Being a challenger Brand

I went to a fantastic talk at the APG a couple of nights ago. It was by Adam Morgan, the chap responsible for a key text for Planners – Eating the Big Fish:

‘A study of 50 Challenger Brands around the globe identifying the commonalities in their approach to brand development. The 8 Credos of Challenger brand thinking cover preparing the right mindset, strategy development, in market behaviour and maintaining success.’

He is revising the book as it was written some 10 years ago now. The talk was essentially to test his latest thinking about challenger brands in an audience full of hardened Planners.

His latest revision looks to discuss the idea that challenger brands aren’t always taking a David & Goliath stance i.e. a brand doesn’t need to go head-to-head with a brand to be a challenger. He explores the idea that brands can be involved in a much wider range of stances, and through this richer seam of stances we can use to better understand being a challenger brand. He also goes onto explore how some challengers move through different stances keep their relationship with the category and the consumer fresh.

The 12 stances or narratives he discussed were:

  • The People’s Champion – Virgin Atlantic, Linux
  • The Scrappy David – Pepsi Challenge, Miller LIte 2005
  • The Real and Human Challenger – Ben & Jerrys, South Western Airlines
  • The Missionary – Dove, Al Gore 2.0
  • The Democratiser – IKEA, Digg
  • The Irreverant Maverick – Red Bull, MAC
  • The Visionary – Wholefoods, Zip Car
  • The Game Changer – Wii, Lush
  • The Killer App – Napster, Skype
  • The Next Generation – Pepsi Next Generation, Silk soymilk (‘the new milk’)
  • More for less – Easy jet, Motel

“We think of the classic challenger as ‘David vs. Goliath. The updated version of Eating the Big Fish contains a new chapter that discusses how perhaps it is more useful to think of it as ‘St George vs. the Dragon’ – a monster that threatens the whole community. And in the socio-digital world mobilising our community against our monster has never been easier.” (

I need a little more time to consider how distinct and thus valid each of the categories are, as there is clearly some overlap between them. However the talk was very thought provoking, allowing us to consider in a new way, how a challenger brand might not only enter the market and prior to doing this analyse the market, but also why brands like Orange have failed by not maintaining a fresh narrative. Finally, it will be a useful tool for brands in the future to consider where they can go compared to where they are now. This does not only apply to challenger brands – any brand can imagine they are in the no.2 spot and ask themselves: how can we be better, what can we learn from our narrative and other narratives in our category?

I have a set of notes I made from the talk which goes into more detail about these types of challenger. If you would like a copy, then drop me a line:


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