Adidas vs Puma: The story of the Adidas and Puma brothers
ing time

Adidas vs Puma: The story of the Adidas and Puma brothers

Adidas vs Puma

The rivalry of Adidas vs Puma goes a lot deeper than most people realize. Not only do both companies compete for the same audience, but they were also founded by a set of brothers, Rudolf and Adolf Dassler. Aka the Dassler brothers, or Puma and Adidas brothers.

Unfortunately, the relationship between the two brothers has been famously strained over the years. Perhaps the most significant story you’ll find of sibling rivalry in the business world, the Dassler brothers changed the athletic apparel industry forever.

Both Puma and Adidas are extremely popular and successful brands, but they’re built on a rivalry which goes all the way back to their initial inception.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the history of the Puma and Adidas creators, what led to their separation, and how both brands evolved over the years.

Here’s the incredible story of the Puma and Adidas brothers.

The Adidas and Puma brothers: An introduction

Puma, originally known as Sportschuhfabrik Rudolf Dassler (Ruda), launched for the first time in 1948, in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Only a year later, in 1949, the Adidas brand emerged.

The two brands would become world-renowned competitors in the athletic clothing industry over the years, and they both have their origins in the very same place.

Rudolf Dassler was born in Germany in 1898, and his brother Adolf was born in 1900. Originally, the Dassler brothers weren’t the bitter rivals they became over the years. The two brothers actually worked together on a pair of sneakers from the comfort of their mother’s laundry room.

Focused on developing a new kind of sporting shoe, the Dassler brothers created their own company in 1919, Gebrüder Dassler, otherwise known as Geda. By 1927, the Geda brand had 12 employees, and the brothers even ended up moving out of the laundry room.

The big breakthrough for the two brothers came in the 1936 Olympic Games for Berlin, where the athletes they equipped with sporting shoes received 5 silver and bronze medals, and 7 gold medals.

Experts say the performance of the company could have been astronomical if the war hadn’t hit.

Even despite the war, Geda produced and sold hundreds of thousands of shoes. This was possible because one of the brothers was chosen to remain at home producing products at the Geda factory, while the other was sent to war.

So, what went wrong?

Adidas vs Puma

Why did Puma and Adidas split?

As the second world war continued to rage, the Geda brand was transformed. The factory for the shoes was converted to produce weapons, and Rudolf was drafted into the army. After Rudolf eventually returned from the war, following a year of imprisonment, shoe production began again.

However, a rift began to form between the Dassler brothers during this time.

To this day, nobody is entirely sure what caused the dispute between the “Adidas” brothers. Not even the grandchildren of the pair are totally certain, though many theories have emerged through the years, inspired by tales from friends and family.

One theory is Adolf had betrayed his brother during the war, to get him “out of the way”, and take more of the successful company for himself. Rudolf had fled from the frontline in 1945 but was arrested on his way back.

Some say Adolf gave US occupiers information about his brother.

Another theory depicts Adolf as being very jealous of his brother. A rumor circulating at the time suggested something had happened between Rudolf, and Adolf’s wife. Rudolf was known to be something of a womanizer.

There were a number of additional pressures baring down on the Puma and Adidas creators too. According to people present at the time of the Dassler brother feud, the wives of the two brothers despised each other, which made spending any kind of time together impossible.

Some people also say during the war, an Allied bombing left Rudolf and his wife sitting in a bomb shelter. When Adolf and his wife showed up, distasteful comments were apparently made, which led to additional fighting.

For years, the fights seemed to only get worse between the two brands. Neither brother could see eye-to-eye, and both appeared to continue holding grudges against the other for mis-spoken words and arguments in the past.

According to people from the time, it was almost impossible for both brothers to be in the same room for long at the end.

The Adidas and Puma brothers’ story: The rift

Most historians agree the Puma vs Adidas battle was already underway long before the two separate companies actually existed. Tensions were high between the Dassler brothers both during and after the war, particularly since the two brothers were forced into separate paths.

The German government had deemed Adolf as a useful shoemaker, which allowed him to avoid being drafted to the war, while the same courtesy wasn’t given to Rudolf.

According to citizens of the time, Rudolf was extremely angry about this, upset his brother was able to continue making money from their business, when his own life was on the line.

The partnership between the Dassler brothers was officially over by 1948. The tensions caused by the war, and the problematic relationships between the two brothers meant neither brother could continue to work together.

Little did they know, the Dassler brothers’ rivalry would divide an entire town.

When the Dassler brothers were separating, essentially every person in the small town of Herzogenaurach was employed by the two companies at the time. Negotiations were held between the two brothers to split earnings, equipment, and employees.

Both brothers still wanted to continue their pursuits in the sporting shoes environment.

Who created Puma?

In 1948, Puma was officially born, though it was initially named after Rudolf Dassler, with the title “Ruda”. Rudolf created his company using the first two letters of his first and last names.

