Nike vs. Adidas: Whose marketing strategy reigns supreme?

By Sofia Deneke | 3-minute read

How do two of the biggest sporting manufacturers manage to stay at the top of the league? How does the average customer develop a preference for one brand over the other? What differentiates two brands with product lines nearly identical to each other?

As the athleisure trend gained gains traction, sportswear rivals Nike and Adidas fight for being the brand of choice. Both brands not only sell their products but also pitch a lifestyle to their customers, appealing to diverse market segments through products such as the Nike Pro Hijab or the Adidas Ocean Plastic sneakers.

From Soccer-centric to Retro Cool

Through the past decade, Adidas has been known to dominate the European market and lagged behind Nike in the overseas American market. Previously, the brand had always been known as soccer-centric and was not actively involved in more prominent American sports such as basketball or football. It wasn’t until 2014, when Mark King was appointed as president for the North American headquarters, that Adidas started reinventing itself in order to climb up the ranks. Ever since, more funds are being directed towards advertising and introducing new brand ambassadors, securing the brand’s cultural impact.

James Harden Adidas

For example, signing a partnership with NBA star James Harden has significantly boosted the brand’s name in the basketball scene. Besides athlete partnerships, the brand with the three stripes boasts Kanye West’s hyped Yeezy line and designer collaborations such as Raf Simons and Yohji Yamamoto. Fueled partially by the Adidas Originals collections, such as the now ubiquitous Stan Smiths or Superstar, the brand has taken a cultural approach in colonizing various niche groups in order to gain preference. This divergent strategy is pushing forward Adidas’s resurgence and appeals to the youth demographic, giving the brand a status of “retro cool."

A Hero that continues to Inspire

On the other side of the court, Nike’s “Just do it”, a prime example of their iconic philosophy, stands for the brand’s empowering and unapologetic approach to life. Nike has branded itself with the hero archetype, and most of their advertisements propagate the message of fighting against yourself in order to achieve constant growth. Most recently, the brand’s repetitive strategy has shifted its focus over the past couple of years to promote ethnical and gender equality. Projects such as the Nike Pro Hijab, and the Equality Campaign demonstrate the company’s efforts to associate itself with diverse groups such as Muslim athletes and the LGBTQ community. Besides fostering social inclusion, Nike does not stay behind in the streetwear league, mirroring Adidas’s strategy through endorsements and collaborations. Even though they do not release collaboration lines as often as Adidas, Nike has a more curated list of partnerships including skate apparel brand Supreme and recognized athletes Serena Williams and LeBron James.

Nike Equality campaign


Focusing on providing the best performance for their athletes, Nike currently dominates the world market, with Under Armour and Adidas right behind it. Even though both of the brands’ main focus is catering to athletes, they both represent a different outlook on the fitness lifestyle. With Adidas’s exponential growth and Nike’s established position, we have yet to see in which direction the brands will develop.