What Exactly Was Puma Up to With its Ash Wednesday Stunt?

Sportswear Company Deploys Shrines to New Jerseys

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Puma might've had its own way of observing Ash Wednesday with a marketing stunt that placed shrine-like displays on city streets in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago yesterday.

The prop introduced the company's new Italy jersey for its 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign, "#StartBelieving." Fans reveled in the promotional display, jokingly kneeling before the jersey and uploading photos to social media.

Puma said it didn't mean to play on any religious observances.

"The Italia National Team has some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic fans in the world," a spokeswoman said. "This activation was a way to let fans view the new jerseys and celebrate their team. This was unrelated to Ash Wednesday and was not a religious event. The date was chosen because March 5th was the first day the kits were being worn in play by the Italia National Team."

While fans may have enjoyed Puma's Italy-themed "altar," it's easy to imagine the idea not sitting well with other consumers.

Puma was trying to be provocative with its marketing strategy but showed poor taste, said Michael Fernandez, CEO of Factory 360, an event marketing agency. "They need to put themselves in the consumer's shoes," he said.

The stunt surely grabs attention, and it's obvious that the company was trying to have some fun, but in the end we all know it's just a jersey. To promote it this way on a day when many people are observing a period of fasting and repentance raises the question -- again -- of whether just anything should be an occasion for marketing.

"The end result is a negative for Puma," Mr. Fernandez said.