5 Famous Rivalries That Shaped Iconic Brands

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Rivalries are the best. Growing up a Michigan State fan, I got my hands in a vicious battle with the University of Michigan at a very young age. I remember talking trash to my best friend and neighbor, whose uncle was Michigan Alumni, every time the Spartans squared off against the Wolverines. If they weren’t playing, best believe we dressed up in full uniforms and took matters into our own hands, with one of us quickly ending the game on a harsh foul.

When I reflect on those days, that rivalry fueled our friendship, and at times, drove us to be more competitive. Sure, we were kids, but that competition and love for sport and school is something that still fires me up now—even to this day, you still won’t find a single maize or blue item in my entire wardrobe. 

When I think about the best rivalries, there are plenty that come to mind, far outside the realm of sports. Pepsi vs. Coke, UPS vs. FedEx, Mcdonald’s vs. Burger King—anywhere you look, you’re bound to find some sort of rivalry. After spending some time scouring the interweb for the best wildest rivalries and listening to far too much trash talk, I’ve found 5 that will rock your world. Let’s get competitive…

 

Adidas v. Puma

Adidas vs puma rivalry

These two apparel juggernauts were actually founded by brothers who started making shoes long before three stripes or cougar silhouettes. Born in the small town of Herzogenaurach, Germany,  Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler and Adolf “Adi” Dassler, were sons to a cobbler. After picking up his trade, they launched their first sneaker business—Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik—out of their mother’s laundry room in 1927. It wasn’t until 1936, when Jesse Owens secured 4 gold medals, that their brand exploded in the wake of Olympic success. 

This explosion fizzled out with the start of WW2. After Rudi returned from a year of military service, the relationship between the brothers grew ill over unknown circumstances. Some say it was over a football cleat idea, others say socialist views, and some even skepticize there was infidelity at play. Whatever the case, it was the catalyst for an apparel rivalry that would last over 60 years. 

Rudi started Puma in 1948, naming it after the cat’s characteristics of speed, strength, and endurance. Adi quickly followed with Adidas, a blend between his nickname and last name, in 1949. Both brands were owned and operated in Herzogenaurach, eventually splitting the city in half, north and south. Adidas employees and advocates had their own bars, stores, and football teams (not the padded game with jarheads) in the north, while Puma did the same in the south. 

The rivalry lasted until their death and even continued, as they were buried on opposite sides of the same cemetery in their hometown—talk about sticking to your guns. In 2009, the two brands decided to bury the hatchet with a friendly football match that even used a co-branded ball.  

Today, Adidas represents a massive part of the sportswear market with professional team sponsorships and flagship athletes like Lionel Messi, Zach Lavine, and recently-added Tua Tagovailoa. Meanwhile, Puma has also made its mark boasting athletes like Usain Bolt, Diego Maradonna, and the Italian National Soccer team. Yes, this brotherly rivalry seems a bit excessive, but it sure as hell made for two dominant brands. 

 

Pat’s vs. Geno’s

Pat's vs Geno's Rivalry

The battle for beefy, cheesy greatness has dominated Philadelphia natives and sandwich savants for decades. This beef started in 1966 when Joey Vento started hustling his version steak sandwiches and hot dogs on 9th and Passyunk, directly across the street from cheesesteak founder and creator Pat’s. 

Pat’s, founded by Pat and Harry Olivieri in 1933, was born out of a desire for change. Pat was tired of eating hot dogs every day, so he threw some skirt steak and onions on the grill, slapped it into an Italian roll, and bam, the 2-am drunken masterpiece was formed right on that street. From there, Pat’s dominated the block, slinging subs to every man, woman, and child in South Philly. 

30 years later, Joey Vento set up shop across the street offering up the same sammie, along with some serious personality and commodities under the name Geno’s. Geno’s flexed their neon orange tile and bold branding, which quickly attracted Philly residents and built the foundations for a 50+ year rivalry. 

What pushed it over the edge wasn’t a food critic or the slander of someone’s character, but rather a loan shark who was linked to a famous, figurative boxer. Those of you who appreciate great movies know Rocky Balboa, and his side hustles with Joey Gazzo, but you probably missed it when Gazzo took him to Pat’s for a bite to eat in the 1976 film. This spawned the great steak rivalry that still holds to this day.  

As both family businesses have grown and changed, they still razzle one another, even trying each other’s sandwiches on Dr. Phil once, and spitting them out. Though many natives believe the beef is real, rumor has it that Frank Olivieri Jr, Pat’s great-nephew, and Joey Vento live in the same apartment complex and share cocktails often—who said rivals can’t be best friends? 

