10 Interesting Stories of Brand Rivalries

Brand rivalries have been in the world ever since “competition” was considered to be a healthy thing for the economy. Some brands have been at war with each other ever since they began manufacturing their products leading to funny and engrossing anecdotes. Through advertisement and product wars, these stories of brand rivalries are interesting to read about.

Did you know that the candy manufacturers Cadbury and Rowntree would often send spies to each other’s factories? This became a premise for a dialogue in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Here are more such stories to read.

1. Ferruccio Lamborghini used to manufacture only tractors in the mid-1900s. But when Enzo Ferrari rudely rejected his suggestion about the imperfections in the Ferrari cars, calling him a “tractor mechanic,” he began manufacturing luxury cars.

Ferruccio Lamborghini
Image credit: Wikimedia

When a Ferrari or a Lamborghini car passes by on the road, it is sure to attract attention. And as famous as the cars are is the rivalry between the brands. This war of a kind between two Italians began during the 1960s. Ferruccio Lamborghini came from a family of grape farmers, but because he did not share the passion of his family, he got into the tractor-manufacturing business and had a company named Lamborghini Trattori. It made him successful and wealthy. At the time, Ferrari cars were considered to be the top-of-the-line luxury cars, and Lamborghini bought one of those.

Lamborghini felt that the Ferrari was too rough on the road, and the clutch had to be repaired too often. He took his complaint to Enzo Ferrari, but Ferrari did not appreciate the criticism. Ferrari believed that a tractor manufacturer would know nothing about cars. Lamborghini took this as an insult and let that insult become a driving force for a plan of getting into the business of manufacturing luxury cars.

Four months later and after a lot of hard work, in October 1963, Lamborghini revealed his first car at a motor show. Soon, the man’s car gave tough competition to Ferrari’s and continues to do so even today. (1, 2)

2. Adidas’ and Puma’s brand rivalry stems from the sibling rivalry of the Dassler brothers during World War II. Adolph Dassler founded Adidas, and Rudolf Dassler founded Puma. In the town where both companies had their headquarters, no local would start a conversation without looking at the other’s shoes.

Puma and Adidas
Image credit: Wikimedia, Wikimedia

Most people have no idea that the founders of Adidas and Puma were siblings—siblings who fell out so badly that they had their graves dug as far apart as possible. There is a town in Germany named Herzogenaurach which is known as the “town of bent necks” as no local there would start a conversation without looking at what brand shoes the other person was wearing, as this is where Adidas and Puma had their headquarters.

Born into a cobbler family, Adolph and Rudolf Dassler did not always hate each other. They used to work together at the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. But the locals say that after they both got married, their wives hated each other. And another gossip that went on in the town said that Adolph slept with Rudolf’s wife beginning the feud. On a night in 1943, Adolph raved, “There come the pig dogs again!” and that is when Rudolf was climbing the steps of the house. Rudolf thought his brother made that comment about him, but Adolph was actually talking about the RAF pilots. This was the final blow. Then Rudolph was shipped off to an American prisoner-of-war camp while Adolph continued to run the business without him, adding to the bitterness. In 1948, when Rudolph got back, he started his own company on the other side of the river, what we now know as “Puma.”

This sibling rivalry escalated into a full-fledged brand war that continues today. (source)

3. A Chinese company named Ninebot Inc. made a knock-off of the Segway, and Segway attempted to drag them to court. That’s when Ninebot bought the company that originally made Segway using the money they had made from selling the knock-offs.

Ninebot Inc. Vs Segway
Image source: Aleehk82/flickr, ninebot.com

Segway Inc. is an American company that is known for its two-wheeled personal transport vehicles and holds a large number of patents. In September 2014, Segway filed a complaint seeking an import ban with the United States International Trade Commission that the Chinese company Ninebot Inc., along with a few other Chinese companies, had infringed its patents.

