adidas Vs Nike – A Battle of Brand Association

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All Brands Have Meaning
Whether carefully and strategically considered or by default, all brands hold associated meanings in the minds of the market place. Well considered brands establish a competitive brand proposition (their brand strategy) with layers of meaning to both differentiate themselves from their competitors and to connect with their audience. These brands reinforce their meaning through all of their actions or brand touch points and their brand design. As a brand agency we help brands to define their meaning and create their unique brand design for all their communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the hearts and minds of their customers.

adidas Vs Nike
Today we compare the brand associations of spots apparel icons adidas & Nike.

A Snapshot of Brand Association
The clever people at Brand Tags have been busy collecting a comprehensive list of more than 1.7 million associations that people from around the globe have with brands. The result is a unique opportunity for those brands to compare the meaning and messages of their brand communication strategy with the brand associations of a cross section of the market.

A Comparison of Brand Associations
As to be expected, both brands have a high level of association with terms such as ‘shoes’ and ‘sports’, but interestingly, from their they depart into some interesting and differentiated territory. Both by design and through unintended association, the two sports apparel brands have quite distinctive meanings with the market. Interestingly adidas’ German heritage has a strong association, where-as Nike is seen as a global brand without a clear link to any particular country.
What I find most astounding is given the insane amount of investment these two brands, but especially Nike plow into endorsements for the highest profile athletes on the planet, only Nike with Jordan at No.8 retain any significant brand association relative to these other more dominant associations.

The adidas Brand
adidas is clearly associated with soccer. The predominance of the association with the word ‘soccer’ suggests the associations have a North American (and possibly Australian) skew as most of the globe refers to the world game as football. Perhaps as a result of its European (German) heritage – certainly be strategic design, adidas (always spelled with a lower case ‘a’) has a stronger link to football than to any other sport. adidas’ German heritage too is recognized with a strong association, linking the brand to the positive aspects of quality and European history.
The first association with adidas’ visual language comes-in at brand association No. 7 with the word ‘stripes’. This suggests adidas has the potential to strengthen the role their stipes plays in theri brand communication to increase the level of association with their proprietary visual property.

The most distinctively unique associations with the adidas brand flow from the fountain of cool. With the association of ‘sneakers’ and No.4 and ‘Cool’ at No.6 we get a sense of the level of cred adidas has developed strategically over the years. Further association with Rappers Run DMC is reflected further down the list of brand associations due to the preference of Run DMC for wearing the sports shoe and their track; ‘My adidas’.
adidas continue to imbue their brand with cool through creative collaborations with musicians and artistssuch as longtime partner, French artist Fafi. Using adidas products as the canvas for her well-known, whimsical graphics, Fafi brings her street styles to an adidas range of footwear and apparel for girls.
adidas has also been active in the exploration of cutting edge technology to create cool brand experiences like their current augmneted reality campaign for their Originals range.
Interestingly also with a high level of association is Korn’s ‘All Day I Dream About Sex’. Although rumored to have a connection with adidas (the acronym of the track is A.D.I.D.A.S.) the band has always steadfastly denied any intended reference. However, the brand seems to have benefited from the association regardless.

The Nike Brand
The association of the Nike brand are enough to make any brand designer proud as punch. The two strongest Nike brand associations are ‘Swoosh’ and ‘Just do it’, reflecting just how effective Nike has been in establishing and owning these two unique brand properties. Regardless of what follows, we have to acknowledge any brand who achieves that level of recognition of identity and positioning.

Unfortunately for Nike, the brand associations of ‘Sweatshop’ and Child Labor’ continue to feature prominently. Regardless of the investment Nike has made into high profile athlete endorsements it seems there’s no avoiding the actions of a brand beyond their brand communications, especially when those actions are seen to clash with social standards.

The Nike brand has a clear association to Michael Jordan, which is one more athlete than the adidas brand. However, given the amount of money Nike invests into athlete endorsement, and the fact that even high profile sportsmen such as Tiger Woods don’t rate a mention in this broad sample of brand associations suggests the old, endorsement-heavy approach of virtually all the sports brands may be calling fo a re-think.

If you’d like some help to define the meaning for your brand and create your communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the minds of their customers, why not drop us a line?

David Ansett, Brandamentalist
For regular updates of our brand thinking follow me on Twitter.

Photo from Malvestida on Unsplash.


  1. Another great brand association Dave and interestingly cool at no. 6 makes a whole heap of sense. I was in a shoe store not that long ago and if given the choice of which brand I’d purchase clearly it’d be adidas – way more cooler than Nike!

  2. bottom line is this
    adidas has all the super classics, nike has limited classics
    adidas wins in every category except “modern” function …. for lack of better wordchoice
    adidas is cool, nike gets teh job done
    adidas 9
    nike 1

  3. Given that this was written nearly 3 years ago, I would love to see what the brand associations are at this point in time – late November 2012. People certainly have their connection to shoe companies for a multitude of reasons – fit, function, fashion, connect and more – and the effort and money Nike has put into developing its brand have been much greater than adidas in the past several years, which would likely play a role in current consumer perception of each brand.

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