The Fight for China’s Sole — Adidas, Nike and Footwear Branding Battles


[Repost from older blog. Original posting date: Sept. 12, 2008] Before we leave behind the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics for the ancient news that it is (see post on brand icons here), I want to point out one more of its branding lessons.  Let’s look at how two global brand-name sporting appeal and footwear companies, Adidas and Nike, approached this enormous marketing opportunity. What did they do prior to the Games? Something very interesting. They spent untold amounts of R&D time and money developing specialty shoes to be featured at the Beijing Games. Nike unveiled 28 pairs, Adidas 27. And, both companies outfitted thousands and thousands of Olympic athletes with their new designs, free of charge. Here’s the kicker: most of these shoes will never make it to the mainline consumer.  Many never seeing the light of day in retail stores—they will only be sold online. So if neither of these global companies expected to sell many equestrian, rowing, or wushu shoes, why all the effort and fuss?

The focus of Adidas and Nike was not on showcasing their products to the world on the great internatinal stage that is the Olympics.  The two companies’ focus was on the Chinese people. Both are near salivating over the opening of this market, with its more than one billion pairs of feet to shoe. The key driver behind their Olympic campaigns: both companies claim innovation/inventiveness as a brand attribute. They wanted to use the Games—this massive attention-focusing platform—to show how inventive and comprehensive they are, with the message: We’re are number one for your feet, no matter what you do or how you play.

I know little about what it costs to design, test, produce, market, and pay athlete endorsement contracts for all these shoes. I would guess it’s a great sum. It remains to be seen if Adidas’s and Nike’s gamble was worth the investment. But, it will be fun to watch the results over the next few years and see who will ends up dominating this market and wins The Battle for China’s Sole.

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