A few months later on April 1, 2015, Segway was acquired by Ninebot which was a Xiaomi-backed start-up that had raised 80 million dollars for the acquisition. After that, many of its products were branded “Ninebot by Segway.” Time reported that a major reason why Ninebot Inc. bought Segway was to get rid of the “copycat China” image as Segway had alleged so by saying that China had a “widespread pattern of infringement.” (1, 2)

4. Three known airlines in India went on an advertising war after Jet Airways put up a billboard that said, “We’ve changed.” Kingfisher Airlines followed with one that said, “We made them change!!” Go Air then put up a third one that said, “We’ve not changed. We are still the smartest way to fly.”

Airlines in India
Image source: livemint.com

In 2007, three Indian competing airlines got into an advertising war despite the losses that they incurred in their businesses at the time. Jet Airways began it by putting up a billboard in the Mumbai city of India that said: “We’ve changed.” Above that billboard, Kingfisher Airlines posted a sly remark that boasted: “We made them change!!”—yes, with double exclamation marks. At the same spot a few days later, Go Air posted a sign that read: “We’ve not changed. We are still the smartest way to fly.”

This was not over here. Jet Airways came up with a different billboard that said: “Fly to New York daily,” and Kingfisher countered it by an ad that said: “They’ve flown to New York from here.” (source)

5. Nike wanted to name their first shoe designs “Aztec,” but they didn’t as Adidas already had a line named “Azteca Gold” and threatened to sue. Nike then named their first shoe designs “Cortez” after the general who “kicked the (cr*p) out of the Aztecs.”

Adidas vs Nike
Image credit: masses.com.my, nike.com

A page out of the “boot war” between Nike and Adidas was about the naming of a shoe line in 1967. When Nike could not name their first shoe designs “Aztec” as Adidas threatened them with a lawsuit because they had a line named “Azteca Gold,” they choose a witty alternative.

In 1525 CE, the Empire of the Aztecs was defeated by Tlaxcalan warriors led by a general named Hernando Cortés. His last name became Nike’s shoe line’s name. This was how the conversation between Bill Bowerman and Phill Knight, the co-founders of Nike, went:

“Who was that guy who kicked the (cr*p) out of the Aztecs?” Bowerman asked Knight. “Cortez,” he responded. “Okay,” Bowerman said, “let’s call it the ‘Cortez.’ ” (source)

6. When the Camaro name was unveiled by General Motors in 1966, 200 journalists present asked Chevrolet managers what it meant. They replied, “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”

1968 Camaro
1968 Chevrolet Camaro RS 327. Image credit: carsaroundadelaide.com

When Ford released the Mustang in 1964, people were speculating that Chevrolet would soon release a competitor. The press initially called the Chevy car “Panther” before an official announcement was made. Chevrolet had a tradition of a kind to name all its cars with a word that began with a “C”—Corvair, Chevelle, Corvette, etc. On June 21st, 1966, Chevrolet invited 200 journalists from the United States to a press conference. The telegram read:

“……….Please save noon of June 28 for an important SEPAW meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help scratch a cat. Details will follow……………….(signed) John L. Cutter – Chevrolet Public Relations – SEPAW Secretary.”

What did “SEPAW” mean? The telegram made them curious. Next day another telegram was sent that said, “SEPAW stands for Society for Eradication of Panthers from the Automobile World.” The president of Chevrolet, Pete Estes, was to host this press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Detroit. Conference calls were linked to 14 different Hilton Hotels in the country so the journalists need not be physically present. Amidst a lot of fanfare with five good-looking girls holding the five letters of the name while the Estes held the sixth, the name “Camaro” was revealed.

When its meaning was asked, the journalists were told that it meant: “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.” (source)

7. In 1979, programmers from Atari went to meet their CEO asking for their names to be included in the game boxes and royalties. The CEO called them “towel designers” and turned them down. The programmers left and formed their own company, Activision.

Image credit: Wikimedia, InfoWorld Media Group, Inc.

We all know the names “Atari” and “Activision” today, but the latter did not always exist. The programmers David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead worked at Atari and were the brain behind a lot of video games. Demanding to be treated how musicians are treated by record labels, the four programmers went to meet the CEO of Atari, Ray Kassar, in May 1979. They wanted royalties and their names to be put the boxes.

