Under Armour and Nike are stealing a page out of Adidas' playbook — and it's a brilliant move

  • Nike and Under Armour are releasing next-generation, foam-soled running shoes mere weeks apart in February.
  • Adidas released its own foam-soled running shoes platform, Boost, five years ago.
  • Boost has fueled a monster period of growth in North America for Adidas, and it would be smart for the two other companies to try and copy it.

Call it the foam wars.

Nike and Under Armour are both releasing next-generation, foam-based running shoes this month — but Adidas has had a wicked head start.

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The two companies have been forced to follow in Adidas' footsteps as it has run away with one of the few sectors of the sportswear market that is growing rapidly: lifestyle running.

Adidas basically created the category in 2015 when it released its UltraBoost line of shoes, which were built on the Boost platform it had developed two years prior. The shoes were stylish, comfortable, and like nothing else on the market. They caught on like wildfire in sneaker fan circles, and since that popularity was combined with a relatively constrained supply, they started off relatively rare.

This came as Adidas was reinventing its business and focusing on creating desirable products to sell to the North American market. 

After Adidas' impressive years in North America, Nike and Under Armour can no longer ignore the three stripes. Adidas saw more than 30% sales growth in the US in 2017, the company told Bloomberg, while the other two brands have seen disappointing sales. Adidas has expanded its Boost soles up and down its product line in the meantime.

In a transparent attempt to capture back lost market share, both Nike and Under Armour have released their own foam-platform shoes.

The look may seem familiar

Under Armourreleased its HOVR shoe platform on February 1. The company says the new foam has an "energy web" that provides both a "zero-gravity feel" (hence the name) and energy return for runners. The shoe comes in two models: one focused on comfort and lifestyle, called the Phantom, and one focused on speed and distance, called the Sonic.

They're more outwardly stylish than any other Under Armour shoe, and they represent a drastic departure from the brand's usual focus on basketball shoes. The brand is throwing everything it has behind the new shoe, and the campaign for the shoe was the biggest and most expensive marketing campaign the brand has ever done for a product, Adrienne Lofton, Under Armour's senior vice president of global brand management, told Fast Company.

Not to be outdone, Nike has also developed its own foam shoe. The technology that underpins the new Nike Epic React Flyknit actually debuted in basketball shoes in 2017, but it will be available for runners (and those that like more on-trend sneakers) on February 22.

The new shoe is a single piece of foam stitched onto a knit upper. Nike says it will give 13% more bounce than its next-most-advanced foam sole, and the new shoe is both durable and soft.

Unlike with the basketball shoes, Nike has left the foam of the new shoe completely exposed. Though the shoe is marketed as a running platform, this open design keeps in line with its stylish contemporaries. 

Foam is here to stay

The new foam style is advantageous for several reasons.

There's the running aspect, as it's lightweight and offers superior energy return with every step. It's soft yet durable, which makes the shoes very comfortable to walk around in, and has been a major selling point for Adidas' versions. But the foams are also easily adaptable in all sorts of different shapes, allowing for new sneaker silhouettes. 

This is the key factor as customers crave more and more stylish sportswear.

Adidas isn't worried about its new imitators, according to US Adidas head Mark King, who said he "feels great" about them.

"Imitation's the greatest form of flattery," he told Business Insider.

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