When you’re one of the greatest to have ever graced the field, people are bound to want a piece of you – any piece they can get. Which was exactly the logic behind Puma‘s approach with Pele during the 1970 FIFA World Cup (in the midst of the company’s “sneaker war” against Adidas).
In the quarterfinal between Brazil and Peru, Pele was wearing Puma football boots. And at the opening of the match, he intentionally requested that the referee stop the clock so he could tie them up, knowing full well that all eyes were on him.
As expected, the cameras pulled focus on Pele and his unlaced Puma boots, thereby creating what is arguably the world’s first viral promotion – quite a nifty little publicity boost for the sneaker brand. Though this didn’t exactly come cheap.
According to Barbara Smit in her book Three Stripes Versus Puma, Pele was paid an incredible US$120,000 to be the football boot’s human billboard for just a few seconds. This figure is certainlt nothing to sneeze at in the current day, let alone an era when US$120,000 was the modern equivalent of approximately US$800,000 when you factor in that whole chestnut of inflation.
There’s an even more fascinating detail behind this branded play. Previously, both Puma and Adidas had agreed to something known as the “Pele Pact” – a shared agreement where both parties agreed to steer away from signing a deal with the football star.
The logic behind this was that they’d both would eventually bankrupt themselves in a bidding war, rendering the entire “sneaker war” a negative-sum game. This paid lace-up, however, managed to technically circumnavigate the agreement, but infuriated Adidas nonetheless. Unsurprisingly, the “sneaker war” was kicked up a notch shortly after.
Pele would later secure the victory, making it his third FIFA World Cup triumph (1958, 1962, 1970); and go on to score some 1,281 career goals.