The 2006 football World Cup will take place in Germany, the home of two of the world's biggest sportswear companies. Although the monolithic adidas will be sponsoring the national team, its smaller domestic rival, Puma, looks set to steal the show. Puma has already guaranteed that it will be the tournament's most prevalent shirt sponsor by the time the first ball is kicked in Munich on 9 June. So that's the status on the pitch, but where is it at on the web?
The homepage of Puma.com is both pragmatically engineered and sartorially complimentary. Designed with an empathetic eye for the customer, its architecture facilitates the navigation process with ease, while the dynamic use of Flash technology brings the entire proposition to life and adds a vibrant dimension to the experience.
Puma's driven urge to blend fashion with sport scores highly at "The Mongolian Shoe BBQ," where those craving exclusivity can design their own shoes, and at "True Love Never Dies," a trendy little partnership with those connoisseurs of denim, Evisu. The sophisticated and stylish Alexander McQueen and Puma collaboration evolves the concept even further, with the establishment of the "ManCat" icon and the introduction of a tailored range of footwear that will be as much at home in the cafe as at the gym.
Puma's running, cricket, baseball, and motorsport sites may smack of bread and butter, but each has plenty to offer in the way of product information, and they all stay in tune with Puma's web strategy. The Golf site is a particularly good example of the case in point, as with its subtle animation and focus on fashion, it acts as both a snapshot of the current catalogue and a poignant little cameo of a brand that's got its act together.
The Football section goes even further with the whistles and bells and depicts a carnival-like celebration of Puma's sponsorship of African football, complete with an iPod downloadable video of the company's "Leon" advert and an online "Beat the Goalie," featuring Italy's Gianluigi Buffon.
By far the weakest area of Puma online is the somewhat characterless content on offer at Pumaville.com. Designed to be something of a lifestyle offering, the lack of imagination and elements of engagement make a visit to this area of the site both lackluster and boring. Indeed, the only saving grace is a link to Puma's brand presence in the video game "True Crime," which once again underpins Puma's talent for innovation.
With Puma's market share on the rise and adidas getting a slap in the face with recent results at the newly acquired Reebok, the battle lines are drawn for a Germanic confrontation in the summer. Puma will doubtless persist with its terrier-like pursuit of adidas' market share, while the big dog will see out its heavyweight World Cup sponsorship deals throughout June and July before nervously evaluating the returns.
If it all gets too much for adidas, however, it could just say balls to Puma. After all, adidas' massive commitment to the tournament sponsor, FIFA, ensures that it's paying for those too.