Fire Brand

It’s 60 years since Adidas registered the trademark three stripes. In this Irish Examiner Article, Kathy Foley asks how brands penetrate our lives.

After fighting in World War I, Adolf Dassler, known to everyone as Adi, returned to his mother’s house in Germany and started a small business making sports shoes. A couple of years later, his brother Rudolph (Rudi), joined him and they set up a company with the not-very-catchy name of Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik, or the Dassler Brother Shoe Factory.

The brothers continued to make shoes together for nearly 25 years, but decided to part ways in 1948. Both wanted to stay in the sports shoe business, so Rudi set up his own company and called it Puma. Adi also set up a shoe company, but decided to name it after himself and so Adidas was born. On August 18, 1949, 60 years ago this week, Adi registered the company name and its trademark of three parallel stripes.

It is not known why exactly Adi Dassler chose three stripes as his trademark. “There was probably a very practical reason for the three stripes in the first place,” said Brian McGurk, a partner at Bradley McGurk, an Irish brand consultancy. “Maybe it was a point of difference from some other company that had two stripes or four stripes. Maybe the three stripes of leather strengthened the shoe.”

According to international consultancy Interbrand, the Adidas three stripes has a global brand recognition of over 90%. It is one of the world’s most iconic and instantly recognisable brand logos, along with the swoosh of its main competitor, Nike, which dates to 1971, and a host of others.

Without any visual aid, most of us can close our eyes and bring to mind Mc Donalds’ golden arches (1962), the fancy script of Coca-Cola (1886), the three-pointed Mercedes star (1909), Bibendum the Michelin man (1898) or the HMV logo of Nipper the dog peering into a gramophone machine (1900). We have our own famous big-brand logos in Ireland too, including the Guinness harp and the Aer Lingus shamrock.

But why do these brands lodge in our minds? Why, for example, does almost everyone in the world recognise and remember the three stripes of Adidas? “The Adidas three-stripe mark is a strong, confident mark and is world-class in its design,” said Gerard Tannam, co-founder of Islandbridge, also an Irish brand consultancy. “It forms a clear and immediately identifiable shape, which makes it easily recognised. Three is also a very powerful pattern and the human mind seems to be pleased by it.”