Puma Delays Soccer Push Until Kids See World Cup Shoes in Action

Ad Spending Set to Increase as Brand Focuses on Performance Products

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Cesc Fàbregas wearing Puma's EvoPower Tricks shoes.
Cesc Fàbregas wearing Puma's EvoPower Tricks shoes.

The biggest event in soccer starts next month with the first kick at the World Cup. But Puma won't start its major promotional push until it's all over.

CEO Bjorn Gulden plans a burst of ads later in the summer, counting on impressionable kids to pester their parents for new cleats as they head back to school. During the tournament itself, Puma will rely on the eight national teams it sponsors to promote the German company's gear.

"The World Cup is a very, very crowded environment media-wise, from credit-card companies to car companies to God knows what," said Mr. Gulden, a former German national league player. "The car companies and credit-card companies have deeper pockets than we have. You die quickly."

Puma and bigger rivals Nike and Adidas are vying with companies including Visa, Hyundai, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen for consumers' attention during the monthlong tournament that starts June 12 in Brazil. Of the sportswear brands, Adidas is the official FIFA partner.

Mr. Gulden, a Norwegian who took the reins last year, is trying to stem a years-long slide in sales and profit at the company whose iconic logo once graced cleats worn by Brazilian soccer legend Pele and the New York Jets' flashy football quarterback Joe Namath.

Instead of an ad blitz during the World Cup as Nike and Adidas are planning, Puma will unveil its "Forever Faster" campaign during the back-to-school season in August and September, Mr. Gulden said. The ads will star athletes sponsored by Puma, including Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli and sprinter Usain Bolt, along with London's Arsenal Football Club.

Puma is starting to spend more on marketing as Mr. Gulden seeks to make his mark. Such outlays are increasing, the company said last month, after falling 11% last year to $740 million.

"It probably makes total sense," said Julian Easthope, an analyst at Barclays Capital in London. "The World Cup is very crowded. Though they have a lot of teams in the competition, they haven't got the best teams."

Puma is outfitting Algeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, Italy, the Ivory Coast, Switzerland and Uruguay. This month it introduced splashy cleats that clad player's right foot in pink and left in blue. Several players will wear them at the World Cup, including Mr. Balotelli, Sergio Aguero of Argentina, Cesc Fabregas of Spain and Germany's Marco Reus.

The bold color scheme is reminiscent of Nike's introduction of the Volt -- a vivid neon-green-meets-highlighter-yellow color that featured on hundreds of athletes' shoes during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Mr. Gulden is trying to reposition Puma as chiefly a performance-gear brand after several swings between sports and more casual "lifestyle" wear.

"The problem with lifestyle is, if it's not rooted in sports over time, it's hard to exist," said Mr. Gulden, whose playing career included a year at FC Nuremberg in the mid-1980s. "Where we were in danger is we were selling lifestyle first."

-Bloomberg News

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