11 Most Intense Corporate Rivals in Business History
Succeeding in business is all about doing things the right way. You need to offer the best products, best services, and best user experience, all while promoting in the most effective way possible. In some industries, the competition isn't quite so fierce. In others, rising to the top is tougher. It can be a constant dog-eat-dog, almost warlike existence for some of the biggest names in the corporate world. Outperforming, outlasting, and outfighing one's toughest competitors is sometimes the only way to be recognized as the universal industry leader. In this article, we'll share with you 11 examples of corporate rivalries that have gone above and beyond, creating legends in and of themselves. We feel it's a good fit, following on the heels of our promotional election & campaign items post. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading these stories of PR pugilism and come away with some facts and lessons that can be helpful in your own day-to-day operations.
1. Coca-Cola vs Pepsi
While this list isn't presented in any particular order, we figured we'd start out with what's likely the most famous and globally-known of all corporate rivalries. Of course, we're talking about the Coke vs Pepsi battle, dubbed by pop culture as the "Cola Wars". These two giants have stayed at the top, exchanging brutal marketing blows toward each other over the years. In the process, lesser-known names in the cola wars such as RC (Royal Crown), Jolt, Dr Brown's, and a litany of store brand colas have taken a rather obscure backseat.
Though these two brands are still duking it out today, their most fierce competition took place from the late 1970s into the early 1990s. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola is the older of the two companies, with their flagship beverage having been invented in 1886. Pepsi came into being in 1899, but struggled greatly financially in the early 20th century. However, when Pepsi merged with Frito-Lay to form the current PepsiCo corporation, seriously threatening financial woes became a thing of the past. Coca-Cola's long-standing tradition of creating promotional merchandise and television advertisements was a model that PepsiCo soon began following and before long, the Cola Wars were on.
The most significant events of this epic battle included the "Pepsi Challenge" (a blind taste test where users were filmed showing a preference for one of the two colas), the New Coke fiasco, and Pepsi's "Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff" campaign. In the latter promotion, consumers would earn points every time they bought a Pepsi product, which could then be redeemed for various gifts and branded Pepsi merchandise. At one point, the company jokingly offered a Harrier Jet to anyone who could submit 7 million Pepsi points. Through a combination of points and money, one man actually managed to reach this milestone, but was denied his jet. It was determined in court that a reasonable individual would assume the jet deal was just a joke, and the man's lawsuit was dismissed. However, the "Get Stuff" campaign didn't continue for very long after this incident.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have both had many celebrities appear in their ads over the years. They've also taken many shots at each other in their advertising. Some of the more humorous and good-natured ones can be observed in the following video:
2. Nike vs Reebok
When it comes to athletic shoes, particularly in baseball and basketball, Nike and Reebok are the two brands at the top of the food chain. Other brands such as Fila, Puma, Converse, Adidas (more on them in a bit), and British Knights have had time in the spotlight, but their fame in most big-money American sports doesn't rival that of Nike or Reebok. We'll start out with a bit of quick history on both companies. Nike was founded in 1964 by Phil Knight. The company was sparked to success nobody could've dreamed of in the early 1970s when the company created their innovative "waffle soles". This new shoe sole pattern proved very popular and is still being used in many models to this day. The company grew bigger and bigger, with its clash with the competing Reebok heating up in the 1980s. The company's name is a reference to Nike, the Greek Goddess of victory. Their famous "swoosh" logo and "Just Do It" slogan have become pop culture staples in the USA and abroad.
Reebok has actually been around for quite a bit longer than Nike. It had its beginnings in England in 1895 as a part of the JW Foster & Sons company. The company eventually expanded to a USA-based location in Boston. However, as a tribute to its roots, all Reebok products contained a Union Jack imprint up until 1986. Many of their retro and classic product lines still include this insignia. In fact, its current logo is an abstract interpretation of the Union Jack, split up into racing style lines. The name Reebok comes from a similar sounding word from the Afrikaans language, which refers to a particularly speedy antelope. Reebok also had its own famous innovation, which came in the form of the Reebok pump. This was a specialized shoe tongue that could be custom filled with air to create a better fit around the ankle.
