“PUMA’s Brand Activism: Universal Equality, Gender Equality, and Criminal Justice Reform” – Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler
50 years ago, when US sprinter Tommie Smith took the gold in the 200 meters in a world-record-setting time at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, he used his moment on the podium to enter the history books. His countryman John Carlos, who won bronze in the same race, also took a stand.
The ACLU describes the scene, and places it perspective with our current climate:
Smith and Carlos won the gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200-meter event. What came next shocked the world. As Smith and Carlos walked to the podium, they took off their shoes to protest poverty. They wore beads and a scarf to protest lynchings — the last lynching of the 20th century had not yet occurred in 1968. Carlos unzipped his Olympic jacket, in defiance of Olympic etiquette, but in support of “all the working-class people — black and white — in Harlem who had to struggle and work with their hands all day.”
Carlos also deliberately covered up the “USA” on his uniform with a black t-shirt to “reflect the shame I felt that my country was traveling at a snail’s pace toward something that should be obvious to all people of good will.” And when the national anthem was played, Smith and Carlos lowered their heads and raised their fists. They only had one pair of gloves so Smith put a black glove on his raised right fist; Carlos covered his left fist. The world was watching.
Smith and Carlos were protesting Black poverty that existed in a sea of prosperity. They were protesting police violence against Blacks and other people of color who spoke up about America’s shortcomings. Yet just as we fail to see the connection between King and young Black activists today, we are blind to the parallels between Smith and Carlos on the one hand and Colin Kaepernick and other modern day protesting athletes on the other. The protests are mirror images of each other and, sadly, the issues are the same.
The protest cost Smith dearly – he was suspended from the U.S. Olympics team, received death threats, and also faced repercussions from family and friends.
Now, inspired by Tommie Smith, the sports brand PUMA has launched #REFORM, a new platform that will give activists from the worlds of sports, music and entertainment support in championing causes and encouraging conversations around issues such as universal equality and criminal justice reform.
Tommie Smith will serve as Captain Emeritus of the #REFORM team, fighting for universal equality, and all proceeds from the “Power Through Peace” collection will go towards charity partners fighting for universal equality.
PUMA’s #REFORM Campaign
To demonstrate their commitment to equality, PUMA has created Team#REFORM, a collective of individuals who believe that progress toward universal equality needs to be achieved faster. To lead Team#REFORM, PUMA has selected Captains, including rapper Meek Mill (who will focus on criminal justice reform), and WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith (gender equality), alongside Captain Emeritus, Tommie Smith (universal equality). The brand will also be partnering with an entertainment company, Roc Nation, to spread the message of #REFORM through live and social engagement. PUMA’s goal is to go beyond inspiration and turn intentions into actions. #REFORM Captains will work with the brand to identify beneficiaries of #REFORM tactics, including product creation, recognition grants, and #REFORM Summits, where like-minded individuals will gather to promote an agenda for change.
(L-R) Meek Mill, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Tommie Smith attend the PUMA #Reform To Drive Social Change launch at Atlanta History Center on October 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for PUMA)
In recognition of Tommie Smith’s lifetime of bravery, PUMA will present him with the first #REFORM AWARD at the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative Gala. The award will be accompanied by a donation to the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative Foundation. This event will mark the kick off of PUMA’s #REFORM campaign.
Here are some details on PUMA’s brand representatives, the #REFORM Captains:
Tommie Smith (Universal Equality): Sprinter Tommie Smith held or tied 13 World Records during his collegiate career, including the marks for the 200-meter straight and turn and the 220-yard dash. When Smith took the gold in the 200 meters in a world-record-setting time at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, he used his moment on the podium to enter the history books. After he received his medal, Smith bowed his head and raised his fist in a silent gesture which drew attention to human rights abuses and discrimination. Tommie Smith will serve as the Captain Emeritus of the #REFORM team, fighting for universal equality, and all proceeds from the “Power Through Peace” collection will go towards charity partners fighting for universal equality.
