Adam Morgan
Aug 22, 2014

Challengers stand out from the dross

Challenger brands are the most interesting to watch, because they can't afford to be boring.

Adam Morgan
Adam Morgan

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, why not explore another area of marketing now?

I replied that what 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 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 that blandly tweaks our indifference towards them—introduces a different meaningless phrase or supposed benefit to replace the ones we had associated with them before.

It is a miracle that marketing and communications continue to attract the quality of people that they do when the majority of their output is so poor. I don’t mean 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 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.

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.

Adam Morgan is founding partner of eatbigfish. Follow him on Twitter @eatbigfish

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