The company eventually changed the name to “Puma” and took on the iconic image of the Puma cat for its logo and branding.

Who created Adidas?

Only a year after Rudolf created the Puma brand, Adolf followed on by transforming what remaining resources he had left from the previous shoe company into “Adidas”.

Just like Rudolf, Adolf took the letters of his nickname “Adi” and combined it with the first three letters of his last name to create the new name for his company.

Adidas vs Puma

The continued history of Adidas and Puma

Unfortunately, even separating into two separate companies didn’t eliminate the rift between the two brothers. The Dassler brothers continued to stay at each other’s throats, now bitter rivals in the business world, as well as in their personal lives.

Neither company is now controlled by the descendants of the Dassler brothers. Adolf and Rudolf both passed away, and Puma is now owned primarily by the French luxury goods maker, PPR, while Adidas belongs to a number of small shareholders.

Interestingly, both of the companies have continued to maintain their headquarters within the small town of Herzogenaurach.

This isn’t to say manufacturing still takes place primarily in Germany. Both brands now have manufacturing plants placed all over the world. However, the continued use of headquarters within the birth town of the two brands helps to remind us all of the incredible history between the two brands.

The two graves of the Dassler brothers are also both located within their hometown. Unfortunately, the placement of these graves indicates the pair may never have made up, as one grave is located on one end of a cemetery, and the other is situated on the opposite side.

There are some people who do believe the tale of the Dassler brothers didn’t end completely in woe. According to people who have spoken to historians over the years, there was a meeting between the brothers in 1974, just six months before Rudolf’s death.

Apparently, the two business leaders got their drivers to take them to a secret meeting place in Nuremberg for half a day.

Interestingly, many experts believe the town should also be home to a shoe museum, helping to detail some of the story of the Dassler brothers, and how it affected the locals over the years.

Anyone who grew up in the town during the time had plenty of stories to tell about the rivaling brothers, according to historians, and there are still families and descents to tell their tale.

Which is more successful, Adidas or Puma?

Both Adidas and Puma are massive powerhouses in the athletic and sporting wear environment today. The Adidas and Puma brothers did an excellent job of building their ventures into world-changing brands.

As of 2020, Adidas had a net income of around 674 billion euros, while Puma had a net income of 229.7 million.

Adidas did end up being more successful overall than Puma. However, both companies have achieved critical acclaim worldwide. Both Puma and Adidas have also been the companies behind various sponsorships over the last few years.

Adidas vs Puma

Puma today

The Puma brand offers products for training, fitness, golf, running, basketball, football, and “sportstyle”. Over the years, it has sponsored a number of legendary athletes, including Colin Jackson, Tommie Smith, and Michael Schumacher.

Currently, international footballers like Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Marco Reus are all sporting Puma football boots. Additionally, Puma sponsors a host of football clubs like Manchester City FC.

In athletics (or track and field), puma sponsors various athletic associations and field athletes from across the globe.

Puma also:

  • Became the official sponsor of New Zealand’s national netball team in 2018.
  • Equips numerous racing teams from Formula 1.
  • Sponsors various leading basketball athletes.

Is Puma owned by Adidas?

Puma has never belonged to Adidas, and it’s unlikely the two companies will ever end up merging. Although the brothers behind these companies have both passed away, and the brands have not passed into the hands of their relatives, the feud remains strong.

Both companies continue to see each other as major competitors, even if Adidas has a much higher revenue than Puma at this time.

Who owns Puma now?

Puma today is a German multinational corporation responsible for designing and manufacturing athletic and casual footwear, accessories, and apparel. Puma is a public company listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and Kering (French luxury group) owns around 9.8%.

Currently, the Puma CEO is Bjorn Gulden, who has held the title since 2013.

Adidas vs Puma

Adidas today

Adidas AG produces a range of clothing items, sportswear, and official sporting equipment. One of the primary focus areas for Adidas is football kits. The company continues to supply kits today for a wide selection of international clubs, and also makes referee kits for international competition.

Since 1970, FIFA has chosen Adidas to create a +range of specially designed footballs for World Cup tournaments. This makes Adidas footballs some of the best-known in the world. The balls are unique designed to be extremely lightweight and aerodynamic.

Outside of football, Adidas has a strong presence in the Major League Baseball environment, and also produces a range of shoes for basketball, to help protect the feet of the wearers. In the 1970s, Adidas also began producing cricket footwear, focusing mostly on the German market.

Today, Adidas also:

  • Manufacturers golf footwear, clothing and accessories for men and women.
  • Provides men and women’s gymnastics wear for Team USA via USA Gymnastics.
  • Provides uniforms for the National Hockey League, replacing Reebok in 2017.
  • Creates a host of lacrosse equipment and protective pieces.
  • Manufacturers various running and lifestyle shoes for everyday wear.
  • Creates shoes specifically for skateboarding, with signature models by team riders.
  • Produces tennis equipment for leaders of the game.

