The PUMA League: surprise and delight

by Barbara Wiedemann

What brought five marketing professionals from Boston bundled in scarves and shod in the latest PUMA footwear to an over-the-storefront space in downtown Chapel Hill on a cold Monday afternoon in December?

Hussman alum Allen Bosworth ’81 and his team at EP+Co. had a lot to do with it. PUMA is a client of the award-winning Greenville, SC and NYC-based firm known for its creatively engaging integrated user experiences.

Bosworth, EP+Co. president, steeped 26 students from across Carolina in the ways of experiential marketing, teaching this fall’s MEJO 591: “Workroom FashionMash Experiential Design” course for UNC Hussman while Professor of the Practice Dana McMahan was on sabbatical. The goal is to unite a brand’s core marketing principles and creative advertising messages and design/build an experience that will surprise and delight. PUMA’s charge to the class: can PUMA bring an authentic brand voice to GenZ’s gaming culture?

The class culminated in a Monday, Dec. 9 presentation to PUMA VP Giorgio and colleagues, followed by a visit to  “The PUMA League” on the eponymous (to Carolina grads) Franklin Street, near Julian’s high fashion and Ye Olde Waffle Shop’s beloved breakfasts.

Many of the UNC graduate and undergraduate students in this semester's class were drawn to MEJO 591 because of the reputation Dana McMahan’s WORKROOM FashionMash courses have for providing hands-on experiences and the chance to collaborate with team members from disciplines across Carolina.

”What everyone here is interested in is the opportunity to develop real, hands-on skills,” said Gokul Dass ’20, an economics major with an entrepreneurship minor. Dass is a veteran of McMahan’s WORKROOM FashionMash courses.

Cinthia Ogbaugo ’20, who has crafted her major around pop culture and design in a globalizing world, credits McMahan’s FashionMash classes and guidance as an advisor for her shift in focus from a first-year plan to major in biology.

After fourteen weeks of increasingly complex projects, the teams nominated seven student presenters — Ad/PR junior Vanessa Agunobi; Ad/PR and political science senior Parrish Alto; SILS grad student Eden Andes; strategic communication graduate students Betsy Mann and Ilich Mejía; and Ad/PR seniors Sophia Ong and Lexi Swartz — to review their research findings and creative strategy with PUMA’s Giorgio, Seamus Deegan, Corey Del Votto, Carter Mennett and Bethany Maddock. Team leaders presented their research and the strategy that developed from those insights into the PUMA brand and the target markets, honing in on a notion of opposing dualities (alone/together; virtual/real) as speaking most authentically to this generation of gamers.

Then the group walked to the built space they call The Puma League (@loading.tpl on Instagram), replete with a psychedelic stairway entry experience; a ’grammable moment; a PUMA/gamer wall installation, multiple hands-on gaming experiences, pixelated RGB sculptural features, product designs featuring customized shoes and pedestals; a silkscreen-your-own T-shirt station with a shoe print theme; and the coup-de-grace, an exclusive tufted-suede-wall detailed “speakeasy lounge” to give GenZ gamers a moment to catch their breathes. 

The project was well-received, enough so that PUMA will be back in spring 2020 to continue working with UNC Hussman’s FashionMash class. Bosworth and the PUMA team followed up by urging students to keep pushing. Bosworth told students, “[You] have a great platform idea and should keep pushing it into next semester’s class on product design that PUMA has agreed to participate in as well.”

”Continue to think bigger and broader,” Bosworth added. “[You] did a great job — now let’s take it up another notch.”