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How Nike lost to Adidas in the old sneaker game

In the 50 years since that fateful (if impolitic) branding decision, Nike became both commercial behemoth and cultural phenomenon, catering to the feet of athletes and couch potatoes alike

Reuters 

Nike, logo
The logo of Nike (NKE) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States

In 1967, the company that would become the world famous shoe brand, Nike, needed an identity for its new, state-of-the-art running shoe. Co-founders and settled on “Aztec,” according to Knight’s autobiography. But industry giant had a track spike called “Azteca Gold” and was allegedly threatening to sue.

Chewing over their choices, the Oregon entrepreneurs fired the first volley of a decades-long rivalry with the German shoemaker. Knight explained how their displeasure with led to the eventual selection. “Who was that guy who kicked the (crap) out of the Aztecs?” Bowerman asked Knight. “Cortez,” he responded. “Okay,” Bowerman said, “let’s call it the

In the 50 years since that fateful (if impolitic) branding decision, became both commercial behemoth and cultural phenomenon, catering to the feet of athletes and couch potatoes alike. 

But by last year, the tide of the long battle had turned. Adidas  was once again ascendant via two sneakers originally designed in the 1960s: the Stan Smith and the Superstar. They outsold every other kick in America and sent Adidas’s share of the US footwear market skyward by 83 per cent.  Oregon-based Nike  was losing ground for the first time in decades. Future orders fell 4 per cent in three months ended February, from both retail partners and the company’s own stores. 

really needed a winner. In September of last year, Chief Executive Officer started laying the groundwork. He told analysts and investors that, like Adidas, would look to past successes to win today’s market. The Cortez, he announced, would be making a comeback.

The reboot was big, even by standards. In May, the company enlisted supermodel for an elaborate photo shoot. Sneakerhead blogs and fashion magazines ran the photos as a story unto themselves. Meanwhile, the company whipped its designers and factories up to speed, cranking out a steady stream of special editions to complement the classic iteration. was in for a rude awakening. Despite all the effort, customers just didn’t seem to care.

First Published: Tue, November 21 2017. 22:56 IST
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