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.