Battle of the Brands: Which Famous Rival Company Has Better Marketing?

From cola to hamburgers to sneakers, many industries are defined by the battle between two dominant rival brands. These arch competitors often spur each other on to greater innovation and creativity in their marketing efforts as they fight for consumers‘ hearts, minds and wallets.

So which brands are winning these high-stakes corporate contests? Let‘s put six of the biggest head-to-head brand rivalries under the microscope and see how they measure up in terms of market share, advertising strategy, social media presence and more.

Coca-Cola vs Pepsi: The Cola Wars

The rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi is the quintessential brand battle that has come to define the modern soda industry. According to Interbrand, Coke ranks as the 5th most valuable brand in the world with an estimated brand value of $69.7 billion, while Pepsi clocks in at #24 with a value of $20.8 billion.[^1] [^1]: Interbrand Best Global Brands 2020 Rankings

How did Coke build such an advantage? Let‘s roll the tape:

  • Distribution: Coke‘s early franchised bottling system allowed it to scale rapidly and entrench itself with retailers and restaurants. Even today, Coke has a 30% global market share by volume compared to 20% for Pepsi.[^2]

  • Advertising: Coke‘s advertising is big on sentimentality and nostalgia, with campaigns like "Share a Coke" and its annual holiday ads. Pepsi has skewed younger and edgier, from the Pepsi Challenge to its ties with stars like Britney Spears and Beyoncé.

  • Diversification: Both brands now encompass a wide range of beverage categories beyond colas. But Pepsi has the edge here – its Frito-Lay and Quaker Foods divisions give it an estimated 57% share of the savory snack market.[^3]

[^2]: Statista, Market Share of Leading Carbonated Beverage Companies Worldwide
[^3]: Wall Street Journal

Still, Coke‘s brand power remains formidable. Its flagship cola is the single biggest-selling soft drink in the US at 17% share, more than double Pepsi‘s 8.3%.[^4] On social media, Coke has 107M Facebook fans to Pepsi‘s 37M.

[^4]: Beverage Digest

"Coke‘s brand is more iconic – it‘s become something people want to affiliate with beyond just a drink choice," says branding consultant Dean Crutchfield. "But Pepsi is strong as an irreverent challenger brand, which it‘s used effectively with its music and sports tie-ins."[^5] [^5]: Phone interview with Dean Crutchfield, July 2021

Category Coca-Cola Pepsi
Brand value (Interbrand) $69.7B $20.8B
Global market share 30% 20%
US flagship cola share 17% 8.3%
Facebook fans 107M 37M

McDonald‘s vs Burger King: Burger Royalty

The Golden Arches of McDonald‘s are arguthe most recognizable symbol in the world – its brand is estimated to be worth over $154 billion.[^6] But Burger King‘s $23 billion brand valuation is nothing to sneeze at, and it‘s long been the thorn in the side of its larger rival.[^7] [^6]: Statista, McDonald‘s Brand Value 2010-2020
[^7]: Statista, Brand value of the 10 most valuable fast food brands worldwide in 2020

So how do the two burger titans really compare? Let‘s look at the tale of the tape:

  • Locations: McDonald‘s has nearly 39,000 restaurants worldwide compared to around 18,500 for Burger King.[^8] That reach gives it a huge built-in marketing advantage.

  • Menu: Burger King has long positioned itself as the premium, have-it-your-way choice with offerings like the Whopper. McDonald‘s emphasizes value and convenience with mainstays like the Big Mac and Happy Meals.

  • Technology: McDonald‘s jumped ahead in the mobile ordering game with its 2017 acquisition of Dynamic Yield to power suggestive selling and personalized digital promotions. In 2020 it also launched a new loyalty program – MyMcDonald‘s Rewards – to drive customer retention.

[^8]: QSR Magazine

Still, Burger King has punched above its weight with clever, subversive marketing. When it ran out of potatoes to make fries in Argentina, it launched a "Potatopia" campaign inviting fans to make their own and share the recipes.^9 And to promote its mobile app, it ran ads showing its "King" character in a series of compromising positions that required viewers to open the BK app to reveal the uncensored versions.[^10] [^10]: The Drum

"McDonald‘s is really the classic mass brand – it‘s become an American icon by emphasizing consistency and ubiquity," says restaurant industry consultant Aaron Allen. "Burger King has carved out a niche by being a little zanier and more subversive in everything from its irreverent ads to offbeat menu items like Mac N‘ Cheetos."[^11] [^11]: Phone interview with Aaron Allen, July 2021

Category McDonald‘s Burger King
Brand value $154.9B $22.9B
Worldwide locations 38,695 18,625
US sales $40.4B $10.2B
Mobile app downloads (US) 40M 18.4M

Nike vs Adidas: Sneakerheads Face Off

Few consumer products inspire the same level of passion and loyalty as athletic shoes. And the twin titans of that industry are Nike and Adidas, whose combined market share is over 60%.[^12] [^12]: Yahoo Finance, Athletic Footwear Market Share 2020

How did these two brands come to dominate the global sneaker game? Let‘s go to the highlight reel:

  • Endorsements: Both brands court elite athletes and celebrities, but Nike is still the king of hype. Its Jordan Brand alone did $3.6 billion in sales in fiscal 2020, and collaborations with rapper Travis Scott crashed the SNKRS app.[^13]

  • Technology: Adidas‘ Boost foam was a gamechanger, as was Nike‘s self-lacing Adapts. But Nike may have the edge with its SNKRS app, which uses AR to let users unlock access to limited-edition drops.