 

DC vs. Marvel

DC vs Marvel Rivarly

The fight for superhero superiority has been going on long before the release of the Avengers films. Dating back to 1938, Action Comics, also known as Detective Comics (DC), delivered the first Superman, which was quickly followed by Batman. Not even a year later, Timely, later named Marvel, would produce their own superhero: the Human Torch.

From there, it was superpower madness, as DC dominated the 60’s with Justice League, and Marvel responded with Stan Lee’s Fantastic 4. Fast forward to 1975 when they first collaborated on The Marvelous Wizard of Oz comic and then the 1976 issue: Superman v. the Amazing Spiderman—an epic read for you comic junkies

In 2000, Marvel made power moves by jumping onto the big screen. Putting DC’s 1978, Superman, to shame with XMen. DC punched back hard hiring Christopher Nolan to direct the Dark Knight series that would gross over $1billion in box office revenue. Marvel wasn’t far behind, introducing the world to Avengers and solo superhero films like Iron Man, Thor, and Black Panther. 

Today, you’ll still hear elementary schoolers argue over DC or Marvel and who has the best powers of all time—even though we all know Batman is the top dog. No matter the argument, both brands have withstood the test of time and continue to drive growth for one another every year. 

 

BMW vs. Audi

BMW vs Audi Rivalry

There aren’t many rivalries more creative and humorous than the one between the two German automobile brands. In 2012, they took to Santa Monica billboards to settle who was the best-built machine.  

First, it was Audi who challenged BMW showcasing a massive billboard plastered with their A4 that read, “Your move, BMW”. And oh my schnitzel they moved alright, buying the billboard directly across the highway and hitting Audi with the one-word response, “Checkmate.” As a writer and fan of great words, this response is pure gold—simple, clean, and damning. 

But Audi wasn’t going to let that be the end of it. They took to another billboard in Los Angeles that flashed their stunning R8 with the caption, “ Your pawn is no match for our King.” Damn, Audi, you really went there.

Just when you thought that Audi had secured the win, BMW did something that few would consider an option—a blimp tethered to that same Audi billboard. That’s right a f***ing blimp. Once again, they crushed it with two simple words “Game Over” accompanied by one of their top-performing Formula 1 racing cars.  

Sure, this rivalry only lasted a few short weeks but it had Los Angeles locals and all of Twitter consumed for much longer, even sparking other brands to join the conversation like Subaru and Ferrari. 

 

Tupac Shakur vs. Notorious B.I.G 

Tupac vs Biggie Rivalry

I saved the best rivalry for last—all of you hip-hop zealots know what this rivalry did for the music industry and rap. 

These two hip-hop moguls were introduced to one another at Tupac’s house in 1993. After whipping up some steaks, Tupac took a liking to Biggie, and would sleep on his couch when he was visiting New York. The two fed off one another collaborating for the first time at Budweiser Superfest at Madison Sq. Garden that same year—which you should listen to before you keep reading

After watching his rise to fame, Biggie at one point even asked Tupac if he would manage him. The idea was quickly shot down, with Tupac telling him P. Diddy would make him a millionaire. As the two started to work on separate projects, Tupac was invited to record with a young artist in New York while awaiting trial in 1994. Before he could walk into the studio, he was shot and robbed by three men, who Tupac claimed were hired by Biggie himself. This started the clash between East Coast and West Coast hip-hop. 

While serving his time and producing music in 1994, Tupac was approached by Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight. Knight, who would eventually sign Tupac, was determined to build a western music empire that would dominate the airwaves and ears of hip-hop America. Meanwhile, Diddy had signed Biggie to his own label Bad Boy Entertainment, which was building a cult following in the New York streets and east coast.

Their sounds were distinctly different. The east focused on music that had boom bap, which was driven by aggression and strong lyricism—with its sound attribution more closely related to jazz. The west honed in on the funk and the California vibe that you recognize in artists like Snoop Dogg and NWA. 

As each style grew, so did the rivalry between East and West, with both artists releasing diss tracks like Biggie’s, “Who Shot Ya?” and Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up”. But, the feud was quickly halted after both were gunned down within 6 months of each other—both cases are still open. 

Though both coasts were driven by rivalry and beef, this helped solidify two-distinct and pivotal subgenres that are the foundation of what we know as hip hop today. 

 

Rivals bring out the best 

Great rivalries are built on hustle and respect. Sure, we all let them get the best of us sometimes, but that’s the beauty of them—it brings us together. For brands and businesses, it does the same, uniting audiences under a common idea or against a common enemy.  

If you’re looking for a rival or want to read more about why you need to find one, this post about the Bad Boy Pistons and Michael Jordan from Andrew might be right up your alley. Otherwise, you should probably check this out

Jake Hackman