While Reebok and Nike have clashed a great deal in advertising and in trying to top the athletic shoe and apparel markets, Nike was the first to establish a superstar athlete endorsement deal. In 1984, NBA legend Michael Jordan signed an endorsement deal with the company, part of which involved the now-famous Air Jordan sneakers. This deal has earned Jordan well over a billion dollars over the past 36 years. It hasn't exactly harmed Nike either. Meanwhile, Reebok's biggest celebrity snag so far has been Shaquille O'Neal, another (literal) giant of the basketball world. Nike has reached out to the general public more than Reebok by way of merchandising and associating with famous figures, while Reebok made inroads with marketing toward women and children. Reebok was ultimately acquired by the primarily soccer-focused Adidas in 2005, but the pair still operate as separate brands.
As is the case with Coke and Pepsi, Nike and Reebok has fought it out plenty of times on the small screen in commercials. Here's the famous "Bungee Jump" commercial, which was released by Reebok in 1990:
3. McDonald's vs Burger King
Anybody familiar with the world of fast food will quickly cite McDonald's and Burger King as being the two corporations with the biggest beef, and we're not talking about burgers. These two fast food czars have been in fierce competition since the 1950s. The matter of which company came along first is a matter of how one views things. The first Burger King restaurant opened in Jacksonville, Florida in 1953, as "Insta Burger King". The "Insta" part of the name was quickly dropped and before long, franchising was off to the races. Meanwhile, the first McDonald's restaurant, at least in the form that we know it today, opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. However, the first McDonald's was technically a single-location drive-in restaurant opened by Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernadino in 1940. Businessman Ray Kroc came upon the location in 1952 and set off largely on his own to build it as a franchise shortly after. Neither was really first to the party though, as White Castle has existed as a chain restaurant since 1922.
Most everyone in North America is quite personally familiar with the Big Mac and Whopper feud, Ronald McDonald & company vs the Burger King, and the various other products and mascots the companies have used to compete with each other over the years. Things got particularly ugly in a 1982 Burger King commercial featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar, who at the time was 5 years old. This is one of the first commercials in which a company directly stated its superiority to another. Believe it or not, it eventually led to a lawsuit. As we've already featured that commercial in another article, today we'll share with you a commercial comparing the Whopper to McDonald's fledgling McDLT. The McDLT was the first attempt by McDonald's to put out a lettuce and tomato style hamburger. While it was a popular item, it was eventually discontinued as its packaging design wasn't exactly environmentally friendly. While Burger King was the victor in this battle, the larger market share and profitability still is claimed by the Golden Arches.
4. Macy's vs Gimbel's
Two of the biggest names in the earlier days of retail were Macy's and Gimbel's. While the former is still in existence, the latter ceased to be in 1987 after exactly 100 years in business. These two chains were fierce competitors, so much so that their feud became a recurring element in popular culture. In fact, references to the rivalry shared between these two companies were appearing in entertainment as early as the 1940s. We'll get to that in a bit more detail later. First, we're going to talk a little history. Macy's got its start in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1858. Gimbel's started out in Indiana in 1887. Both stores developed divisions based on national regions over the years, with Macy's/Gimbel's North, South, East, and West all operating semi-independently.
While the companies had several locations, it is the flagship New York City stores that everyone remembers most. The Macy's location still stands at Herald Square, whereas the NYC Gimbel's stood just a short distance away on West 31st Street in Manhattan. These companies clashed frequently, in sort of an "anything you can do, I can do better" sort of dynamic. The Thanksgiving Day Parade tradition was actually spawned by the Philadelphia Gimbel's in 1920, while Macy's rolled out its own version in 1924 in New York. One of the key differences between the two department store titans was that Macy's had the image of being the more uptown store, while Gimbel's catered to a more middle class crowd, offering generally lower priced items.
