Nike vs. adidas: Understanding the two tribes that attach themselves to each brand
December 5th, 2023, Janice Fernandes

Nike vs. adidas: Understanding the two tribes that attach themselves to each brand

The competition between adidas and Nike has been a feature of the sports footwear and apparel market for nearly 60 years. Over the decades a dedicated fan base has emerged for each, with some individuals passionately aligning themselves with either adidas or Nike and snapping up the latest Spezial or Dunk Low releases. These allegiances have helped to propel both companies to global success.

But aside from a loyalty to one brand or another, are these two tribes so very different from one another?

To give us a feel for the answer, in this YouGov analysis we delve into the demographics, attitudes, and preferences of two specific groups – current customers of adidas who have not bought Nike recently, and current customers of Nike who have not bought adidas recently. By ‘current’ and ‘recent’, we mean over the past three months. In each case, we will call these segments ‘Nike loyalists’ and ‘adidas loyalists’.

Data from YouGov Profiles reveals that for both companies, the lion’s share of these loyalists are made up of Millennials (36% and 44% respectively) and Gen Xers (35% and 34%) - although it’s worth noting here the significantly larger share that millennials make of Nike’s business.

Making up a smaller share of loyalists for each brand are members of Gen Z – and both have a roughly equal proportion (adidas 10% and Nike 11%). A much higher proportion of adidas loyalists are Boomers – they make up 16% of the loyal group, while for Nike this generation makes up just 12% of loyalists.

There are also significant gender differences to be found within the two tribes. Adidas loyalists are more likely to be men (53% vs. 46% women), while Nike loyalists are more likely to women (54% vs. 47% men).

Analysis of income brackets indicates that adidas loyalists are more likely to be from the middle-income group (40% vs. 36% of the Nike tribe). By contrast, Nike loyalists are more likely to be drawn from higher income brackets, compared to their adidas equivalents (24% vs. 18% for adidas).

Shared affinity for sports

Loyalists of both brands – unsurprisingly – either actively read about or watch similar sports, with football being the most popular among both (39% adidas and 43% Nike).

The top six sports for both sets of loyalists are the same – but in different orders and to different degrees. The biggest differences in popularity are to be found in boxing (popular with 19% of Nike loyalists but only 10% of the adidas group), cricket (17% adidas vs. 13% Nike) and football (43% Nike vs. 39% adidas loyalists).

Digital engagement and entertainment choices

So, what’s the best way to reach these two tribes? Let’s see if there are any interesting differences in their habits when it comes to spending time in front of a screen across social media, podcasts, broadcast/cable TV and streaming.

YouGov Profiles data reveals that while Facebook remains a popular platform among both sets of customers, adidas loyalists (74%) slightly surpass fans of Nike (71%) when it comes to being a member of the platform. On the other hand, “Tribe Nike” show a higher likelihood of being members of Instagram (58% vs. 55%), X (45% vs. 40%) and Snapchat (32% vs. 28%).

A look at other forms of entertainment reveals that roughly half of adidas and Nike loyalists say they listen to podcasts. Around a fifth of both customer bases use Spotify to listen to podcasts (21% and 20% respectively). However, Nike loyalists are more likely to listen to Apple (14% vs. 9% adidas) and YouTube podcasts (13% vs. 8% adidas).

Among podcast genres listened to regularly, customers of both brands are most likely to listen to comedy podcasts (21% adidas and 20% Nike). Fewer than one in ten customers listen to sports podcasts (9% vs. 8%). While adidas loyalists lean towards true crime (10% vs. 2%), Nike customers are twice as likely to listen to music podcasts (16% vs. 8% adidas) and significantly more likely to subscribe to TV and movie podcasts (15% vs. 10% adidas).

About half of loyalists of both brands watch BBC One regularly (52% for Nike and 49% for adidas). However, data shows that Nike customers are more likely to watch traditional TV regularly compared to adidas customers. This includes ITV (42% vs. 37%), Channel 4 (38% vs. 33%), and Channel 5 (21% vs. 16%).

Switching to streaming, a large proportion of both groups binge on Netflix, but Nike loyalists take the lead at 67% compared to adidas' 57%. Nike fans also favour Disney+ (32% vs. 28% of adidas). On the flip side, adidas customers lean towards Amazon Prime Video (45% vs. 41%), YouTube (45% vs. 41%), and BBC iPlayer (43% vs. 37%) compared to their Nike counterparts.

Brand engagement

Comsumers with an allegiance to adidas are much more likely than Nike's to notice any type of sponsorships, especially of an event (54% vs. 41%). However, a substantial proportion of customers in both groups say they have noticed product placements (44% and 40%).

In the last six months, 45% of adidas customers noticed TV programme sponsorships, while 35% of Nike customers reported the same. Sponsorship of sports teams (32% adidas; 25% Nike) and of user-generated content like a YouTube video or podcasts (31%; 26%) also captures their attention – but to different extents.

Both customer groups are less likely to say they’ve noticed sponsorship of a social media post, venue, and co-branding partnerships in the last six months.

While Nike and adidas duke it out for market share, this analysis shows some clear differences between their customer bases and gives marketers for all sports apparel and footwear brands a sense of how customer segmentation using YouGov tools can help their brand.

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Methodology: YouGov Profiles is based on continuously collected data and rolling surveys, rather than from a single limited questionnaire. Profiles data for Great Britain is nationally representative and weighted by age, gender, education, region, and race. Learn more about Profiles.

Image: Getty Images