Email showdown: Nike vs. Adidas

July 7, 2016 McKenzie Gregory


The sports world is strictly divided into two factions: winners and losers. So it’s only natural that sportswear brands would also have a competitive streak.

The relationship between Nike and Adidas showcases that kind of intense brand rivalry like no other. Nike has long been the top dog in the industry, but we’ve recently seen the two brands compete for sponsorships, partnerships, and star-studded sneaker endorsements (hello, Yeezy 750s). They’ve even been involved in lawsuits and all sorts of drama over defecting designers – much of it in the Three Stripe’s effort to dethrone its arch-rival, the Swoosh, once and for all.

But in the midst of all the turmoil, who’s doing better marketing? How do they match up in the inbox? Let’s find out.




The signup process

The value proposition Nike lays down on their email signup form is pretty straightforward: If you sign up for their list, you’ll receive all their latest news and special deals. They only ask for your email, zip code, gender (to send you more personalized offers), and date of birth (usually an indication a birthday coupon will be heading your way).

They also promise not to share your information with anyone – a smart thing to include on their form, as one of the biggest signup barriers for consumers is fear for their privacy.



Once you fill out their signup form, something interesting happens: A lightbox appears with two different CTAs.

The first simply thanks you for signing up and allows you to continue shopping, but the second asks you to upgrade your relationship by becoming a Nike+ member. With a couple of solid benefits, like free shipping and returns, it’s a smart way to draw in people who have already expressed interest in Nike by signing up for their email list.



The welcome email

After signing up, you receive this automated welcome email. We were big fans of the subject line  – “You’re In” – which makes you feel as if you’re now part of something exclusive. But the message itself wasn’t our favorite. They initially do a good job of setting expectations, but then they ask you to register for Nike+ yet again. Making the ask at this point, right after you’ve just filled out their form (and right after you were already asked to sign up for Nike+ via the lightbox), feels a little off.



The next few emails

The first thing we noticed about Nike's email marketing strategy was the insane amount of big-name brand partnerships they capitalize on – and we’re talking brands of ALL kinds.

Here, they surprised us by partnering with Krispy Kreme on a customizable, special edition sneaker. The donut-shaped buttons and Snapchat nod made the mailing especially engaging, especially for their relatively young fanbase.



Here, they collaborated with Converse on special edition Chuck Taylor All Stars. Such huge names in the shoe biz coming together for a joint venture made for an incredibly powerful co-marketing effort.



And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to brand partnerships, Nike is the most popular kid on the block.

Special occasions

We also really love how Nike raises the stakes in their special occasion sends. This Father’s Day campaign, for instance, featured an awesome GIF above the fold and helped make a relatively dull-looking present (a gift card) appear way more appealing.



And this campaign for Go Skateboarding Day (Did you know that’s a thing?) showcased another great GIF along with some fantastic video content.



A caveat...

To be fully fair in this showdown, I do need to disclose one thing: All of these emails were sent to my team member Amy, not me. For some reason, every email I’ve gotten from Nike since I signed up has looked like this:



Kind of sad in comparison, right? The differentiator we could think of is that Amy is a past purchaser, while I’m not, but there’s no guarantee that’s the reason for the discrepancy. So for now, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and judging them on their best stuff, even if it didn’t make it to my inbox.




The signup process

Adidas makes is as easy as possible to join their email list by providing multiple signup options on their website. If you click “newsletter signup” on the header, a signup form drops down that asks for your email, date of birth, and gender. The icons at the top help you quickly digest the value of joining their list: Access to the latest news, a 15% off coupon, and exclusive promotions.

You can also sign up for their list using the simple email-only form on the footer.



The welcome email

This automated welcome email fires off immediately after someone signs up for their list. It features a powerful hero image with compelling copy – “The Journey Starts Here” – and contains the promised 15% off coupon.

At first glance, we thought it was a little odd that adidas included a barcode for their subscribers to print off and use at a brick-and-mortar store. But it’s actually a pretty smart move. Providing multiple options (an online code and coupon to be used in a physical location) helps them cover all of their consumer’s shopping habits – from tech-obsessed teens to coupon-clipping moms.

They also include some big, bold social follow buttons in the footer, which helps them leverage their new email signups to grow their social audience.



The next few emails

All of the next few emails I got from adidas had a similar aesthetic – a clean top nav, plenty of white space, and a tendency to lean toward a black, white, and blue color scheme. They definitely have brand consistency down: If I was just scrolling through emails without looking at the from name, I could immediately tell who their campaigns were from.



After comparing emails with co-workers, I quickly noticed that their email marketing is heavily segmented by gender. I chose the “female” option on their signup form and got offers like this, which all contained women’s apparel and female models.



But Amy, who has browsed their website in the past looking for gifts for her brother and dad, gets emails like this.





To be fair, they threw in a random sports bra at the end of that last one, but how you’re segmenting is something email marketers should always keep top of mind.

Sure, they might be serving Amy the type of products she’s shown interest in before. But you can’t just make assumptions based on a single action your subscriber takes and throw them into a segment for the rest of their relationship with your brand. Pay attention to their behavior over time, and you’ll have much greater insight into what they’re actually interested in.

Special occasions

I haven’t gotten any holiday sends from adidas since I signed up, but they do send the occasional special offer or sales event email. This one was solid for the most part, but the design was a little busy. (As email goddess Justine Jordan said at Marketing United, if everything stands out, nothing stands out.)



This “last chance” email also felt a little odd. For something that’s supposed to cause stress and compel me to take action, that model in the hero image looks awfully calm. They do get bonus points for having her look in the general direction of the CTA, though.




We were hoping for an underdog victory, but with awesome brand collaborations and much more engaging email designs, this battle definitely has to go to the Nike team. But who knows – as adidas continues to ramp up their marketing spend, maybe they’ll take the crown down the road!

Winner: Nike


About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a content writer on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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