Though young people today may not know Gimbel's directly, there is certainly no shortage of popular culture references to the now-defunct chain. The Macy's vs Gimbel's rivalry has been mentioned on television shows such as The Simpsons, The White Shadow, Once Upon a Time, The Goldbergs, and more. Their battles have also made it to the big screen in films including Elf, Out to Sea, Fitzwilly, and most famously, Miracle on 34th Street. It's this movie that the clip below comes from, in which a Macy's Santa advises customers to shop at different stores. While this clip shows Santa suggest "Acme Toy Store", a later scene showing the store manager yelling about the scenario says Santa was sending people to Gimbel's. Additionally, a line that's become part of the American lexicon is, "Does Macy's tell Gimbel's?" Typically this is used when one party holds a secret from another, for a purpose of gaining some sort of advantage.
5. Nintendo vs Sega
Anyone growing up in the 1980s and 1990s (and even adults of the era who happened to be gamers or just watched a lot of TV commercials) was well aware of the immense rivalry between Nintendo and Sega. After the video game crash of 1983, these were the two main console producers to emerge from the ashes and start what is now known as the Third Generation of video game consoles. Other members included Commodore 64 Game System and the lesser-known Action Max, Atari XEGS, PV-1000, My Vision, the BBC Bridge Companion, and a handful of others. Interestingly, both Nintendo and Sega existed for quite a while before this era, but in a far less prominent fashion.
Nintendo got its start in the late 19th century in Japan. Originally, it was a company that produced handmade playing cards for a game called Hanafuda, which was and still is quite popular in Japan. These cards had a reputation for being the best around, and eventually word spread on a global level. By the mid-20th century, Nintendo was producing playing cards for a variety of games, some of which included images of iconic American cartoon characters. They also began producing small electric toys and tabletop games around this time. Their first actual console was called the Nintendo Color TV Game, a modest console that never made it to North American markets.
Sega also began in Japan, though it didn't come along until the 1960s. The company's original focus was on large arcade style games that were coin operated. While these games were successful and had a dedicated following, they hardly made the company a household name. Their first console was the SG-1000, but the first one available to gamers in North America and the UK was the 8-bit Sega Master System. This console came to the USA in 1987, as a direct competitor to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which was released in the USA in 1985. The NES was far more popular, as it had earlier established name recognition, a larger library of games, and several exclusive deals with companies whereby games produced for the NES wouldn't be produced for other consoles.
The rivalry heated up in 1989 when Sega introduced the 16-bit Genesis console. This system had a very large library, excellent (for the time) graphics, and faster processing. It also introduced Sega's own flagship character in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog, who was Sega's answer to Nintendo's Mario. In what became as known as the "Bit Wars", Nintendo soon followed by introducing its own 16-bit system, dubbed the Super Nintendo. The two companies also battled in the handheld game market, with Nintendo's Game Boy squaring off against Sega's Game Gear. Each had its own set of plusses and minuses, though the Game Boy ultimately triumphed due to longer battery life and (once again) a larger library of games. To its credit, Game Gear introduced games in full color long before the Game Boy Color came along.
Things went downhill for Sega in the mid-1990s when it rolled out the wildly unsuccessful 32X and the modestly successful Sega Saturn. Shortly after, the Nintendo 64 was released, an event which left the Saturn in the dust. The first version of the Playstation was also released around this same time. Between the Playstation and N64, Sega had become the odd man out. Their last attempt at a console was the Dreamcast, which did not meet with great success. Below is one of the famous "Sega does what Nintendon't" commercials, an advertisement which played on the superiority of the 16-bit Genesis over the 8-bit NES.
6. Microsoft vs Apple
The next business rivalry we'll discuss goes right back to the tech sector. However, this competition involved more than just gaming. Microsoft and Apple are two companies that have completely changed the way that the majority of people live their lives and run their businesses. When one stops to think about it, they accomplished this in a remarkably short period of time. Both companies, as well as the heated tension between them, began in the late 1970s. With Bill Gates at the helm of Microsoft and Steve Jobs as the driving force behind Apple (though he was absent during their floundering period from the mid 1980s until 1997), these two tech companies pioneered a myriad of items that were truly revolutionary.
