Peter York On Ads: Disaster's afoot for Western civilisation

PUMA
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The Independent Online

Trainers are terrible. They are the enemy within for Western civilisation. Everything that, say, the Daily Mail would describe as the Grim Slide into Anarchy in 21st-century Britain is down to them. The decline in deference and table manners. Sloppy posture. Kidult behaviour from middle-aged people who should know better but feel rejuvenated by an overpriced bit of rubber and plastic. Mugging, almost certainly a trainer-related phenomenon; 103 per cent of muggers wear trainers.

And the aesthetic impact is incalculable: trainers are the start of a minimum-risk conformist casualisation. Trainers have made every middle-class man under 40 converge increasingly towards a Dermot O'Leary mode.

Talk about poverty of ambition. A T-shirt and industrially pre-murdered jeans for the brightest and the best. That our brave spectacular British youth - from the Edwardian Revival through punk to New Romantic - have fought and died for this Micro-serf uniform.

And trainers encourage bad habits of mind and speech. Experiments at the department of social norms in Solent University have demonstrated conclusively that when volunteers put on trainers their "vocal orientation" becomes more demotic (Mockney), more swear words are used, there is a "marked disinclination to employ logical argument" and the key term "rubbish" occurs more frequently.

Drunkenness and belligerence in women - always saddening - increases with trainer-wearing too. Practically every corrosive attack on Middle England can be attributed to trainers. But there's worse. Adopt, if you like, a more concerned, progressive Kentish Town perspective and trainers are still terrible. They're about multi-nationals extracting massive profits through manipulative advertising, appropriating street cultures and popular sports, making meta-business out of what should really be a kick-around in the favela or in the shadow of the gasworks.

It's just what the marvellous Naomi Klein and her disciples were on about in the dear dead days before 9/11, the WTO riots, Gothenburg and all that. Trainers mean faraway sweat shops, the "hollowing out" of First World businesses, and the wipe-out of the traditional shoe trade.

But I have to admit that if I were going to buy a pair of trainers - I never have; I've never got further than those little leather hybrid Prada things - they'd be Puma ones. They seem to have the best styles, the most sophisticated, real clothes, compatible shapes and soles.

Puma has a World Cup-ish commercial out now, but, I'm relieved to say, it's as delightfully silly as possible in a sort of Len-Deighton-meets-Austin-Powers way. In fact it's a teentsy bit early 1990s looking. There are no rappers, there's no Eng-er-land, no sponsorship and no St George's flags. Instead there's one of those international organisation set-ups - the Olympic Committee look - and they're holding an enquiry. It's a dramatically lit room shot from above, with a lot of business going on in the corners.

The wonderfully silly story is about famous footballers receiving mysterious packages, all recorded on snooping videos with time codes. "After you visited these countries, there was a remarkable increase in performance and enthusiasm," says the prosecutor. There's a variety of familiar faces; the only one I can name is Freddie Ljungberg, the international underwear model.

Somehow this Eurovision also involves Pele and, what looks like green pixie booties with ties at the side. Are they the new Puma football boot? The divisive innovation that'll sweep the world? Pele has one topically German line "Wilkommen zu football". The World Cup link. It seems like a daft old narrative commercial with a great look, but maybe that's just a way of getting round our defences.

What it does say is football-related advertising, World Cup advertising and trainer advertising doesn't have to depend on that restricted vocabulary of famous faces, easy messages and laddie bonding. It doesn't even have to assume everyone's interested. So there's a place for a bit of narrative, a hefty slug of set design, a nicely judged bit of history and all the things that actually give a brand definition.

My guess is that Puma is aiming for design opinion-leaders, that it wants to capitalise on its Euro-origins - on the fact that it isn't Nike - and create a more evolved personality away from the trainer mainstream. I may be cruelly deluded here but it seems like a start.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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