Let’s face it: everybody loves a good fight. We watch football for the same reason we slow down to look at car crashes; maybe we’re all secretly sociopaths, because the sight of forces colliding appeals to us. When this happens in the market, we as consumers love it, because we have the added benefit of knowing two companies duking it out means lower prices and better quality in the products they offer us. When two or three big businesses in the same industry begin to fight over the same dollars with similar products and similar marketing strategies, competitive capitalism gives way to full-on rivalry. These legendary business feuds made (or are still making) for as good of an entertaining spectacle as any sporting match ever could.
- Coke vs. Pepsi:
The Coke Wars is the mother of all business rivalries. Forming in 1886, Coca-Cola had about a 10-year head start on Pepsi-Cola, and it made the most of it. By the first decade of the 20th century, it was selling more than 1 million gallons of soda each year and had built a healthy catalog of celebrity endorsers that would grow exponentially over the years. Pepsi would go bankrupt twice by 1931 before hitting its stride, being sold in 120 countries by the late ’50s. After that, the marketing battle was on. In the ’60s, it was Coke hyping itself as “The Real Thing” versus Pepsi’s declaration of the era’s youth as the “Pepsi Generation.” In the mid-’70s, Pepsi threw down the gauntlet with its Pepsi Challenge. The disastrous “New Coke” debuted in 1985, which poorly received as it was did not help Pepsi win the Cola Wars. The fight is virtually over today, with Pepsi ceding the soda victory to Coke but vowing to continue the struggle for Americans’ food dollars.
- Ford vs. Chevy:
In America, we have very little we can claim as our own cultural creations. There is baseball, reality TV, bluegrass music, maybe flash mobs. But few things are as distinctly American as the ongoing rivalry between devotees of Ford Motor Company and General Motors’ Chevrolet. Every schoolchild (hopefully) knows the name Henry Ford, creator of the 1908 Model T and all-around American icon. But the best-selling car in 1908 was not the T; it was the Buick, created by entrepreneur Billy Durant. Three years later Durant oversaw the birth of the Chevrolet. It would take nearly 20 years for the new brand to outsell Ford, but once it did, the fight was on, and the competition produced some legendary cars, both good and bad. The Corvette. The Thunderbird. The Edsel (in the “bad” category). The Mustang. The Camaro. The F-150. The Silverado. Arguably no business rivalry in American history prompts more brand loyalty than this one, and the battle rages on.
- Apple vs. Microsoft:
Just 14 years ago, Steve Jobs’ company was a $5.5 billion electronics company, dwarfed by software giant Microsoft’s $345 billion. The company that had revolutionized the personal computer industry had reached such a low point the year before that it had had to strike a deal with Microsoft, a company it had sued for copyright infringement just four years earlier, to bring Office to Macs. Jobs actually uttered the words, “We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose.” And yet, while Microsoft was becoming embroiled in anti-trust lawsuits, Apple went on the attack with its successful iMac. Then came Mac OS X, then the iPod and iTunes exploded onto the scene. Microsoft began to have a reputation as the maker of virus-prone, dated products compared to Apple’s cutting-edge tech, an image helped along nicely by Apple’s “I’m a Mac” commercials. With roles now reversed, time will tell what the future holds for these two mega-corporations.
- Nintendo vs. Sega :
Today there are three majors in videogaming: the Xbox, the Playstation, and the Nintendo Wii. The rivalry among them is fierce, but it can’t touch the battle for supremacy that was Sega versus Nintendo. In 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System hit U.S. store shelves. The same year, Japanese youngsters were buying up the technically superior Sega Master System (with 3D glasses!), which would be sold in North America the following year. The delay may have been fatal. Too few titles were made to unseat the all-powerful Super Mario Brothers. But Sega was not done. The company released the Genesis in 1989, introducing it’s “cool” new mascot Sonic the Hedgehog and proclaiming “ Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” Not to be outdone, Nintendo hit back with the Super Nintendo, which quickly outsold the Genesis. Sega countered with the paltry Saturn in 1995, only to be trounced again by the Nintendo 64 in ’96. Sega made one last effort at consoles with the Dreamcast in 1998, which in true Sega style was visually impressive but poorly marketed. The company exited the industry in 2001, leaving Nintendo to take on new rivals and Sega fans to dream of what might have been.