As already mentioned, these companies got their start in the late 1970s. It was at this time that the first personal computers were starting to appear in people's homes. What many people don't know is that there has been an on-and-off collaboration between Microsoft and Apple since the companies first started. Microsoft engineers and technology were hugely important in creating the first Apple personal computer and Mac operating systems. The first Macintosh computer was released in 1984, with the first Windows-OS driven PCs coming out the following year. Both were based around a user-friendly graphical interface, something that had not been seen in personal computing prior. While Jobs accused Gates of stealing the idea, Gates stated that Xerox had actually developed the initial idea of the graphical interface which both companies attempted to mimic.
After Jobs was ousted from his own company in 1985, Microsoft began to dominate the personal computer market. In the late 90s, Jobs was back with the company and knew it was in trouble. At this point, Apple again reached out to Microsoft for help in breathing new life back into the company. Microsoft accepted and for a while, the truce was restored. Things worked out quite well, and by the decade's end, Apple was well on its way to restoring its former glory. As the 2000s and 2010s wore on, the feud slowly returned. During this same time, both companies began to branch out into some other areas. Microsoft entered the video game market with the X-Box, while Apple developed successful smartphones and MP3 players. At the present moment, the two companies are in an era of relative peace, but their devoted fanbases certainly are as opposed to each other as ever. Talk to any Microsoft or Apple loyalist and you're sure to hear the term "fanboy" lobbed by both camps more times than you can count.
included below is a video from 2007, in which Bill Gates and Steve Jobs participate in a dual interview. In it, things stay quite civil and in watching, one can gain several insights into both companies and their primary directors. Sadly, Steve Jobs is no longer with us, having passed away in 2011.
7. Ford vs Chevrolet
There have been several rivalries within the automotive industry, though few have been quite as intense between that of Ford and Chevrolet. Ford was the company responsible for creating the Model T. This was the first mass-produced automobile that was widely available to the public at a price the average consumer could afford. Chevrolet, while now a subsidiary of General Motors, also started out as an independent automaker. In the late 1920s, it merged with General Motors. The new company combined its forces and resources to create an automobile similar to the Model T, but with more power under the hood. This car was known as the 490 and it offered a more advanced and sophisticated instrument panel than that offered by the Model T. It came with a higher price tag than the Model T, and out of these two automobiles, a rivalry that still lives today was born.
Ford and Chevrolet would continue to compete as automakers and as lifestyle brands throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. The '57 Chevy would go on to become a symbolic piece of Americana, an entity almost synonymous with the decade. Though they received less fanfare, Ford's 1957 models actually outsold those of Chevrolet. The next battle was over the muscle car market. The Ford Mustang first hit American streets in the early 1960s. Chevrolet's Corvette, while still popular, couldn't quite compete. It wasn't until the release of the Chevrolet Camaro in 1966 that the Mustang had a full-fledged mainstream competitor.
As the years went on, the primary area of competition for Ford and Chevrolet became their trucks. Both companies offer an assortment of light and mid-size pickups, as well as large and extra large trucks. Ford's F-150, Ranger, and Super-Duty Trucks have faced fierce competition from Chevrolet's Colorado, Sierra, and Silverado. Both brands have extremely loyal fanbases who like to trade (mostly) mild barbs with each other. In addition to the Chevy vs Ford truck memes found all over the Internet, classic insults from the mid-20th century still ring loudly today. You'll hear many Chevrolet loyalists say that Ford stands for "Fix of Repair Daily", while Ford fans will tell you that Chevrolets are, "The best trucks you'll ever push."
Below is a commercial from 1980s for Chevy trucks. At the time, Ford ran a series of commercials of its trucks with Chevrolet models placed in their beds, driving up mountains in a display of sheer strength. In the commercial we're showing, Chevrolet shoots back by showing their trucks not only carrying Fords up the mountain, but also towing away the mountain at the end of the ad.
8. Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics
While we often view professional sports as entertainment, every franchise is a business in the truest sense of the word. Whenever we observe players on the court or in the field, we're seeing them at their jobs. This is not to mention all of the coaches, team owners, corporate officers, and other behind-the-scenes workers who strive to make every pro sports team the best it can be, both for fans and for profitability. The sheer amount of sports-themed merchandise speaks volumes to the last point.
