Stick it to Goliath.
What is it challenging?
The dominance of (and unthinking consumer preference for) the market leader.
Why does its consumer respond to it?
Everyone loves an underdog – Oh, and given the choice between those two options, that does look like one to try…
Tim Wright, Commercial Director King of Shaves
The Feisty Underdog is what many regard (misleadingly) as the classic challenger stance, in part because Avis and The Pepsi Challenge, those two iconic challengers, both fit so famously this ‘David vs. Goliath’ model. It is a perfectly valid narrative – we just need to remember it is only one of a number of challenger narratives at our strategic disposal.
The challenger that does adopt this narrative, though, aims to reduce the world to a binary choice – creating the emotional illusion that there are just two brands for the consumer in a category to choose between. It offers at least an emotional reason to support the underdog (they root for the combination of our inferior stature on the one hand and our chutzpah on the other), and perhaps a rational product or service one as well.
In doing so, in comparing itself explicitly to one other larger player, it attempts to radically simplify consumer decision-making in the category. Challengers don’t succeed by increasing choice in a category, they succeed by reducing it – reducing choice (implicitly or explicitly) to a decision for the consumer between the old or the new, the quiet or the loud, the sensible or the exciting. And in the case of the Feisty Underdog, the bias is for explicit comparison, certainly inside the company and usually outside as well, and a comparison can help highlight their own virtues. And the strategy can obviously extend to drawing the Market Leader – and the Market Leader’s communication budget – into that public conversation as well, and using the bigger player’s media dollars to give salience to the challenger’s own ambitions, and the conversation they want the category to have.
Many Challenger Brands start out as the Feisty Underdog – firstly, because it is a position in which they genuinely find themselves and, secondly, because playing up to it seems like a dynamic way to accelerate salience and conversation around its offer, and get some of the available audience on its side. For obvious reasons it is not a narrative for the faint-hearted, and while with time and success we see many challengers subsequently migrating to another narrative, there are few narratives that energise the internal organisation as powerfully for an ambitious challenger as this has the ability to do.