Is a brand alienating women by focusing on ‘fast’ ?

We heard a speaker from Puma recently and the association of the Puma brand with ‘speed’ and ‘fast’ came up quickly. Someone from the audience ( a girl) asked the Puma speaker just how many women were on the board of Puma. Like many companies (tech or otherwise) there weren’t many (expectedly). It’s a fashionable question these days. And the reason she had really inquired this was even more interesting. She felt the association of Puma brand with ‘fast’ and ‘speed’ (notably from F1 and Usain Bolt associations amongst others) meant that they were alienating women. Because women weren’t attracted to ‘fast’ as a brand persona, but to ‘lifestyle’ oriented brands. And the absence of women on the board meant that, they were ignoring this perspective.

I’ve been digesting this over tea for a few weeks. And I do not adhere to this point of view. I mean my sister played Shot put at the state level in Varanasi (or somewhere in UP) during school. I did my first hike of 3888 meters as a baby and then just watched TV (~Oscar Wilde, but you get the point, right?). A lot of my girl friends run, hike and one is addicted to the gym. I even watched the Moto GP this weekend (~only Spanish boys race Hondas). So, I do not think women think of ‘speed’ as something that is alienating them as a consumer group.

                                     Video via YouTube: Why do women’s sports get less attention?

But there is enough truth in the fact that women have traditionally (and even now) not been seen as speedsters. There’s also a strong issue with lack of comparative incentives: I do not know if it has now changed- but from what I do recall, major sporting events like Wimbledon would pay women champions less than men. If I think of India, many girls are married off early, have kids early and sports are not seen as a mainstream career. Look at the importance our Men’s cricket team gets versus the women. We even make movies on these sporty dramas.

If I look further into folklore (which I generally know only from the state I belong to), strange thoughts are not uncommon. Grandmother often said how gindun ta drakun (playing) was limited to young girls and after they grew up they should behave more lady-like (which means not playing). I even asked Arshia Malik (she’s played Basketball at the National Level and lives in Srinagar). She confirmed that girls are not encouraged to play sport after college. There’s this widespread superstition that if girls play during their periods, they will have difficulties in childbirth ( I wish I knew who thought of it, but it doesn’t seem far from the cleric recently who thought women drivers from Saudi Arabia would get diseases if they drove cars).

I am not in denial. I know these things exist. But for a German girl to think (in the developed world) of the stereotypical notion of women not relating to speed scared me. If girls with opportunities and the ability to create a difference fall into this image trap, then how can we imagine it to change?

And having said that, there is no issue with women who don’t associate themselves with sports. That’s a choice. But I’d probably be careful in putting everyone under the same bracket. That just doesn’t make it any better than the men who don’t have women on boards. I mean, if the purpose of that woman is merely to fuel more stereotypes under the garb of bringing in feminine perspectives, then it doesn’t work, no?

2 comments
  1. Thank you Puma girl ! You’re a star, we did indeed need this discussion and I do not think it was incorrect to raise this point at all. I was playing the devil’s advocate here of course. I totally knew where you came from when you made that point.

    The reason that I chose to defend the position of girls liking fast/ dangerous (as you rightly said) word, was because I want to imagine a world where we don’t adhere to deeply anchored cultural meanings if they are not based on equality and fairness. I defended the sports girl in my heart.

    And you are well within your rights to claim that a brand shouldn’t leave room for discussion. But having said that, we already gave them air by talking about them, no publicity is bad publicity, right? 🙂

    Thank you for allowing me to stretch my thinking ! See you soon 🙂

  2. Hey there. Interesting to read this. I am the girl who brought up the thesis about Puma and this topic did stick to me, too. As a matter of fact, I am also a fitness fanatic and I have been myself to Formula 1 races and have spend my younger days in front of the TV watching men like Michael Schuhmacher succeed.
    Probably I should have chosen my words more carefully regarding this topic. I just simply felt like the positioning statement from Puma contained a „dangerous“ word. By „dangerous“ I mean words that might contain various conotations which are deply anchored and rooted in tradition and culture- whether we like it or not. We are taught in University to chose words wisely in marketing issues in order to avoid these cultural misunderstandings. We are also taught to critically question facts presented to us. Didn’t my statement raise a valuable discussion for us and for the Puma representative?
    In my humble opinion positioning statements should be phrased in such a distinctive way that they would not give any room for discussions. I don’t know if Puma succeeded in doing just that.

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