Nearly every team in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL has at least one or two key rivals. However, one of the most famous and entertaining sports rivalries of all time was between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. These two teams have won the most championships of any other in NBA history, with the Celtics having brought home 17 titles and the Lakers 16. However, their most passionate and intriguing championships have been the ones in which both teams were NBA Finals Contenders. Between 1959 to 1966, the Celtics won 8 consecutive championships. In 5 of these, the Celtics topped the Lakers.
Things became more intense during the 1980s when the "Showtime" Lakers came together. Star players such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, AC Green, Jamaal Wilkes, Byron Scott, and Michael Cooper made LA a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Boston was stacked with greats such as Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and Cedric Maxwell. During this era, the meetings in the Finals and regular season weren't as one-sided. Players on both teams openly admitted to hating each other and things frequently got ugly. An 80s basketball fan is sure to remember Kurt Rambis, the bespectacled enforcer of the Lakers who seemed to be part of almost every altercation.
"Beat LA" became a rallying cry to Celtics fans. This was a chant with staying power, as even in other sports, it's often used by the home crowd when playing a Los Angeles team. It was actually born in 1982, when the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rather than jeering the team that beat them, the home crowd rooted loud and hard for them to beat the Lakers in the Finals. Though the Lakers won that year, the 76ers emerged victorious in the '83 rematch. All in all, the Lakers and Celtics combined for combined for 7 championship titles in the 1980s. Of those, 1984, 1985, and 1987 were Lakers/Celtics affairs. Boston won in '84, and LA took the title in '85 and '87. The pair wouldn't square off in the NBA Finals again until 2008, when the Celtics won it all in 6 games.
The video below shows a classic Lakers vs Celtics fight, which took place during the 1984 NBA Finals.
9. Amazon vs Walmart
In the late 20th century and into the 21st, the unquestioned leaders in the world of retail are Walmart and Amazon. While they have very different backstories and ways of operating, the two are still fierce competitors. In fact, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, cites his company growing larger than Walmart as one of his top goals.
Walmart was founded by Sam Walton, with the first location opening in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. The company headquarters are still in Arkansas, but in the city of Bentonville. Walton's primary vision was to establish a retail store that would sell items at low prices, but in large quantities. In other words, there wouldn't be a ton of profit made on each sale, but the goal was for the sales numbers to be high enough that this wouldn't matter. The strategy was a smashing success, as Walmart grew to become the largest retailer in the world in terms of yearly revenue. As of this writing, it's a title they still hold.
Amazon is based in Seattle, Washington. It started out in the same city in 1994, though for its first year of existence, it was called Cadabra. It started out as a bookseller, but soon directed its path into becoming the largest online retailer for nearly all categories of commerce. It also went beyond just retail by also branching into streaming services, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. Amazon warehouses, shipping centers, delivery services, and corporate offices combine to employ approximately 800,000 people.
With the digital and mobile revolutions seeing more people shopping from home, Walmart realized it had to change with the times. It also realized that Amazon would be its biggest competitor in entering this new arena. For its part, Walmart has its own services that Amazon does not, such as pharmacies and vision clinics. For a time, it also was the only one of the pair in the grocery game, but this changed with Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods. Amazon has also entered the world of brick-and-mortar locations, in the form of its Amazon Go Convenience Stores. Customers can enter these locations and complete purchases without a single interaction with another human being. At the same time, Walmart has expanded its online ordering and shipping capabilities. Partnering with Google, Walmart introduced its Voice Over app, primarily for use in pre-ordering groceries for quick and convenient pickup.
The video below compares and contrasts Walmart and Amazon and makes some interesting educated guesses about hypothetical future clashes between the two.
10. Boeing vs Airbus
If you've been a passenger on a commercial flight within the past 20 years, the odds are highly in favor of you having traveled in a plane produced by either Boeing or Airbus. While there have been many producers of commercial aircraft and aircraft engines since the dawn of aviation, the field has been growing smaller and smaller since the 1980s when Boeing and Airbus emerged as the undisputed industry leaders. Specializing in the creation of airplanes that are lightweight, fuel efficient, and cost-effective, these two companies are going to dominate commercial aviation for the forseeable future.
