How to put your foot in it with a campaign to sell trainers
Without the brilliantly furious open letter that social worker Amber Gilbert Coutts posted on Instagram, Puma’s “House of Hustle” party might have simply faded into one of any number of similar nights. The promotional event, thrown in partnership with JD Sports and marketing agency Urban Nerds, took place in Soho, central London, last week and has been widely criticised not only for glamorising drug dealing, but for crude class tourism too. “It is sadly nothing new for sports brands such as yourselves to attach your logo to the lived experiences of prominently working-class people of colour,” wrote Gilbert Coutts, pointing out that, among the event’s many flaws, the increase in violent crime in the capital this year made its choice of “theme” particularly outrageous.
According to Dazed magazine, invitees to the House of Hustle were sent a Puma shoebox filled with fake £50 notes and a business card that instructed them to “turn on the trap line” – a burner phone that, when switched on, came with the message: “Yo G what u sayin today? Pass tru the House of Hustle.” The party had “blacked-out windows and dirty mattresses strewn on the floor”, said the report, because nothing says “buy some trainers” like addiction, misery and squalor.
Puma eventually issued a statement saying any connotations of illegal activity were unintentional. “We never intended associations with drug usage, drug culture or drug dealing in any way and we regret any misunderstandings in this respect,” it read, apologising for any offence caused, though strangely leaving out an explanation of the legal activities those burner phones were supposed to be emulating. Brands co-opting youth culture is as old as time, but doing so in such a crass way is quite an achievement and may be one of the worst promotional moves since Pepsi tried to fix institutional racism with a Kardashian and a fizzy drink.
Puma brand promotion backfired.