At the time of writing this article, there are just 40-something days left to go until the Olympics begins. And there’s been a lot of chatter  so far this year about how well Nike has capitalised on the ‘Summer of Sport’ theme.

So we thought we would take a closer look at how Nike (not a headline Olympic sponsor) has fared compared to headline Olympic sponsor Adidas in the social stakes on some comparable key terms.

We’ve looked into some pertinent terms for both brands, including Olympics and London 2012 for Adidas, as well as its ‘All in’ campaign. For Nike, we also looked at the word 'Olympics', as well as 'My Time is Now' and '#makeitcount' alongside the brand name. There are a couple more in a similar vein.

We did this to exclude general brand mentions which should exclude the majority (though it’s impossible to remove all) of those about Nike’s interactive products (Nike+ and the Nike+Fuelband) and product launches, and to foreground both brands’ summer campaigns.

Products are a post for another day, and not what we’re comparing here. We have also excluded specific terms around Euro 2012 to make this a fair fight and to make the data manageable. 

First things first. Nike’s marketing efforts this year have been big but so far nothing the brand has done has contravened the London 2012 Olympic brand guidelines.

It should be noted, however, that while not a headline sponsor, Nike sponsors individual athletes and country teams - deals that are leading to some stand-offs between the two brands - and which could flare up further during the games themselves. 

So, the headline numbers.

In terms of owned channels such as Facebook and Twitter, both brands have multiple outlets, fragmenting and refining their audiences. On Facebook and on Twitter, both have product pages, as well as main brand pages.

But comparing the main brands on Facebook alone sees Nike leading the pack with 9.3m likes. Adidas has 8.1m – but not too far behind is Puma, with 7.4m.

Each brand page has a similar focus, highlighting its efforts in various areas and attracting fans through brand loyalty, unless a specific conversation or campaign actually takes a user to the page.

But what about elsewhere in social? 

Average daily mentions between February and the end of May for these terms were 1073 for Nike and 308 for Adidas.  The one spike showing in this graph is for the launch of the Team GB kit, created by Stella McCartney. That's three times the chatter around summer campaigns and the Olympics for the non-headline sponsor.

So what is causing this huge difference in the levels of conversation? What are people talking about?

Here’s what people are talking about for Adidas:

And here’s what Nike fans are saying:

There’s also a generally more positive sentiment attached to discussion around Nike, versus what is said about Adidas.

So what can we take away from these graphs and clouds? Why has Nike outdone Adidas so comprehensively on social channels this summer even without a hefty Olympic sponsorship payment?

The first thing that hits you is that there are significantly fewer terms for Nike than Adidas, though surely satisfyingly for Adidas, many of these relate to the Olympics. What it may also show is that Nike conversation is crystallising around a few key themes, with running and racing being a huge one. But Olympics still features in a big way, even without the headline sponsorship.

There is no reliance on waiting for sponsorship to deliver the goods: simply sticking to their core themes and, as it were, running with them. Of course, making fantastic products and already having a devoted fan base helps – but both brands have this, and Nike has made rather more of it, at least by social measures, than Adidas has.

Our insight exec Mark Stuart took a closer look at the data to wrap things up:

Nike’s #MakeItCount guerilla campaign has used social, predominantly Twitter’s hashtag culture, in order to steal Adidas’ shine. It has done this in such a way that, even without headline Olympic sponsorship rights, it has generated extensive conversation, equating to almost 100,000 tweets since 1st February. That is an impressive stat when you consider that all mentions of Adidas’ Olympic campaigns since the same date equates to just 37,000 mentions.”

Nike versus Adidas. Testament to the value of keeping it simple.

Steve Richards

Published 18 June, 2012 by Steve Richards

Steve Richards is MD of social media agency Yomego and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (5)


Simon Freeman

This is a really fascinating piece. I think that in many cases the 'underdog' (in this case Nike, because they are not a headline Olympic sponsor - but how often would Nike been seen as an underdog?) knows that it has to hit harder. And the Nike team have done just that, whilst also 'boxing clever'. Hats off to the Nike team - this is proof positive that you should never give up and never give in, even if the odds look stacked against you.

I would be interested to see how the data you have extracted looks once the Olympics are underway though - I think that the wall-to-wall 24-hour-per-day TV and press coverage that Adidas will get might swing the momentum back in their favour. They might not be down and out just yet!


about 6 years ago


Sharon O'Dea

This is a fascinating analysis, and to my mind a great example of how brand management and promotion needs to change. Does sponsorship reap the rewards it used to? It doesn't sound like it.

I'd be keen to hear more about sentiment. Anecdotally, it seems like there's a lot of negative social media sentiment around official sponsor brands who might be percieved as 'taking the mickey' - for instance, discussions about Visa and the Olympics seem to focus on issues such as barring alternative cards from the Olympic Park, while Heineken is attracting online ire over its beer pricing.

Managed carefully, social media allows any brand to co-opt (and benefit from) the zeitgeist - in this case, more effectively than the firm who've paid a LOT for the privilege.

about 6 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

It looks like Adidas are trying to cover too many bases and ending up very thin in all areas. One campaign for everything seems to be working well for Nike.

Maybe social wasn't a big focus of theirs, but at least they haven't frustrated people as much as Visa have! (not allowing any other cards to be used to pay for anything Olympic!)

It's going to be interesting to see how everything pans out when the games actually start.

about 6 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Thanks, Simon, Sharon and Anna for your comments. We are working with a client to build a model to quantify the value of social engagement around sponsorships, so this will be interesting.

Finally, I'd have loved to have seen the look on the Sponsorship Director's face at Adidas when he found out the Greek god being featured on the London 2012 medals was, er, Nike....

about 6 years ago


John Dean

Very interesting piece which makes me wonder whether Nike's success over Adidas in this regard even without the help of the Olympic sponsorshop deal can be replicated by brands that do not have the clout that Nike has. I'm sure however, that the figures reported in this piece will be different from those actually during the games, especially if Adidas launch new product ranges at the same time, using their affiliation with the Olympics as much as they can.

about 6 years ago

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