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Know Your Gifts: Nike or Adidas

“If you’re done digesting, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas presents,” Maria announced Friday morning, as I was making coffee.

“Again?” I whined. “Already?”

“Same time every year,” she told me, getting eggs out of the fridge. “And, once again, we’re starting late. If we were smart, we would have finished a month ago. At least.”

I aggressively ran the coffee-bean grinder to show my displeasure before I deigned to answer. “Fine. But it’s no fun now that the kids are big and we can’t just get them cool toys.”

She rolled her eyes at me. “You can put the cool toys on your list.”

“Can’t we just give them money? They like money.”

“No.” She was firm. “The thought and effort is more valuable than the money.”

“Is it though? I mean…is it to them?” She was unmoved, so I changed tactics. “Who knows what they even want these days? I’m not paying for any piercings.”

“I was leaning toward some nice running shoes. Maybe Nike…Or Adidas.”

“You say that like they’re the same thing,” I said, theatrically aghast.

“Stop clutching your pearls,” Maria scolded. “They are the same thing. They’re just gym shoes.”

Of course, I should have let that go. But you know, hindsight.

“Yes, both companies make athletic wear,” I told her in full-on brand-splaining mode, “but from a story perspective, they’re totally different in terms of conflict and meaning.”

“What?” she asked, all innocence.

“Yes, the products overlap in terms of use and the audience overlaps in terms of need, but Nike and Adidas aren’t even in the same category, metaphorically,” I scoffed. “They’re so much more than just gym shoes. I mean—”

She held up a finger. “You’re not going to say that because the Nike brand is built on the struggle between individual achievement and teamwork its identity is rooted in the category conflict of sports, while Adidas, wrestling between form and function, more often draws its essential notes from the category conflict of fashion, are you? And then you weren’t going to point out how those different stories shape the voice, tone, feel, personality, and actions of each brand, including their most successful and most problematic communications and endorsement relationships with athletes and celebrities, were you? Like the different ways they approach Olympic advertising? Or like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong for Nike versus Pharrell, Bad Bunny, and Yeezy for Adidas? And then you weren’t going to finish by suggesting that the competitive expression inherent in Nike makes the brand more resonant for Eleanor, while the creative expression inherent in Adidas makes it more attractive to Clara, were you? Because it could come across as really condescending if you were going to assume I hadn’t already thought of all that when considering gifts for my daughters.” Then she cracked an egg. Kind of ominously.

“If you’d let me finish,” I said, trying to sound appropriately injured, “I mean…that you’re brilliant as usual and obviously on top of the whole gift-giving thing. Duh.”

Clearly, the holidays have got me thinking about gifts! I’ve always felt that, like people, brands are born with inherent gifts—strengths, talents, and notes of personality—that help define them when they’re at their best. Here’s an Adidas ad from the London Olympics, and here’s a Nike ad from the London Olympics. I’d love to hear your perspective on the difference between Nike and Adidas, if you’ve got one, or your thoughts on other brands that appear to make products that are similar to each other but clearly live in different story spaces. Happy Holidays to you!

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