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design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Sports Brothers Grim

Friday, 18 September 2009

It was one of the 20th Century's great branding stories, and its still not over just yet.

Two of the world's most instantly recognisable sports brands, purveyors of quintessential logo icons, Puma and Adidas, have been in the news recently. Apparently the current owners in both camps have decided to bury the hatchet and make up, so ending one of sports greatest and most bitter rivalries.

The choice of champion runners, footballers and swimmers for almost a century, both companies were both founded in the same small medieval German town of Herzogenaurach by brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler.

The pair started making sports shoes in their mother's laundry room in the 1920s before becoming sport and business giants. Along the way they worked for the Nazis, invented the studded football shoe, created two of the greatest logotypes of all time, and courted everyone from Pele to Mark Spitz, Muhammed Ali to Boris Becker, Zinedine Zidane to Ronaldo and beyond.

But the real story lies in the obsessive and amazing feud that followed their departure from German Sports firm Dassler in 1943. Since that time, every technical innovation, branding concept, sports contract and advertising coup has been disputed by each side. Even in death, the brothers made sure they were buried in the same town but as far away from each other as possible.

Herzogenaurach is still suffering the consequences, with a dynamic not unlike the Old Firm situation in Glasgow - the enmity continues to divide the north Bavarian town, nicknamed the "place of bent necks" because everyone checks out everyone else's shoes, certain areas seem tied to one or the other brand, and rival staff employed by either company live separate lives.

Dutch author and journalist Barbara Smit has written an account of the feud, called "Drei Streifen gegen Puma," or "Three Stripes Versus Puma,".

Three Stripes V Puma

The book tracks the rise of the Dassler brothers from pre-war Germany through to the modern era, and charts their decline, as they were caught off guard by Nike and the failure to spot new trends like the boom in running.

Of course Adidas and Puma both recovered from their brushes with disaster and still play a major part in the $17 billion worldwide sports shoe industry.

Adidas have always seemed the more elegant of the two companies - I guess due to their significantly more refined logo and branding. But Puma are actually the more profitable business. You couldn't have made it up.

More on this -
Adidas v Puma ITN Report
Shoe Wars