If you ever find yourself in German town of Herzogenaurach, people will look down to your shoes to see what brand it is, before deciding to talk to you or not. A family argument between two brothers divided the entire town. If you ever tried to work with the family, maybe you could understand how this could happen. But these two brothers took it to another new level!
Two shoe manufacturing companies establishing their production sites in the same town divided by a river. If you worked for one company you wouldn’t dare to go to other side of river. Both had their own shops bakeries and pubs and even sports clubs!!! Would you believe if I say the companies I am taking about are Adidas and Puma?
Let’s jump in to the story of the vigorous rivalry between these mighty footwear brands which went on to shape the future of the sports footwear industry for better and maybe for worse.
Aftermath of World War I, the entire Germany slipped into economic crisis. Massive inflation and high unemployment rate made living conditions in the country backbreaking. When the Dassler brothers return from war, their family was struggling to make their ends meet. Learning the craft of shoe making from his dad, the young brother, Adolf “Adi” Dassler, started making shoes in the basement of his mother’s laundry room. It was during this period he seriously considered the advantages of creating specialized shoes for individual sports. Later he came up with the design of very first spiked sneakers.
Within three years the company showed a gradual growth and Adolf invited his elder brother Rudolf to support him. So Adolf Dassler, the introvert among the brothers, took in charge of production and it was Rudolf (obviously an extrovert) was assigned the duty of handling the operations. The company was called ‘Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik’. After few years they acquired patent for their shoes and boots. Running and football shoes produced by Dassler brothers soon became popular among the local athletes in Germany.
Time to Shine…
Their biggest moment came in 1936 Olympics held in Berlin under the rule of Hitler. They grabbed all the media’s attention and it was the turning point of Dassler brother’s business. They managed to approach many contestants in Olympic village and convinced them to wear foot wears made by Dassler brothers. Jesse Owens was the big name among this list. Adolf convinced Owens to wear specially designed running shoes with hand forged spikes and Brazilian leather. That strategy by Dassler brothers changed entire sports marketing stratergy. Jesse Owens won four events including Gold in the prestigious 100 meters. He became an Olympic star. It was an immense boost for Jesse Owens as well as Dassler brothers. It was Dassler Company’s time to shine and they were poised to dominate the field.
The Beginning of the End…
All good things come to an end and perhaps some endings will pave the way to better beginnings.
1932 Adi Dassler fell in love with kathe, 16 year old daughter of an entrepreneur. Rudolf wasn’t happy with her and so does the woman by his brother’s side. In Rudolf’s perspective, she was too young to interfere in the shoe business but that’s what she loved to do the most. This was the first incident what lit fire to the sneaker war. These brothers were so out of step and they eventually ended the company.
The Birth of Adidas and Puma
During the World War II, due to several events the hatred between two brothers intensified. All the internal fights pursued splitting of the entire family in 1948. In 1949 Adolf “Adi” Dassler founded Adidas and in following year Rudolf established Puma. They set up their enterprises in different banks of river Aurach and gave employees the right to choose with whom they want to get on board with.
But later Adidas became more popular by bagging a contract with German Football Team. In 1954 World Cup held in Switzerland, West Germany became champions. Guess which shoes they were wearing? – Adidas. So the three straps quickly became world famous and Adolf was nick named as the ‘Shoe maker of the nation’.
The Rise of Giants
` With 800 employees Adidas showed a swindling growth in two decades. They managed to sell one million pair of shoes with 10 million euros earnings in today’s currency. Till 1960 Adidas was leading sports and shoes industry world-wide. By 1960 at least one person in each household in town worked at either adidas factory or puma factory. Families associated with one firms avoided any contact with families associated with the other firm. There were even two football teams for the tiny town with separate sponsorship from one of the two shoe giants. The rivalry was savage!
1968 Olympics game held in Mexico witnessed the beginning of a new era in sports marketing. The legendary rivalry between Adidas and Puma gave assistance to rewrite the marketing philosophies existed so far! They started to give away free shoes for Olympians, and they were ready to offer a suit case full of cash to convince some of them who are unwilling to take their offer.
The sports marketing strategy what they started with Jesse Owens in Nazi games is still taking world by storm even today. In these days, for most part, Sports brand’s dominance comes from throwing money at celebrities and athletes (High profile celebrity endorsements).
The Brand War
Rudolf scored a major victory in 1970 when he managed to Brazilian football legend Pele to wear Puma during the World Cup. Later big names in sports entertainment such as Mohammed Ali and Franz Beckenbauer sided with Adidas whereas Maradona and Boris Becker went with Puma.
For Adidas, Competition was not anywhere to be seen except on other the side of the river! It is said that the brothers never spoke again to each other and their feud polarized the community of Herzogenaurach with local people picking sides by picking shoes. The split between Dassler brothers was to Herzogenaurach what the building of Berlin Wall was for the German Capital. Later this rivalry was inherited to their sons, but the intensity took the edge off by the course of time.
It was until 2009, long after Adolf’s and Rudolf’s deaths, that the companies put aside their rivalry and faced off in a friendly football game. The match ended in a 7-5 win to… no one! How is that even possible??? Because the teams were not split into ‘Adidas’ and ‘Puma’ since both sides were made up of mixed staffs from both companies! That’s how the German Town long divided over shoes finally agrees to a truce.
The New King of the Jungle
The past feud have distracted both companies from the eventful rise of American-run Nike brand and it’s safe to say Nike is at the top of the game now! Adidas holds the second position whereas Puma is currently a distant third in the sports brand industry behind Nike and Adidas.