The brand Adidas vs. Puma; Only a few know the origin story of how these two giant brands were born.
A brand story all business owners looking to build their brands should know.
- Phil Knight
Blood is thicker than water, is the saying. However, when it comes to the state and impact of the sportswear industry on American socio-political culture, the influence of this feud still resonates to this very day.
Before we go into the origins of these two iconic brands, let it be noted that on October 25, 2022, Adidas terminated its partnership with Kanye West. The end of the partnership came because of his Anti-Semitic point of view, and once you know a little more about its origins, you’ll understand how this was the best apparent move for the athletics wear and sneaker company long-term.
The Adidas and Puma Brands Origin
Adidas and Puma were started when the German brothers Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf Dassler parted ways with the family business. What happened between the brothers to cause this split is not specific.
Some have said it had to do with one brother having an affair with the other's wife. Then it is said that the two families used the same bomb shelter during an air raid.
Upon entering the shelter, Adolf uttered, "there go the bloody bastards again," and Rudolf took it that Adi was referring to his family rather than the pilots of the Allied forces.
Some say that Rudolf fought in the war for the Nazi party, and Adi was allowed to continue working as a shoemaker. Later, it created tension, and once the war was over, authorities were looking for Nazi affiliates, and Adi informed the proper authorities, which led to Rudolf getting arrested.
Maybe it was the culmination of various unsettling interactions between the two.
What we do know
I wonder if this historical event played any role in Michael Jordan’s initial desire to sign with Adidas. It was pioneering, to say the least, and ironically, it seems the same way Adidas fumbled the ball by not signing Jordan; it could be said Nike continued tradition when it dropped the ball by securing a deal with Steph Curry.
In 1948 the brothers split; Adolf took his nickname ‘Adi’ and put it with the first three letters of his last name ‘Das,’ which is how we get Adidas.
While the name may be his original creation, the three stripes are not. He purchased the trademark logo from another gentleman for a few euros and two whiskey bottles.
Not too different from Phil Knight paying $35 for a woman to create the Nike Swoosh. How Rudolf decided to use a Puma to establish his branding is uncertain. Still, I would imagine its origins probably are similar to that of Reebok, derived from the South African term for its native antelope, the Rhebok.
Adidas Vs. Puma
The Adidas Brand
Adidas Early Days
Adidas created what we know as the Samba, which is still popular among soccer players today. Over the years, Adidas made products primarily for soccer players and track athletes. However, it wasn’t until the emergence of Hip-Hop in Adidas a to establish a stronghold in the fashion market.
The Puma Brand
During the latter half of the 80s, when Adidas was on the brink of extinction, the executives at Adidas accepted Russell Simon’s offer to fly out from Germany to New York to witness what would probably become the most critical moment in the company’s history.
Twenty thousand people at Madison Square Garden raise their Adidas above their heads and sing the song ‘My Adidas’ on cue.
The Rise of Puma
It wasn't long before Puma garnered some notoriety when the runner Josy Barthel won an Olympic Gold medal in 1952 while sporting Puma. In 1958 Puma created the FORMSTRIP, designed to stabilize the foot inside the shoe.
In 1968, Puma continued its tradition of impacting urban culture when Tommie Smith and John Carlos took the Olympic podium to receive their medals, raising their black-gloved fist high in the air during the national anthem. Ironically, the other gentleman who placed in the race is sporting none other than what appears to be Adidas.
Do you think the executives at Nike had this iconic moment in mind when they decided to do a marketing campaign with Colin Kaepernick after his controversial kneeling during the national anthem? Likewise, when Puma collaborated with Nipsey Hussle in 2018 to re-release the Clydes (initially designed for basketball player "Clyde" Frazier in 1973) with TMC featured on the tongue, seems to be nothing short of a play taken from Adida's playbook.
Puma Embrace Urban Culture
Had Nipsey not suffered an untimely and uncanny demise, it would have been the equivalent of Adidas when in 1986, Adidas was revived through the infusion of trending urban culture with the release of 'My Adidas' by Run DMC.
And while Puma did collaborate with J. Cole, Nipsey's rising prominence among the Urban and Pop Culture was unrivaled.
However, Puma's best move thus far would have to be signing Usain Bolt. He currently holds the records for the 200m &100m races. Bolt is by far the fastest, and considering how he smashed those records, there probably won't be anyone to break them for years to come, so when people think of Puma, they will think FASTEST, and that is something you can't put a price on.
Take the movie Like Mike. Here we have an urban youth living in an orphanage, and suddenly after putting on these Air Force 1's, the young kid can play exceptionally well, good enough to play professionally. While that is only a fictional movie, that is the essence of what an exemplary athlete ambassador can do.
When people put on a pair of Jordans, it's hard not to get caught up in the nostalgia of playing basketball with such grace and finesse. Likewise, when young middle school and high school athletes choose which track spike to sport during a meet, it would be hard to not want to rock the same brand as the fastest person in the world does.
The Family Feud Today Between Adidas and Puma
What Can We Learn from these two major brands?
Divorces and splits do not always have to end sour; they can give life to many incredible possibilities that could affect cultures and generations.
We can also learn that sometimes a company needs help to control how their products will be received through various markets.
For example, could the execs at Adidas in 1986 predict that its brand would become trending and a staple in the hip-hop culture?
Could Puma execs have predicted two Black Americans would win Olympic medals and make the decision to make a political statement while the socio-political climate in America was intense?
Not at all, but what they did do, was be Authentic and position themselves to reap the benefits their respective brands had garnered.
- WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT KANYE’S CONTRACT WITH ADIDAS. NICHOLAS VLAHOS. 9/5/2022. Soleretreiver.com
- Puma and Dapper Dan Pay Tribute to Hip Hop Culture With 1980s-inspired Streetwear Capsule Collection. NATALIA FINNIS-SMART
- OCTOBER 28, 2022. Women's Wear Daily.com
- Adidas History. Adidas.com
- Usain Bolt Signs Lifetime Partnership Deal With Puma. Donovan Watkis. June 17, 2021. DanceHallMag.com
- How It All Began. Puma.com
- Stoute, Steve. The Tanning of America. 9/2011
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