How sports manufacturer Adidas got its start, early marketing innovations, the history of their famous logo, connections to the Nazis and how their rivalry with sports company Puma got started.

So You Think You Know LogosThere’s probably very few of us who haven’t worn something made by Adidas at some point or another. When I was a teenager, the ‘holy grail’ of running shoes were Adidas ROMs, and it took several years of bitching, moaning and whining before my folks bought me a pair. If memory serves, the price was about $23, a king’s ransom back in the day, and a good chunk of my father’s meager pay check. Things have changed significantly since then, and Adidas is now a major international corporation with sales hovering around ten-and-a-half billion Euros.

By now we’re all familiar with the 3 Adidas stripes, conceptualized by company founder Adolf Dassler and first used on footwear in 1949. No awesome logo symbolism or imagery about the concept – Dassler wanted something that would be instantly associated with his company when athletes used his footwear in international athletic competitions. It was a brilliantly simple product placement idea and has been a part of the Adidas brand ever since. Nike does it too (pun intended) I suppose, but Adidas beat them by decades. Here’s the neat part though – when it came to trademarking the ‘three stripes’, Dassler had been beaten to the punch by a Finnish company Karhu Sports. Short of capital due to World World 2, Kahu sold the trademark to Adidas for the equivalent of $US 2,081.52 and two bottles of Whiskey.

While still keeping true to this three stripes motif, there’s been two major Adidas logos over the company’s history.
The first, the Trefoil (above,) was introduced in 1971 when the sports company expanded into leisure wear, and was intended to symbolize the diversity of the brand. It’s still used today. The second, launched in 1997, was designed by then Creative Director Peter Moore, and incorporated the 3 stripes into a simple iconic mark. A little bit of symbolism was added to the mix, with the new mark representing a mountain, as well as:

“..the challenge to be faced and the goals to be achieved.”

That’s about it really. Interesting story on the logo? So so. Interesting stories on the history of the company? All sorts.

Adidas company history.

After returning from the trenches of World War I, Adolf (“Adi”) Dassler began producing custom sports shoes in his mother’s Herzogenaurach, Bavaria house, and after some moderate success he was joined by his brother, Rudolf (“Rudi”), the pair formalizing the venture as Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory). When the 1936 Munich Summer Olympics rolled around, Adi decided to give track spikes to competing athletes as a way of promoting their brand, even persuading US sprinter Jessie Owens to don a pair (technically, the ever first corporate sponsorship of an African American). When Owens picked up four gold medals (much to the chagrin of Adolph Hitler) the demand for Dassler shoes skyrocketed. By the time World War II broke out, Adi and Rudi were selling over 200,000 pairs a year.

The Nazi card.

In the mid 1930s both brothers joined the Nazi party (though Rudi was supposedly more enthusiastic about his support) and while Adi stayed to helm the growing company, Rudi signed on with the military. Rudi became convinced that Adi had contrived with Nazi officials to have him sent to the front in Poland, and after being picked up by American soldiers and accused of being a member of the Waffen SS, he was convinced that his brother had turned him in. After the war, the bickering intensified and the brothers, even though still living in the same villa, started rival shoe companies in 1947. The feud spread throughout the village, with townpeople showing their allegiance according to the shoes they wore, often refusing to speak to members of the other side.

Dueling brands.

One of those companies became what is modern day Adidas, the name itself is an abbreviation of Adi’s name (Adi” from his Adolf nickname and “Das” from “Dassler”.) Rudi formed a new rvial firm that he originally called Ruda.

He later rebranded as Puma.

For more on this see the book Sneaker WarsThe Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport by Barbara Smit.