Are Puma’s Mismatched Pink-and-Blue World Cup Cleats Cursed?

Slate's soccer blog.
June 25 2014 12:01 PM

Are Puma’s Mismatched Pink-and-Blue World Cup Cleats Cursed?

Yaya Touré
Yaya Touré of the Ivory Coast: out of the World Cup, but his feet look fabulous.

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

When Brazil plays Chile on Saturday, star forward Neymar will be wearing new gold boots from Nike. Swathing your feet in gold is a classic marketing ploy—see Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympics. A golden foot reveals an athlete’s confidence and star power, as well as his agent’s ability to score a lucrative shoe deal. In this instance, Nike’s marketing copy assures us that Neymar’s Hypervenom cleats, which retail for $265 at the high end, will allow his lower extremities to “attack with lethal agility” and “strike with deadly power.” Victory for Brazil is assured!

But wait, other players are also wearing interesting shoes! Previous exclamation point retracted! As Bloomberg Businessweek’s Kyle Stock explains, footwear is an exception to FIFA’s restrictive uniform policy, with individual players on the same team allowed to sign up with competing manufacturers. Thus Neymar’s golden kicks, and Puma’s Tricks line of mismatched boots, which adorn the feet of Argentina’s Sergio Agüero, France’s Olivier Giroud, and other international soccer stars. The German shoe concern’s tagline: “Belief makes the difference.” Also: “The right boot is pink, the left boot is blue.” Which makes sense, because the right boot is pink and the left boot is blue, as you’ll see in the ad below.

Puma is committed to this pink-and-blue thing—that’s the only color scheme for Tricks, which cost $200 for the most expensive model. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Stock says this simplicity is very helpful from a supply chain perspective. That makes a big difference to Puma, a tiny, if colorful, minnow in the shoe game that accounts for roughly $4 billion in sales per year vs. $25 billion for Nike.

Mario Balotelli
The right one is pink and the left one is blue, except when you cross your legs.

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

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Mismatched shoes aren’t a brand-new thing. LeBron James has been known to rock a pair, and Tracy McGrady wore one red and one blue number at the 2004 NBA All-Star Game. Even so, the Tricks are hard to miss, and Puma says that exterior assertiveness is mirrored by its endorsers’ inner drive. “Players who wear Tricks strongly believe in themselves, and not only strive to stand out on the pitch, they want to stand out forever and make history,” the shoe company says.

LeBron James
LeBron James in 2010. Did wearing mismatched Nikes lead him to abandon Cleveland? Probably.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

How’s that going so far? While Agüero’s Argentina and Giroud’s France are still alive in the World Cup, most everyone else in pink and blue has tripped over himself. Italy’s Mario Balotelli and Gianluigi Buffon: out. Spain’s Cesc Fàbregas: out. Ivory Coast’s Yaya Touré: out. Germany’s Marco Reus: didn’t suit up for the World Cup due to injury. Same for Colombia’s Radamel Falcao.

Cesc Fàbregas
Cesc Fàbregas, tangled up in pink and blue.

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

This is the downside of a brightly colored shoe, and of attention-getting marketing campaigns more generally: Beware, Neymar—the shoes are just as visible when you lose. At this point, the evidence is clear: Belief does not always make the difference. The other half of Puma’s marketing campaign is hard to argue with, though: The right boot is indeed pink, and the left boot is blue.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

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