Competition is a good and necessary part of doing business, but sometimes things can get ugly. Personal rivalries are bound to arise in a free market where companies fight over the same customers.
Here are seven of the most intense corporate rivalries in history that have reshaped their respective industries.
1. Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi
Coke vs. Pepsi is one of the most famous rivalries in human history, let alone the corporate world. It goes all the way back to the late 1800s when the two brands immediately became competitors after their founding. Coke started in Georgia while Pepsi started in North Carolina, so their close proximity made them natural enemies.
Five generations of consumers have witnessed the back-and-forth marketing strategies that Coke and Pepsi have deployed against each other. They were willing to try anything, including new recipes, bottle designs, logo changes and celebrity endorsements. This heated battle changed the marketing landscape and made the brands synonymous with American culture.
Another reason behind Coke and Pepsi’s long standing rivalry is the product itself — soda. Today’s consumers take soda for granted, but nobody had experienced such a drink before in the early 1900s. Soda made an immediate impact on the food and beverage industry with Coke and Pepsi at the forefront. These two brands were destined to be close rivals from day one.
2. Apple vs. Samsung
Smartphones didn’t even exist 20 years ago, but now they’re must-haves in today’s fast paced digital world. Apple and Samsung are the two main brands responsible for this major technological shift. Apple has undeniably been the more successful smartphone manufacturer, but Samsung keeps churning out new models at a faster rate.
The two brands are so similar in their product designs and marketing strategies that the law has gotten involved. Steve Jobs was reportedly furious when Samsung released its first smartphone — the Galaxy S — in 2009, just two years after the first iPhone in 2007. There were some unusual similarities between the iOS and Android platforms, and thus a rivalry was born.
Apple accused Samsung of slavishly copying certain features in 2011, and Samsung responded by filing a copyright lawsuit of its own. This heated legal battle has been the driving force behind every new release since the original smartphone models.
3. Verizon vs. AT&T
Verizon and AT&T started their rivalry as the top competitors in the internet services industry. There was no bad blood between the brands, but the internet’s rapid expansion in the early 2000s made this rivalry destined to happen. AT&T had already been around for more than a century, but the upstart Verizon Communications was a viable threat that couldn’t be ignored.
As smartphones became the norm, Verizon and AT&T also emerged as America’s best wireless phone plan providers. Things became more hostile as a result, as the two brands often make not-so-subtle references to each other in commercials and advertising campaigns. This rivalry has led to advancements in mobile technology that might not have occurred if there was only one provider.
4. Ford vs. Ferrari
Just one negative interaction started the most heated rivalry in the automotive industry. Henry Ford offered to buy out Enzo Ferrari’s company in 1963, but Ferrari declined at the last minute after Ford demanded him to relinquish ownership of his racing team. Ferrari started out as a race car driver, so he remained loyal to his team and rejected Ford’s offer.
Ferrari’s rejection wasn’t the problem though — it was the many insults he directed toward Ford and his executives. This heated exchange started a rivalry that would reshape the automotive and racing scenes. Defeating Ferrari’s racing team became Ford’s top priority, and the American brand finally got the upper hand at the 1966 Le Mans in France.
The disdain between Ford and Ferrari still exists on the racetrack today, but the two brands have largely separated to different target audiences. Ford has become a family-oriented company while Ferrari specializes in expensive sports cars for the rich and famous.
5. UPS vs. FedEx
Although Amazon has taken a stranglehold on the online shopping world, UPS and FedEx are still the most heated rivals in air and ground delivery service. FedEx has the edge in air delivery with the world’s largest fleet of cargo planes, but UPS takes the upper hand in ground delivery with more than 100,000 brown delivery trucks.
Overall, UPS is the superior company with about $93 billion in value compared to FedEx’s 65 billion. Their operations also look quite different, as UPS primarily serves retail customers and small businesses while FedEx serves big corporate offices. This wide range of audiences has made the rivalry more famous in the culture and kept the brands relevant.
6. Nike vs. Adidas
Nike has had the upper hand over Adidas in sales for most of this rivalry’s history, but money is just one factor. Nike vs. Adidas remains significant because of the cultural influence of clothing and the global tensions of the time. The American Nike brand and the German Adidas brand were bound to clash in the post-WWII era.
The two companies also followed the same business path, which solidified their disdain for each other. They both started as shoe manufacturers before expanding to other forms of athletic apparel, constantly trying to one-up each other with new releases. Nike remains America’s choice while Adidas is more popular in Europe, which has kept the rivalry as heated as ever.
7. Marvel vs. Detective Comics
The Marvel vs DC debate has been at the forefront of the entertainment industry for decades now. Superheroes might be fictional, but they’re massive cultural figures and are only getting bigger with each new movie release. Even people who don’t read comic books have a strong opinion about which superhero lineup is superior.
Marvel has produced a greater number of memorable characters and films, but DC’s Batman and Superman franchises are tough to beat. The two brands avoid direct confrontation nowadays because they have too many projects on their plates, but maybe one day fans will see another crossover that reignites the rivalry.
Heated Competition Drives Good Business
Sometimes it takes genuine hatred for an individual or an organization to find success, and these rivalries are clear examples. In all seven cases, the two brands have motivated each other to try new ideas and get closer to perfection. Not all of the ideas were good, but they were necessary parts of the company’s growth.
Heated competition drives good business regardless of the industry, which every business leader should keep in mind in today’s volatile economic environment.