Commercial: Tone of voice - The cat's whiskers
Puma, it is fair to say, has been one of those 'also-ran' brands throughout much of its life - despite it being the world's third-largest sports apparel brand after Nike and Adidas. Following its takeover by luxury goods conglomerate PPR, it appears to be successfully marrying its athletic supply heritage with a more difficult (and possibly transient) positioning as a fashion brand.
Hence why Puma's flagship store in London is in Carnaby Street rather than Oxford or Regent Streets, a thoroughfare strong associated with fashion and the rag trade in the last 40 years. And certainly why, on a brief visit there during the sales last week, it appeared to stuffed with fashionistas rather than athletes.
But fashion isn't the only way that Puma in the UK is trying to stand out. In addition to the obviously designed store, the brand is doing interesting things with its tone of voice - and certainly things that are strongly different from its nearest competitors.
Take the plastic bag that I carried my purchases home in. The quality of the vibrant red plastic (why isn't that paper yet?) is not great, but underneath is a cheery message:
"CAUTION: THIS IS NOT A TOY
Obviously it's just a bag. OK, we didn't really think you would mistake it for a games consol (sic). All we mean is don't fool around and put it on your head, you'll just look silly."
There's also an extremely stylised re-cycling icon too, looking for all the world like Walt Frazier about to complete a thrilling slam-dunk.
Which is fine, if a little Innocent-y, as we must call this tone nowadays. But there are real flashes of something special tonally on the box itself. For example:
* on the sides of the box, it says: "Average contents: 2"
* on one of the fold-out flaps, it says: "Re-cycle: 1. As a doll's house, for a small doll. 2. As a container for useless stuff you really should have chucked out by now. 3. As a place for private (ital) photos you can't store on your hard disc."
There's also heavy and clever use of ideograms all around the box, indicating in a tongue in cheek way the sort of activities that one might get up to while wearing the shoes. In this case, those include hula-hooping, parachuting, singing, watching TV and hoovering, all underpinned by the admonition to 'Take care out there'. And look at the back too, where the bar code has been subverted, and broken wide open.
The best bit is on the back of the box, where a useful international show size conversion chart has an unexpected category: Your foot is as long as... (UK male sizes):
5 = a chopstick
8 = a small french stick
12 = a bottle of wine
14 = a party blower (blown)
15.5 = a gangster's gold chain
So useful information, wit, knowingness, understated charm, and not overloading it to boot (pun intended). It's a most fabulous shoebox, and shows what can be achieved by any brand in carving out a distinct tone of voice when some effort is applied.