Of the two, Airbus is the new(er) kid on the block. While Boeing had its beginnings in 1916, Airbus joined the fray in 1970. Boeing is an American-based company, while Airbus has its main corporate headquarters in the Netherlands. Both companies have thrived on an innovation-heavy strategy to outperform the competition. They've also both relied on buying out competitors/grabbing so much of the market share that many ex-competitors simply dropped out of the business. Since the 1990s, Airbus has had a bit of an edge on the development curve, but until recently, Boeing has been the industry leader in revenue and volume of manufactured & delivered aircraft.
There's been a great deal of contention between the two companies, with each accusing the other of shady tactics and favorable government treatments. The environment became hostile enough that the USA began imposing higher tariffs on Airbus jets, with an even larger rise in tariffs taking place earlier this year. A primary reason behind the current lead in successful production and revenue held by Airbus is the grounding of Boeing's new 737MAX fleet of jets, after two tragic accidents taking place in 2018 and 2019. Much work has been done to refine the jets since that time, with over 400 new models ready for testing. As it stands, signs point toward these planes being approved and a hopeful recovery for Boeing's production and bottom line. Meanwhile, the A320 series of Airbus planes continues to grow in popularity, with a future that looks very bright.
Below is a fun and educational video that spots some of the differences between the aircraft produced by Airbus and Boeing, helping to determine what type of plane you're boarding the next time you fly.
11. Facebook vs MySpace
We'll end this list with one of the more famous rivalries in the world of social media. In the mid 00s, MySpace was the king of social media, but this title ended up in the hands of Facebook after a chain of unlikely events. While the two are competitors, it was internal circumstances with MySpace that caused the de-throning, rather than any specific actions taken by Facebook. MySpace was conceived by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe. The pair were employed by a company called eUniverse when the world's first true social media network, Friendster, was launched. A key flaw with Friendster was that one could not join without being invited by a pre-existing member. Anderson and DeWolfe saw potential in the service nonetheless. Within 10 days, they'd developed a prototype for an alternative social network where anyone could join, as "Tom" would be a default friend for anyone who signed up.
Now that MySpace was under corporate control, its owners and development team had far more restrictions and far less autonomy when it came to making any changes to the site. This was problematic, as the coding lanugage it was built in was not very flexible and wasn't equipped to be changed with any degree of speed or to effectively handle the huge amount of users it was acquiring. While it was the first social media network to introduce advertising, these ads were intrusive and employed in a way that was detrimental to the user experience. The MySpace team knew changes needed to be made and desperately wanted to make said changes, but by late 2006, they were no longer a top priority for NewsCorp. Meanwhile, Facebook remained an indpenedent company and was not impeded by such barriers to change. It was able to quickly evolve and become a more inclusive, intuitive, and user-friendly service. Its poularity skyrocketed and in June of 2008, it surpassed MySpace in number of users.
Another problem faced by MySpace was the large presence of spammers. Automated and inappropriate messages, as well as inappropriate material being sent to minors by rogue users quickly became a problem. Its inclusive membership policy allowed underage users to sign up fairly easily, which led to predictable troubles. Of course, MySpace wanted to try to do something about this, but the buyout binds kept them from effectively doing so. On the other hand, Facebook had excellent privacy controls from the beginning, and these only got better with time.
NewsCorp eventually sold MySpace and Anderson and DeWolfe left the company. Since that time, the network has seen a parade of redesigns and attempts at targeting new markets. Presently, it is mostly used as a networking tool for musicians and their fans. Music was a big part of MySpace from the beginning, so that is one aspect that remains the same. While the founders of the company were able to make a grand fortune, now they are only left to wonder what could have been had they accepted Facebook's 2005 offer and turned down the NewsCorp deal.
Here's a very 00s video from CNET, comparing and contrasting Facebook and MySpace. An interesting aspect of this video is that it was made in 2008, which was the year in which Facebook surpassed MySpace as the most popular social media network in the world.
With that, our walk through the greatest corporate rivalries of all time comes to a close. We hope you've had fun reading this article and have also walked away with some important knowledge. Would you be interested in reading a second chapter containing more epic corporate showdowns? If so, please contact us and let us know!