Thoughts 01.09.14

Challenger brands, whassup?

Forget obsessing over the need to be a challenger brand. We want our clients to be driven by something that packs a bigger punch.

By the time anyone says “we are a challenger brand” it’s probably too late. What exactly are you challenging? The market leader, the conventions of the sector or your ability to convince your stakeholders that everything will be OK? It is becoming all pervasive in briefs we receive, in people we meet and this has created a sense of ubiquity. We’d love clients to focus on something that has a much bigger impact: ambition. Leave it to history to report on whether your brand has really challenged something.

First and foremost, ambition has to start with clients. Of course agencies can stoke and prod and cajole, but it has to come from a place of wanting to do good work. The best briefs we see are from clients who aren’t concerned with adopting the challenger brand attitude, which has almost become the norm, but by those who truly want to be relevant and have a real impact in their consumers’ lives. 

If we could single a few out, it would be brands that have asked us to:

· Give me fame and re-kindle love for my brand.

· Create earned media value that exceeds my media spend.

· Give me cool, but never forget the product.

· Do something that excites people and gets them talking about us.

Our recent work for, our biggest client, is a good example of ambition being the driving force for an effective campaign. The brand propositioning “working harder for you” derives from the mind-set within the organisation itself. This belief, which has become the backbone to the work, has helped shift negative perceptions of the brand. The genuine ambition to do better for customers has resulted in 12% growth in warmth toward the brand. Rather than posing the all too familiar question of “how can we be different,” we focused on “how can we be better”.

In reality, are there really any Goliaths that need bringing down a peg or two? Should we care about the big lumbering monster or make our own luck and show ambition beyond the category. It’s infectious when you work with brands that inhabit a desire to create work that isn’t influenced by what others are doing. Ted Baker didn’t want to be any other clothes shop, Carlsberg don’t want to follow where others go and want to be the masters of their own destiny. Rather than join the quest to dethrone the big guns or challenge the market, they’ve sought out their own playing field. And they’ve all done pretty OK.

Read our contribution to the debate on challenger brands in the latest Haystack article for The Marketing Society here.