- Edison Illuminating Company vs. Westinghouse Electric Company:
Thomas Edison: inventor, entrepreneur, puppy murderer. The co-founder of General Electric might better have been dubbed the Dark Wizard of Menlo Park, as his actions in this business rivalry suggest. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Edison was all-in with a form of electricity known as direct current, while rival George Westinghouse was backing a form called alternating current (now you know where the name AC/DC comes from). Westinghouse’s top man was the genius Nikola Tesla, who had been an employee of none other than Edison until the latter stiffed him out of $50,000 for work completed. Determined to prove the terrible dangers of Westinghouse’s system, Edison had dogs, cats, horses, an orangutan, and an elephant named Topsy publicly electrocuted with alternating current, and a convict executed (with absolutely horrific results). Even these maneuvers for public opinion could not overcome the truth of the superiority of AC, and Westinghouse’s landing of the contract to light the 1893 World’s Fair meant victory in the War of Currents.
- Hasbro vs. Mattel:
The toy industry is a famously fickle mistress. Seemingly overnight a toy can go from must-have to bargain bin. Yet two names continue to make kids run begging to their parents: Hasbro and Mattel. Both began making toys in the early ’40s, and their very names are similarly derived (from the Hassenfeld Brothers and founders Matt Matson and Elliot Handler). Mattel is easily the larger of the two, with the Barbie, Fisher Price, and Hot Wheels lines perennial big-sellers. Barbie alone brings in a third of the company’s revenue and helps lock up the little girl market. Hasbro, on the other hand, gets by on the strength of lines like Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and Tonka. Its famous GI Joe and Transformers toys help it dominate in the boys’ market. The recent spate of Hollywood blockbusters based on these two lines has greatly strengthened Hasbro’s bottom line, while Mattel’s image and pocketbook have taken a beating through a toxic toy scandal. Luckily the U.S. toy industry is a $20 billion market, so there’s plenty of money to keep this rivalry going for many more years.
- Adidas vs. Puma:
This rivalry is one of the best business rivalries ever because it also happens to be a sibling rivalry. In the early 1920s, Adolf Dassler (who wisely went by “Adi”) began operating a sports shoe company out of his mother’s laundry room. Soon, his brother Rudolf joined the company and crammed in there with him. Things were great for a while: athletes began donning the shoes, most notably Jesse Owens in 1936. But all was not well in the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Some believe it was Rudolf’s capture by American forces in WWII and charge of being a Nazi SS member, a capture he blamed on Adi, that caused the split. Others think they simply hated each other’s wives. Whatever the reason, Rudolf jumped ship in 1948 and moved across town to start Puma, leaving Adi Dassler to think of some humble name for his company. Not only did the business rivalry last for decades, but the hometown of each headquarters became so divided, people would look at other’s shoes before deigning to engage them in conversation. Now that’s a rivalry.
- Google vs. Facebook:
One holds the motto “Don’t Be Evil” while routinely provoking articles accusing it of wanting to take over the world. The other claims over seven hours of millions of Americans’ lives every month yet notoriously claims ownership of everything users share on its site. Many see this rivalry as a battle for the future of the Internet. Facebook has its fingers in many pies, from review site Yelp to music platform Spotify to a billion-dollar deal with picture service Instagram. And even though it is clearly winning the battle for users’ attention, in 2011 it tried to sink a few more nails in the search engine’s coffin by pulling a shadow PR smear stunt targeting Google’s privacy issues. The move illuminated the bitterness of this contest between the two behemoths. Further evidence came in early 2012 via a bidding war for the services of Digg.com creator Kevin Rose, which Google ultimately won. Clearly the company has no intention of conceding a single page view to Mark Zuckerberg.
- Lamborghini vs. Ferrari:
One of the greatest business rivalries ever involves two products many people will never even see outside of pictures, much less own. Tractor manufacturing kingpin Ferruccio Lamborghini was a Ferrari owner who liked the high-end race car but felt it needed serious mechanical adjustments to be considered a road car. So he went and saw CEO Enzo Ferrari and flatly told him the car was “rubbish.” Unsurprisingly, Ferrari more or less told him to shove it. So Mr. Lamborghini decided to start his own auto company and make the “perfect car.” And by many accounts, the first car made available — the 1964 Lamborghini 350GT — was a finer car than a Ferrari, ironic because several former Ferrari engineers had helped build it. The GT and the Lamborghinis that followed were higher quality and lower priced than the similar Ferraris. Coupled with Ferruccio Lamborghini’s refusal to support the racing of his cars, a rivalry was created between two distinct yet related brands that continues today.