Why Puma failed to be true to itself but Nike and KFC knew exactly what they were about

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The Background

Let’s talk about street cred. 

Or maybe it is easier to describe people who don’t have it. For example, the hippy who's just returned from a year-long trip through Asia/Africa and attempts dancing to every tribal drum played by buskers. Or there is the middle-aged woman who attempts to be the cool, hip mum adopting catch phrases like “yass” and “shook” to “level” with her teenager.

Audiences are not looking for brands that are cultural tourists, but credible voices that can sell a dream. 

We seem to refer to any brand outside of white, middle-class Britain as ‘urban’. 

For starters, let’s stop doing this. Let’s also stop trying to be something we are not.

What They Did

Here are three brands that show how being ‘real’ works, whilst being fake fails. Starting with a definite fail.

Puma
Puma’s ‘House of Hustle’ brand experience was an event that was intended to celebrate “urban grassroots talent”. Instead, it was criticised for celebrating drug culture and this eventually put the brand on the blacklist across social channels – a tragic place to be in for a lifestyle brand.

The main issue was that Puma engaged gimmicks such as “fake trap phone” to advertise the event, and deemed by many as an act of exploitation of lifestyles born out of poverty. 

Personally, I couldn't agree more. If Puma was indeed attempting to create a unique way of getting creatives to attend its event, there are countless options to do so without the use of ill-thought-out gimmicks.

Nike

In complete contrast, Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a LDNR’ campaign struck the right note. 

Every character, dialogue, sound design and nuance within the TV ad captured the spirit of the locations featured. These are places selected as hotbeds of youth culture in the city. 

Furthermore, cameos of cultural icons like Skepta, Little Simz and Kurupt FM are not there to perpetuate a tone of voice, but are seamlessly woven into the narrative. What hammers home authenticity for the audience is in the casting of people in places where one would naturally find them. 

Immediately, we are on Nike’s side, we’ve fallen in love with a brand that gets its audience. The craft that went into making this piece, solidified Nike’s credibility.

KFC

KFC is an example of another brand that is effectively using its tone of voice to strengthen its street cred. 

With its tongue-in-cheek humour, the brand refresh has enabled it to successfully position itself in our high streets. It veers away from using street slang, but focuses on using simple language and humour to connect with its audience. 

Iconic pieces such as the FCK bucket used the right amount of humour to win hearts and the nation’s forgiveness.

In Hindsight

Some readers might label me as a snowflake – however, there is no place for flakiness when it comes to calling out the inauthentic. 

We owe it to the brands we service to lead them in the direction where they belong and thrive on the right side of diversity, allowing them to be credible voices. To help creatives, brands and agencies make better decisions when it comes to creating credible work. I’ve devised a set of questions and answers.

Sample Question 1: Should we create a brand experience inspired by the streets, sending the location via a “trap phone”? Answer: No.

Sample Question 2:  Should we use an “urban” artist to reflect how “woke”/ “peng”/ “legit” we are? Answer: No.

Sample Question 3: Should we have a young lad, black, with a South London accent in a tracksuit and arms crossed facing the camera holding our latest burger? Answer: Please stop. Immediately.

Review

Puma failed to be authentic, but Nike and KFC scored, so the aggregate rating is three.

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Naresh Subhash

Naresh Subhash

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