June 2018

Adidas Vs Nike; Drayton's Wayne Mabbott referees the final of the 2018 Brand World Cup.

Everybody who works in the huge international marketing departments of Adidas and Nike wants to win it. For them it’s the only game in town.

Drayton Partners’ Wayne Mabbott, a former senior executive in the apparel & footwear sector with adidas and Dr Martens, referees the final of the 2018 Brand World Cup. And doesn’t have to consult VAR to pick a clear winner.

Every four years a competition is held in one of the world’s major countries where two teams battle to the death in front of a three-billion-strong audience. At stake is dominance of the 350 billion dollar worldwide sportswear market. Let’s call it what it is – The Brand World Cup. Everybody who works in the huge international marketing departments of Adidas and Nike wants to win it. For them it’s the only game in town. Bigger, even, than the FIFA competition it is based around.

Adi Dassler, a shoemaker from the village of Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, created the very first Adidas sports shoe in 1920. From these humble beginnings the Adidas Corporation has expanded into the global company it is today. Nike’s roots are similarly small scale. The company started out on a running track at the University of Oregon, which is where the two founders met. Bill Bowerman was the track and field coach there. Phil Knight was one of his runners. Together they founded the company.

Both Adidas and Nike have a storied history of innovative marketing. This year’s Russia 2018 offerings are no exception. According to The Guardian, Adidas alone “has spent hundreds of millions of pounds — including between $96 million (£71.9m) and $176 million for this year’s tournament — for exclusive rights that include having its logo on match balls and referees’ uniforms.”

Whilst both campaigns are totally immersive and cross-platform I’m going to focus my post-match analysis on the TV ads that are still, despite marketing’s obsession with all things social, at the heart of their activity.

Let’s kick-off, if you’ll excuse the pun, with Adidas. Its 90 second spot calls upon 56 different ‘creators,’ including soccer stars Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Luis Suarez, and coaches such as Zinedine Zidane, Jose Mourinho, and an array of pop culture icons including A$AP Ferg, Stormzy, and Pharrell Williams. The result is a circus-like musical spectacle which invites the target market to ‘create the answer.’ Whilst the ad is undeniably impactful and entertaining the problem, for me, was I never really understood what the question was. Partly, I think, because the agency who made it have been briefed to include every single bit of name talent the brand has under contract. As a result it’s very busy and feels, creatively, a little overwrought.

Now for Nike. The US brand’s commercial is also based around a question – can Brazil still cut it following their 7-1 defeat to Germany four years ago – but it’s a much simpler concept. And, as result, more engaging. It features a cavalcade of flicks and tricks everywhere from Rio favelas to the national team’s dressing room. And ends with a young Brazilian lad giving a dramatic team talk – 'This jersey has history!'

For me, no extra time required then. Nike 1 Adidas 0. Paul Pogba’s not going to like it. But, as the saying goes, there’s always Qatar in 2022.