  • Culture: Beyoncé. Kanye. Pharrell. Adidas has made smart bets on partnerships that transcend sports to shape fashion and culture. But Nike still sets the agenda, from its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad to its viral Satan Shoe made with Lil Nas X.

[^13]: NPD Group

"Nike is the industry juggernaut, but Adidas has been remarkably successful at becoming culturally relevant by aligning with artists like Beyoncé who give them a real cool factor," says Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at NPD Group. "The key for both brands is to find ways to generate excitement and scarcity, because that‘s what gets fans buzzing and lining up."[^14] [^14]: Phone interview with Matt Powell, July 2021

Category Nike Adidas
Brand value (Forbes) $34.8B $16.7B
Market share 33% 11%
Instagram followers 132M 29.5M
Air Jordan 1 avg. resale price $520 N/A

Ford vs GM: Automaker Armageddon

Few corporate rivalries are as deeply entrenched as the one between the two titans of Detroit: Ford and General Motors. For over a century, these two automakers have battled for the hearts, minds and driveways of American consumers.

So how do they really stack up? Let‘s look under the hood:

  • Sales: GM was the world‘s top-selling automaker for 77 consecutive years before losing the crown to Toyota in 2008.[^15] But in recent years Ford has pulled ahead in the US, outselling GM in 2020 by over 100,000 vehicles.^16

  • Innovation: Ford pioneered mass production with the Model T, but GM has led the way in electric with the Chevy Bolt and now the revived Hummer EV. But Ford is betting big on electrification too, pouring over $22 billion into EV development.

  • Trucks: The Ford F-Series has been America‘s best-selling vehicle for 44 straight years.[^17] But GM has been nipping at its heels with hot new models like the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra.

[^15]: Wall Street Journal
[^17]: Ford Newsroom

Both companies still hold immense brand equity with Baby Boomers who grew up seeing their logos in every driveway on the block. But they face a serious perception gap with younger consumers who tend to favor foreign and electric carmakers.

"Their challenge is to evolve from these lumbering giants of the 20th century into nimble innovators for the 21st," says Jessica Caldwell, an auto industry analyst at Edmunds. "They have to find ways to get the next generation excited about American cars again, and a lot of that comes down to marketing."[^18] [^18]: Phone interview with Jessica Caldwell, July 2021

Category Ford GM
Brand value (Forbes) $12.9B $4.8B
US sales (2020) 2.04M 1.93M
US truck sales (2020) 787K 713K
US electric vehicle sales 1,415 20,754

What Other Brands Can Learn

These famous brand rivalries offer valuable lessons for any company looking to up its marketing game and defend its turf against a fierce competitor. Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Establish a clear brand identity. Coke is classic, Pepsi is young and irreverent. Nike is elite performance, Adidas is creative culture. The strongest brands know who they are and express it consistently.

  2. Innovate your products. From Nike‘s Air technology to Burger King‘s Impossible Whopper, novelty drives buzz. Brands must relentlessly evolve their core offerings to stay ahead of rivals and shifting consumer tastes.

  3. Harness pop culture. Beyoncé. Kanye. Kaepernick. Savvy brands tap into the tastemakers and conversations that shape the zeitgeist. That cultural relevance is marketing gold.

  4. Control your distribution. Coke‘s early bottling model and McDonald‘s franchise system gave them massive reach. Locking in distribution is still one of the best ways to box out competitors.

  5. Get creative with advertising. Burger King‘s Subservient Chicken. Old Spice‘s "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like." Bold, subversive ad creative is an underdog brand‘s best weapon against a bigger rival.

  6. Build a community. Nike‘s SNKRS app. Ford‘s influencer network. The most powerful brands connect fans to each other, fostering a tribal sense of belonging and loyalty.

Ultimately, there is no simple formula for vanquishing a rival brand. It takes a combination of a differentiated identity, disruptive thinking, and creative risk-taking. The brands that can change the rules of the game in their category will be the ones left standing when the dust clears.

But the battle is never over – just ask Coke and Pepsi, still duking it out after 120 years. The strongest brands never stop fighting, never stop innovating, never stop telling great stories. They know that when it comes to the battle of the brands, there is no finish line.