Skylar Diggins-Smith (Gender Equality): Dallas Wings points guard Skylar Diggins-Smith is one of the biggest stars in the WNBA. A four-time WNBA All Star, 2014 WNBA Most Improved Player and 2015 ESPY Award Winner. In 2018, she thrust herself into the public debate on equal pay and gender equality by writing an opinion piece in which she outlined the inequality facing female athletes compared to their male counterparts. Skylar Diggins-Smith will captain the #REFORM team for gender equality and all proceeds from sales of her #Reform related products will support charities that advance gender equality.
Meek Mill (Criminal Justice Reform): Meek Mill is a critically-acclaimed multiplatinum rapper, songwriter and entrepreneur that hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Meek Mill evolved from Philadelphia’s hottest underground rapper to one of the world’s preeminent musical artists, having released a slew of smash studio albums and singles, including “Ima Boss,” “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro),” “All Eyes on You,” and “Whatever You Need,” among many others. Following an arrest in 2007, Mill has been entrapped in the criminal justice system and shuffled in and out of court over technical probational violations all despite never committing a crime. Other artists and campaigners, such as Jay-Z, have supported Mill in his struggles and the #FreeMeekMill movement was born. Through this movement, Mill has highlighted the problems of the criminal justice system – including excessive probation regulations, the disproportionate bail system and the lack of rehabilitation programs available – and how they disproportionately affect people of color. Meek Mill will captain the #REFORM team for criminal justice reform and all proceeds from sales of his #Reform related products will be donated to charities working to reform the criminal justice system.
On October 16th, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Silent Gesture at the 1968 Olympics, Team#REFORM Captains will call on PUMA brand ambassadors and all likeminded individuals to join Team#REFORM and celebrate Tommie’s achievements with the #THIRDSALUTE. The #THIRDSALUTE is a social media movement in which individuals challenge others to post an image of themselves with a raised fist, and make a donation to charities pursuing universal equality, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization which has worked for more than 100 years to defend and promote the liberties enshrined in the United States Constitution. All donations from the #THIRDSALUTE will be matched by PUMA, up to $100,000 through December 31, 2018.
Also on the 16th, PUMA will also launch the “Power Through Peace” Collection, commemorating Tommie’s Silent Gesture, and featuring graphics designed by Lance Wyman, creator of the logo of the ‘68 Olympics. All profits from the sales of this collection will be donated to charities pursuing universal equality.
Throughout 2018/19 and beyond, PUMA will be working with #Reform Captains to launch other programs that will promote actions to further the goal of universal equality.
Is This Authentic Brand Activism?
What makes PUMA’s actions authentic brand activism?
- PUMA is standing up for social justice, a problem that is still plaguing society by supporting organizations that are working to solve the problem.
- It is recognizing the bravery and sacrifice of Tommie Smith and highlighting it as a beacon of change
- It is extending its brand to three specific areas – universal equality, gender equality and criminal justice reform
What more could PUMA do?
As we pointed out earlier, for each of the growing number of issues, companies must ask:
- Do our practices align with our values?
- Are we participating to find solutions that work for all?
- Are helping or hindering communities achieve what is best for society?
- Are we lobbying politicians in ways that seek unfair advantages?
- Are we creating an inclusive world or are we aiding in its polarization?
- Are we respectful of the commons, or are we seeking to exploit it for profit?
So PUMA could ask:
- Are we fostering a culture of equality and participation in the workplace?
- Are we committed, at every level, to equality in the ranks of management and executives?
- Do we have women and other minorities on the board?
- Are we encouraging our employees and the public to vote?
Similar to NIKE’s brand activism, we think the customer would approve. There would be no Kaepernick without Tommie Smith.
Learn more about Brand Activism at www.activistbrands.com >>
READ: Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action by Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler
Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.” He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist. Sign up for his newsletter >>