Nike vs. Adidas: Who Is Really Winning the 2014 World Cup Brand Battle? Live

By Stephen M Zorio

The war, it might seem, has already been won.

In the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as fans and experts debated who might win the actual tournament, marketers and advertisers (and those who cover them) focused on a slightly different narrative: Nike vs. Adidas. A cursory Google search of "Nike Adidas World Cup" demonstrates how sharply the battle lines were drawn.

Those same results are replete with assertions that Nike (fittingly, the Greek goddess who personified victory), had already won the 2014 World Cup showdown -- before the first goal was scored. Indeed, our own Battle of the Brands infographic demonstrates what a pitched battle Adidas is facing given the sheer reach of the Nike brand.

In addition, some of the early headlines have also made it seem the German sporting gear giant is already on the defensive.

A spokesman for Adidas told the Daily Mail that Nike's actions regarding the England players have them upset. "This is a massive issue for us and it’s very naughty what Nike are doing."

Further, the thinking goes, because Nike backs more teams than Adidas (though by a negligible 10 to 9 margin), and has more superstars in the fold, the US brand has more exposure and, thus, more success.

So given Nike's reach, superstars and the general consensus, the war is over, right? Not so fast.

There is nothing to be gained by discounting the success Nike has had so far. But it is entirely fair to both step back and look at the metrics and to embrace that time honored adage: This fight is far from finished.

On the Pitch

Nike's swoosh appears on the kits for Australia, Brazil, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, South Korea and the United States. As far as eyeballs go, that's an impressive chunk of the world's population. But Adidas has its logo affixed to the kits of Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Colombia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Spain. That's almost a draw.

So far the dueling sponsor groups have not exactly outdone one another in terms of record either. Brazil will almost certainly advance, but Australia is already out and Croatia, England, Greece, Portugal and South Korea are on somewhat shaky ground. Adidas had to cringe when defending champion Spain was eliminated, but Argentina, Germany and Colombia are leading their respective groups.

In an event like the World Cup, it's less about spreading your brand around (though that does matter), than it is branding in the right places. Oddsmakers have already determined that only three teams have any real hope of winning the World Cup this year. Taken with the appropriately sized grain of salt, it is still telling that only one of those (Brazil) is a Nike brand while the other two (Argentina and Germany) are sporting the Adidas logo. It's less a war of attrition than it is a war of spending wisely.

It's still anyone's guess as to which squad will emerge victorious, and the World Cup does not lack for upsets, but -- right now -- Adidas is in a slightly better spot. And while Brazil's draw against Mexico didn't drastically alter its chances of advancing, it has both put the Nike-backed squad on somewhat more tenuous ground and given more credence to another Adidas-backed team.

In the Stars

Nike -- as demonstrated previously -- knows the power of linking itself with superstars and, at a glance, the US sportswear giant has a distinct advantage here.

Bloomberg Businessweek found "Nike also claims the most famous Brazilian player, Neymar Jr., who ranks seventh in Repucom’s Celebrity DBI, a composite of results from surveys querying consumers in 15 countries about awareness, appeal, influence, and other factors that play into endorsement value. Of the top 10, only three players wear Adidas shoes: Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres, and Iker Casillas. Thierry Henry is the lone Puma representative—the rest are Nike."

The only real hope for Adidas is that some of its lesser known stars rise to the occasion on football's biggest stage. And while "hope for the best" is hardly a sound strategy, it would also be disingenuous to discount those players altogether. An excellent example from the early games is Germany's Tomas Müller. 

The Guardian notes that, while his performance was unexpected, Müller still managed to outshine the much more heralded Ronaldo. 

Not only did he net a hat trick in Germany's rout of Portugal, but his involvement in an ugly head-butting incident may have sealed the fate of both a Nike backed team (Portugal) and its most famous player (Cristiano Ronaldo).  

Nike will continue to reap the benefits of backing players like Ronaldo, and for many years beyond 2014. But the lesson here is that there are many opportunities to be had -- if you show up to the fight prepared. While he wasn't talking about football, Louis Pasteur had it right when he said "[C]hance favors the prepared mind."

Rather than fret over a lack of headline grabbing names, Adidas found other soldiers (so to speak) to carry its flag. Not every team has a Ronaldo, but having Ronaldo is no guarantee of success. Understanding who (and what) your audience finds compelling beyond the obvious is how you can find success in the face of overwhelming odds.

