If someone were to ask to a room full of people, “What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say ‘Athletic Shoes?'” I would wager money and say that a minimum of half the room would respond with one word, “Nike.”

And rightfully so. Nike’s market share of U.S. shoe sales hovers around 45%, according to a Reuters.com article. Its closest competition, Under Armour and Adidas, hover around 10-13% respectively. Before researching this, I assumed Adidas and Reebok were separate companies, only to discover Adidas owns Reebok, which they acquired in 2005 for $3.8 billion dollars. Upon realizing this, and for the purpose of brand communication, I’m going to treat Reebok and Adidas as separate brands. The fact that I believed them to be separate companies speaks volumes about their branding.

So how do Adidas and Reebok’s brand communication stack up against the all-mighty Nike?

In 2015, Reebok unveiled a massive brand campaign – its largest in over a decade. With a simple tagline: “Be More Human.” In the majority of their ads since, this theme is recurring.

“There have been times in Reebok’s history where Reebok’s been brilliantly innovative. There have also been unproductive times when Reebok wasn’t pursuing its own agenda, but rather trying to chase its competitor.  That’s what we want to avoid.  We want to blaze our own trail.  We are finding this white space and really being disruptive.  I don’t think there’s anything more fresh in the world of athletics than this tough fitness phenomenon.” – Matthew O’Toole, President of Reebok

The first TV spot for the campaign encompasses what they’re going for, in terms of emotional effects on the consumer. Check it out below.

This ad encapsulates what I imagine Reebok intended to convey emotionally to the consumer about its Brand. But what I find more interesting are its other ads, that don’t end directly with the “Be more human” tagline, because the content still overlaps with that theme.  Here are two examples.

The first ad, which features Zay Hilfigerr, creator of the hit “JuJu on that Beat,” dancing with some inspirational voice-over of him giving advice to ‘do you’ and is telling people ‘to ride their own wave’, ‘everything you did, it was you.’ Although this ad is a part of their ‘classics’ series with notable people saying things similar to this, it still ties into what Poole referenced as “Reebok trailblazing into its own space and not worrying about competitors.”

The Flexweave ad has the exact same tone, yet its about the footwear itself. Mentioning that its not the material, but the innovative method being used that’s different. Again, Reebok making their own path.

Adidas, being the parent company of the two brands, and probably the more notable of the two – their ads more closely resemble Nike’s. Coupling fitness with inspirational themes to get the emotions going.

Here’s my favorite.

This break free ad depicts an old man in a retirement community that’s trying to escape, to run, as he watches younger people go past. After having his shoes stolen and being stopped repeatedly from breaking free by the staff, the other community members help him get back his shoes and corral him to breaking free. While Adidas and Reebok are separate brands, but owned by Adidas, I see some overlap from this ad that can easily fall under the “Be more human” umbrella. The messaging is on the same wavelength, which, although separate, keeps some semblance of consistency between the two brands.

Now, the big boy – Nike.

Their latest ad, the “Ode to Air” uses a beautifully edited sequence of the sounds of breath paired to cuts of action, really pushing home the rudimentary nature of air, and how important it is as the foundation for everything we do with it. With no words, the sounds alone are enough to invoke emotions.

What I find most interesting about Nike, is their ads seem to vary greatly in terms of the content, sometimes bizarre or fantastical. But still, I believe that to be because Nike as a brand realizes they have this massive space (within the market) that is theirs, and they can push the limits of experimentation of their brand communication without substantial or immediate risks to their sales. Just don’t put Kendall Jenner in some Nike’s anytime soon, and they should have nothing to worry about. Here is one that has those bizarre elements, but speaks to the nearly 10 million + Londoners.

Another, is a compilation of ads from Nike’s “Find your greatness” campaign. Simply put, each ad is comprised of everyday people, finding their greatness, now matter how big or how small, how insignificant, no matter the amount of wealth, the color of your skin, or where you come from. Each ad begins with “Sometimes -” and then is followed by some dialogue relating to whatever we are seeing. It’s a very subtle way of getting its message across, but I believe it’s effective because most people want to believe that the ‘little things’ compared to the things we see on TV by top athletes, are greatness, too, in their own right.

While Nike dominates the market, with its brand within brands (such as Air Jordan, the largest chunk of American shoe sales produced by Nike), and Converse, Adidas is catching up. Adidas surpassed Jordan brand with 13% of the market share. And according to the same article, pulling its research from the NPD Group, Adidas is growing while Nike, although king in the United States, is lukewarm in terms of its market growth. I believe most brands need to tell a good story to be successful, and with Nike being king, they don’t have the pressure of closely encroaching competition. But, if Adidas (and Reebok) continue to blaze their own trails, not focusing on the competition but focusing on playing with the space they are creating for themselves, we can see how building upon their own brand identity will push it further than we are seeing now.

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