Unhappy with the idea, the CEO called them “towel designers” and claimed that “anybody can do a cartridge.” Crane, Miller, and Whitehead left their jobs to start “Activision,” a company that promoted the names of the creators of the games along with the games themselves. Kaplan joined them sometime later. The resignation of four of these programmers who were responsible for more than half of Atari’s cartridge sales led to a lawsuit between the two companies that was settled only in 1982. (source)

8. When Apple’s Steve Jobs accused Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates of stealing his idea of Mac to build Windows, Gates replied, “Well, Steve, … I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox, and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
Image credit: Joi Ito/Flickr

The war between Apple and Microsoft is known to all. The daughters of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are equestrian rivals too. It is also true that Microsoft once helped Apple from going bankrupt.

But when Microsoft released its first new version of Windows in 1985, Steve Jobs accused Bill Gates of copying it from Macintosh. During a “Reddit Ask Me Anything” in 2017, a person asked Bill Gates, “Did you copy Steve Jobs or did he copy you?” This was Gates’ reply:

“The main “copying” that went on relative to Steve and me is that we both benefited from the work that Xerox Parc did in creating the graphical interface. It wasn’t just them, but they did the best work. Steve hired Bob Belville; I hired Charles Simonyi. We didn’t violate any IP rights Xerox had, but their work showed the way that led to the Mac and Windows.”

Decades ago when Steve Jobs had met Bill Gates in a conference room he had yelled at him and accused him of stealing from Apple. In Jobs’ biography, Walter Isaacson writes what Gates’ reply was to the accusation: “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox, and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.” (source)

9. When PepsiCo released “Crystal Pepsi,” Coca-Cola released a similar product called “Tab Clear” and intentionally marketed it poorly to hurt Crystal Pepsi’s image by association. Coca-Cola’s “kamikaze” strategy was successful, and both the campaigns were taken off the market six months later.

Crystal Pepsi and Tab clear
Image credit: Smuckola/Wikimedia, TeemPlayer/Wikimedia

There is a reason why we don’t often hear of “Crystal Pepsi,” a clear Pepsi drink. When PepsiCo introduced the drink on April 13, 1992, it had a good response in test markets. In December of the same year, Pepsi began to sell the drink across the United States. A large-scale marketing campaign was launched. In the same month, Coca-Cola launched “Tab Clear,” a similar product. Coca-Cola had made a clear coke before at the behest of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower for the Soviet Union to disguise it as vodka.

A year later, Pepsi had to pull its product off the market. Why? Because Coca-Cola had intended just that. Coca-Cola’s chief marketing officer, Sergio Zyman, had said that they had marketed their product poorly to kill both the products. Coca-Cola used a “born to die” negative slogan in their campaign, calling Tab Clear a sugar-free coke and marketed it as “medicinal” making people think that PepsiCo’s Crystal Pepsi was the same. Zyman said “Pepsi spent an enormous amount of money on the brand and, regardless, we killed it. Both of them were dead within six months.” (source)

10. Microsoft staged a mock funeral for Apple’s iPhone and Blackberry when it completed Windows Phone 7. Two symbolic hearses were a part of a parade where people wore crazy costumes at Redmond in 2010.

Microsoft staged a mock funeral for Apple’s iPhone and Blackberry
Image credit: Trioculus/Flickr

In a yet another story of the rivalry between Apple and Microsoft, to celebrate the completion of its Windows Phone 7, Microsoft conducted a mock funeral. Two hearses were present, one for Apple’s iPhone and the second for the BlackBerry phones at this celebration at Redmond in 2010. Their slogan read that the Windows Phone 7 will “bury” the competition.

The celebration parade had people dressed up in crazy costumes, floats, a marching band, and roller skaters. It was much like a Mardi Gras in September. When Microsoft’s PR was asked about the parade, they responded by saying, “It’s a great way for teams that have worked overtime to create a kick-ass product blow off steam and have a little fun… It was all in good fun, and no actual competitors were harmed in the course of the celebration.” (1, 2)

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