the battle of the boots

The Nike v Adidas rivalry always intensifies ahead of a World Cup, and this year has been no exception. A little known fact (and perhaps one for the conspiracy theorists out there) is that the last four finals have seen a Nike team play against and Adidas team, with the exception of Puma-sponsored Italy in 2006.

The good news, for England fans, is that Rooney and friends will be clad in Nike for the first time, having previously been kitted out by Umbro since the 1980s.

However, the two sports kit giants have approached their marketing in very different ways, and it’s Nike who seem to be performing better against their more established opposition.

This is the full Nike advert ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

What’s particularly clever is that not one reference is made to FIFA or the World Cup in the entire advert. That’s because Adidas have the rights to the competition and therefore Nike can’t mention it. Still, we all get the implication of a huge footballing advert at this time of year.

The style of the advert is significant too and clashes considerably with the Adidas effort, more of which on later. By placing their target audience (young men who buy football boots) at its heart the intended viewer can identify with the brand straight away.

There’s also only fleeting mention of the Nike product in the advert, but the new boots are closely enough associated with the glamour of the game to elevate their status from just another bit of kit – it’s subtle and impressive.

The type of players appearing in the advert is also interesting; with Nike having aligned themselves with what my father would call “a bunch of show boaters and show ponies”.

Peter Rohlmann, a Nike marketing consultant, puts it more positive spin on it: “The players from Nike have a lot of entertainment character. Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s much more a star in a broader sense than a football kicker.”

Adidas, on the other hand, have only just released their main World Cup advert (although they did air one around the Brazuca ball in December). It’s very different.

The first thing that jars with me as a copywriter is the use of the word “they”. This advert is a fantastic opportunity to involve the viewer just by using the word “you” but instead it distances the audience from the Adidas stars.

However, although the metaphor indulged throughout is far from original in a sporting context (and the Nike idea has also been used before, although never so lavishly) the involvement of the product is really quite smart. Again it’s subtle but Adidas managed to make it stand out against the colourless backdrop of the rest of the advert.

While we’re on the subject of colour, however, it’s worth mentioning that “black or white” as the last words spoken, particularly in an advert that mentions evolution and hunting, is a little unwise. Obviously there’s no racist undertone to the commercial, but this is naïve and does leave Adidas with a potential own goal.

Interestingly, the players seem to take a backseat in this advert – the stars of Adidas are involved but it takes a real footballing aficionado to identify even national captains such as Philipp Lahm and Leo Messi, amongst others. It seems that Nike’s Peter Rohlman is correct: his company uses celebrity athletes while Adidas markets to more knowledgeable fans with perhaps less eye-catching individuals.

Ultimately, though, both adverts have been created to sell as many pairs of football boots as possible. I’m not sure appealing to a more knowledgeable – and smaller – audience is the best way to do that.

The straplines for both are very similar: Nike’s “Risk Everything” and “All in or nothing” from Adidas are basically synonyms. They are likely to appeal to young men who like to take big chances and given the manufacturers’ promotion of high stakes gambling both appear a safe bet.

So who will be smiling come 13th July? Much depends on the success of the teams they sponsor and the players wearing their boots, but despite Adidas being an official World Cup sponsor it’s Nike who have raced into an early lead thanks to slick storytelling, a little humour and a generous sprinkling of stardust.

About the author: Mike Robinson

I have an Honours Degree in English Literature from Edinburgh University, a Masters in Corporate Communications and of course I’m a qualified copywriter, but then giving you prose that’s powerful, grammatically correct and spelling error free should be the least of your expectations from a copywriting professional.

Get in touch now and we can discuss how best to drive your marketing forward – you’ll find it a very productive conversation.