Over the years, the Adidas portfolio of products has come a long way, evolving significantly from the shoes which made the brand famous to begin with. The company produces slide-style sandals, eyewear, baseball caps, bags, socks, and even aftershaves and deodorants.

Who owns Adidas now?

Similar to Puma, the Adidas didn’t pass into the hands of the Dassler ancestors, but instead belongs to a range of shareholders as a public company. The CEO for Adidas as of 2016 is Kasper Rorsted, a Danish manager with a lot of respect in the industry. 

The brand legacy of the Puma and Adidas creators

Though the Dassler products started life producing the same line of products, the companies rapidly gained their own identity after the split.

The Puma brand identity

Puma is currently one of the largest producers of sporting goods and athletic apparel in the world.

Although Puma started off with the name “Ruda”, it has always maintained the image of the puma cat as one of its main identifying factors within its brand image.

The original logo for Puma featured the cat jumping through a letter “D” to represent the Dassler name.

Today, Puma’s logo represents a brand all about precision and performance. The Puma wordmark is bold and eye-catching, with curved edges to help highlight the universal accessibility of the brand.

At the same time, the leaping Puma cat helps to create an image of elegance and strength, ideal for a company responsible for selling sporting clothing.

Puma’s eye-catching black and white logo accompanies the rest of the company’s branding perfectly. The company’s mission is all about empowering people to achieve their best and accomplish incredible things.

Puma encourages fans to set their own goals and race towards the finish line in clothes and shoes designed to make them look and feel great.

Puma’s values include:

  • Bravery: Don’t be afraid to take risks which push the team forward.
  • Be confident: Make strong statements and continue to be bold.
  • Be determined: Focus on always striving towards your goals.
  • Be joyful: Enjoy the athletic adventures you go on in life.

Find out more about the Puma logo here.

The Adidas brand identity

From day one, Adidas has fought to be a global leader in the sporting goods industry – something the company has achieved to a certain degree already.

Despite the incredible success of the business so far, the company wants to continue pushing forward and discovering new opportunities to support and empower athletes around the world.

When Adolf Dassler began producing the Adidas brand, he has a little trouble finding the correct image for the brand. Unlike Puma, which found its visual identity almost immediately with the use of the leaping cat, Adidas experimented with a few different designs.

The Adidas symbol most of us know today began with the trefoil three-point design in the 1970s. Rather than coming up with this image themselves, the Adidas team actually purchased the design with its iconic three stripes from another brand called Karhu Sports.

The Karhu Sports company was struggling to survive after the second world war and sold their logo trademark to Adidas for around 1600 euros and two bottles of whisky. From there, the Adidas logo continued to transform and evolve, maintaining the three stripes as a central element.

Today, the Adidas logo is set to represent the peaks of a mountain, highlighting the goals athletes set for themselves, and they incredible things they accomplish via determination. This unique image highlights the nature and personality of the brand, which believes in performance and passion.

Some of the core values of Adidas mean:

  • Performance: Always strive to accomplish your best in anything you do.
  • Passion: Allow passion to drive your actions and motivate you.
  • Integrity: Focus on delivering exceptional value and transparency.
  • Diversity: Support everyone equally and embrace different types of people.

Find out more about the Adidas logo here.

Adidas and Puma: A story of two brands

Clearly, the Dassler brothers were extremely talented and creative people, capable of accomplishing incredible things.

The multi-national brands created by both brothers have achieved phenomenal success over the years. Both earn millions of dollars on an annual basis and continue to hire employees all around the globe.

However, the story of the Adidas and Puma brothers is enough to get any brand lover wondering what might have happened if the pair had been able to reconcile their differences.

Imagine what kind of shoe company or athletic brand we might have today if the Dassler brothers had become the Puma brothers or the Adidas brothers.

The combined company created may have produced some of the most innovative products in the world and ended up even bigger than market-leading brands like Nike.

If nothing else, the story of Adidas vs Puma shows us relationships in the real world can easily transform the history of an industry forever.

Fabrik: A branding agency for our times.

Now read these:
The Adidas logo through the years
Celebrating the iconic Puma logo

Stephen Peate
Creative director
Stephen Peate
Creative director
As Fabrik’s creative director, Stephen oversees complex branding programmes. He advises our clients on their tone of voice, creates logos and visual identities and crafts names for companies, products and services. Writing for Brand Fabrik Stephen reflects his love for logo design and visual identity.

  • Sign up for updates

    Sign up for your regular dose of Brand Fabrik and be the first to receive insights and inspiration.

  • Sign up for updates

    Sign up for your regular dose of Brand Fabrik and be the first to receive insights and inspiration.