What happened to Challenger Brands?

In 1999 “EATING THE BIG FISH” became a must read for the brand marketing community right around the world.

The author was Adam Morgan, European Planning Director of TBWA at the time. We were all motivated about the notion of Challenger Brands or “Little Fish” and the case studies to demonstrate how they have successfully eaten the “Big Fish”.

Now just a decade or so later it would appear that the little fish may have lost the courage or determination to take on and beat the brand leaders. This may be my perception only, but I cannot think of a recent example where a new or small brand has taken the fight to a category leader and prevailed with a meaningful market share.

Adam Morgan’s book at the time suggested Eight Credos of Successful Challenger Brands, of which I found the following worth sharing again:

  • Break with your immediate past, suggesting that the great wave makers in any category are those who were new to it or not restraint by category rules.
  • Build a Lighthouse Identity, encouraging brand owners to develop a clear sense of who or what you are, then projecting that intensely (like a lighthouse).
  • Sacrifice, a credo recognising that Challenger Brands typically have less resource in every aspect of the business. What they choose not to do is therefore as important to success as what they choose to do.
  • Create Symbols of Reevaluation, also described as big, impactful acts or marketing ideas that capture the consumer’s imagination.

These characteristics of successful Challenger Brands appear as relevant today and available to any brand owner with the desire to take on the Big Fish.

One should recognise several factors that may have contributed to my perceived decline in the Little Fish population. Years of merger and acquisition activity have created even more powerful Big Fish, the retail environment around the world has become tougher and more costly for emerging brands.

However, are these simply excuses for the Little Fish not to have a go?

Surely today’s consumers are better informed, certainly more promiscuous and seemingly open-minded enough to embrace a cheeky but imaginative new brand?

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