Cain and Abel. Romulus and Remus. Adidas and Puma?
The rivalry between the two of the world’s most recognizable brands went far beyond the mere corporate competition. It was not only a mere vicious family feud that pitted two brothers against one another, but also divided the inhabitants of their hometown into warring factions — and lasted 60 long years.
70 years ago, Adolf Dassler founded the sports shoe brand Adidas. A mere year after, his brother Rudolf Dassler created competitor brand by the name – Puma.
The two world-renowned brands can be traced back to a now legendary family quarrel, without which neither Puma nor Adidas would exist in today’s scenario.
Originally, the brothers worked together on the two-striped sneakers and, in 1919, the duo founded Gebrüder Dassler, Geda for short his shoe factory would take them right through Second World War.
In the 1920s, the brothers were mere partners in the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company, operating out of their mother’s laundry room in the small German town of Herzogenaurach.
Adolf (short name- “Adi”) Dassler was a very quiet and thoughtful craftsman who designed and made the shoes himself. He got omplemented by the older Rudolph (“Rudi”) who was an extroverted salesman. Although the brothers joined the Nazi party when Hitler seized power later in 1933, it didn’t stop them getting legendary African-American track star Jesse Owens to wear their shoes as he competed and won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. Owens’ victory gave the shoes an international exposure, and sales of the Dasslers’ product exploded tremendously.
But the global success created new tensions in the two brothers’ relationship, already strained by the fact that their families were living in the same villa despite their wives not getting along. There were different incidents that were said to have precipitated their conflict, but the most widely accepted one took place during World War II when the Allies were bombing the town of Herzogenaurach.
As Adi and his beloved wife climbed into a bomb shelter already occupied by Rudi and his wife, he exclaimed, “The dirty bastards are back again,” referring to the Allied forces. Rudi was convinced the remark was directed at him and his family. A feud — one of the most epic and, well, Biblical in business history ever — was born.
When Rudi got called up for the service, he suspected Adi and his wife had schemed to get him sent to the front so they could have him out of the way at work. Later, Rudi was arrested first for deserting his post and then by the Allies on suspicion of working for Gestapo. On both occasions, Rudi was convinced that Adi was the one ratting him out, his suspicions confirmed by a report filed by an American investigating officer of that time. While Rudi languished in a prisoner of war camp, Adi rebuilt the business, selling shoes to American G.I.s.
The conflict escalated exponentially as the brothers split the company in two in late 1948, dividing the assets and the employees all between themselves.
Adi named his new company “Adidas,” a combination of his first and last names. Rudi attempted the same by first copying his brother’s strategy by first naming his company “Ruda” but eventually changed it to the more athletic sounding “Puma.”
The two built competing factories on the opposite sides of the river Aurach and quickly became responsible for much of the town of Herzogenaurach’s economy, with nearly everyone working for one company or the other.
As the entire town got caught up in the Dassler family’s bitter feud, the rivalry reached ridiculous proportions. There were local businesses that served one of the two companies at a time – only Adidas or only Puma. Dating or marrying across company lines was also forbidden, and Herzogenaurach became known as “the town of the bent necks” since the people used to first look at which company’s shoes you were wearing before deciding to talk to you.
While Rudi was having a sales staff and was better at moving product, Adi had the technical know-how and better relationships with athletes who could provide much-needed exposure, tipping the scales in favor of Adidas, with Puma in its efforts constantly playing catch-up. However, in focusing so heavily on one another, both the companies were much slower to react to the threat of Nike, which would come to dominate the athletic footwear industry, leaving them far behind quarreling.
It wasn’t until late 2009 when employees of both companies symbolized the end of six decades of feuding by playing a friendly soccer match. By then, the Dassler brothers had both already died, within four years of each other.
Even in death, the animosity continued as the brothers were buried at opposite ends of the same cemetery, as far away from each other as possible.
Image source: Google images