Someone asked me the other day when I would move on from studying challenger brands. You’ve been doing it for 15 years now, Adam, they said. Why not explore another area of marketing now?
I replied that what had got me interested in challenger brands has kept me interested in challenger brands. If you sit on the receiving end of as much marketing as we all do, you know that most marketing is not really about what it pretends to be about at all – that is, creating real preference.
Most marketing is doing something much more dispiriting and mundane: it is tweaking indifference. It takes brands that we are largely indifferent to, and spends a great deal of time, energy and talent producing marketing and communications that blandly tweaks our indifference towards them – introduces a different meaningless phrase or supposed product benefit to replace the ones we had associated with them before, if we associated them with very much at all. It is, surely, a miracle that Marketing and Communications are able to continue to attract the quality of people that they do when the majority of its output continues to be so poor. Not the few great pieces of thinking that win the award shows, but the day-in, day-out dross that populates our screens, media and inboxes.
But what I love about challengers is that they simply can’t get away with tweaking indifference.
They have to create preference, strong preference, or they will die. They have to be seen, they have to make us question what we thought we knew and liked, they have to make us an offer that at least some of us can’t refuse, and they have to do that without the benefit of large communications budgets and ubiquitous distribution. They have an urgency at their back; the clock is ticking. They can’t bore us, or underwhelm us or leave us still feeling the way we felt before. They have to lean into intelligent risk. They have to make real choices, and stick to them. They have to use everything they have. They have to amplify their differences.
Challengers don’t leave you indifferent. They change the way you think, in small or in big ways. That’s why I still love them.
They are the anti-dross.
Challenger enthusiast, father of twins, mild pencil fetish. Founder of eatbigfish and The Challenger Project. His latest book 'A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages', is out now.