On the web

Once again, Nike's mastery of this medium is almost self-evident. While neither brand is going to crack the top 10 most viewed YouTube videos list, Nike is lapping the field in this regard. And, distressingly for Adidas, Nike is also gaining ground in a social space that Adidas once comfortably owned. Nike Football has more than 2 million followers on Twitter, compared with just over 1.2 million for an equivalent Adidas account. (Both brands have multiple Twitter accounts.

Nike is also lauded for the success of its ads on YouTube. Nike has long recognized the pulling power of superstars and it continues to reap the benefits of associating with them, as their "Last Game" ad demonstrates.

"The Last Game" featuring Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Rooney, Zlatan, Iniesta and more has already drawn well in excess of 47 million viewsThis Wall Street Journal article indicates the number could be even higher.
by Nike Football via YouTube

Nor is that their lone viral hit. "Winner Stays" has nearly 80 million views. The ad is another exemplar of the brand's mastery of taking professional athletes out of their rarefied air and grounding them with the common fan experience.

On Facebook, Adidas soccer claims 18 million likes while Nike has a staggering 37 million. Nike is also running from Adidas on Instagram with more than 1.5 million followers versus just over 500,000 respectively.

Facing that sort of domination, what's a brand to do? Find another avenue: Adidas has spent a lot of money (reportedly up to $70 million for each tournament) to secure and extend its FIFA sponsorship. But that has its perks and one of them is that Adidas is on the field for every single match no matter who wins.


They sponsor the ball. The most integral part of the game bears the Adidas logo -- and it doesn't end there. The company has invested massively in improving the technology (yes) behind the ball.

"When it comes to the World Cup, creating a ball is complex, because the climate and field of play change every four years. On top of that, during the same time how players kick the ball, along with their speed and strength, change.  The ball needs to evolve with them.” -- adidas America’s director of soccer, Ernesto Bruce to Forbes in a recent interview

Apple has demonstrated the power of constantly innovating -- even things which seem like they do not need to be innovated. By following that path, Adidas is ensuring its place not just with the current crop of football fans, but with football fans in future generations as well. Rather than fight Nike on a field where they can't win, they took the fight elsewhere.

To that end, they've also given this year's ball (named Brazuca -- a moniker that was determined by millions of Brazilians voting) a life of its own via Twitter. The ball, which "Tweets" in English and Portugese, has more than 1.6 million followers. Even allowing for some duplicates, that following takes what was a win for Nike and turns it into a dead heat.

In addition, as Marketing Week discovered, the company is shifting its ad budget and spending millions to understand what makes fans share videos on YouTube and is investing in Google Hangouts during the World Cup as well.

Taking a page from the Nike playbook, "House Match" features David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Gareth Bale and Lucas Moura. It also embraces the idea of closing the gap between football legends and football fans.
by adidas Football via YouTube

What Adidas has learned (and Nike as well) is that successful modern marketing campaigns must be nimble, reactive and live in as many places as possible. Understanding the landscape and being able to react as new battlefields emerge are essential tools for success.

At the register

Whatever the Twitter followings and Facebook likes and Instagram fans, the ultimate goal of this war is sales. And, to put it plainly, Adidas needs to score at the World Cup in a big way. The company is coming off a disappointing first quarter owing to losses in its golf division. And, like the social realm, Adidas's loss is Nike's gain.

According to recent data from research firm Euromonitor, Nike increased its lead in the global sportswear market to a market share of 15% in 2013, versus Adidas' 10.8% share. -- Motley Fool

The company is remaining positive about its prospects at the World Cup. According to a story by The Wire, "Adidas is poised to outsell [Nike] this year when it comes to soccer gear. Adidas projects to earn a record breaking 2 billion euros (that's $2,732,400,000) from soccer sales, where as Nike is set to earn around the $2 billion mark from their soccer division."

And there have been some early positive signs, such as the surge in Japanese jersey sales. But whether the company's optimism is borne out by reality remains to be seen. At the end of the day, the company's investors will judge it by the sales metric. The stock price for Adidas is still actually slightly higher than that of Nike, but that's a precarious perch to rest on.

What the company's marketing team can be sure of is that they've come up with an impressively thorough marketing strategy -- and that, while some battles may have been lost, the war is far from over.

Be sure to follow Engage Magazine on Twitter to get more lessons about the right ways to reach an audience. ScribbleLive can help bring social conversations to your site and use content to meet your business goals.


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