality.
Nike’s sales jumped after its advertisement with American footballer Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling at NFL games during the US national anthem, in 2016, to protest against police shootings of unarmed black men. That gesture drew the ire of US president, Donald Trump.
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 Mr Smith’s silent salute, at the Mexico Olympics, on October 16, 1968.
The brand is working with rap mogul Jay-Z’s Roc Nation on live and social media events to fight racism and sexism, and will match donations to charities such as the American Civil Liberties Union (Aclu), up to $100,000 in total.
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.
“We are not trying to make commercial advertising out of this, but we think it is good for the brand, because it is part of our values,” he told Reuters.
Puma has sponsored Mr Smith for 50 years. He took a pair of their shoes onto the platform when he did his salute. On October 16, Puma is launching a collection of shoes called ‘Power Through Peace’, with the proceeds going to charity.
Mr Gulden said Mr Smith was a trailblazer for other athletes, like Mr Kaepernick. The latter could not find a job for the 2017 season and is still without a team. Mr Smith never competed again after 1968, received death threats, and struggled to make a living for years.
“What he did then ... was the bravest thing an athlete has ever done, when you think about the consequences,” Mr Gulden said.
Nike sales jumped after the Kaepernick campaign, but its shares fell late last month, when that did not feed through to an increase in the company’s full-year forecast. Both Puma and German rival, Adidas, have been taking a share from Nike in its home market in the last couple of years, helped by the popularity of their retro fashion styles.