Anyone interested in challengers is interested in compression: how do you make a story utterly compelling in a very short space of time? And one of the reasons that the concept of the ‘challenger brand’ has caught on, you might argue, is that it itself does just that: within just two words you surely have all the ingredients of an engaging story – conflict, a protagonist and an adversary, an anticipation of a future event whose outcome is uncertain, the new order looking to overthrow the establishment. It’s all there.
Except that it isn’t. Not really. Because for all that people talk about challenger brands more than they ever did, all too often it is a clichéd and superficial view that persists in what that challenger narrative actually is: either ‘little brand explicitly calling out big brand’ (think Avis or Ryanair) or ‘turn every category rule on its head’ (think the young Red Bull or Grameen Bank).
But if we look at a new generation of challengers from the last ten years, do they really all fall into one of those two different approaches? Al Jazeera, for example, or Airbnb. Audi, kulula, Zappos, and One Laptop Per Child – there’s a range of challenger narratives out there, each being powerfully told. But they’re not as simplistic as ‘David vs Goliath’.
It’s time to learn from this new challenger generation, and put on the table a more evolved model of what it means to be a challenger. So what if we were to group all the different challengers from the last ten years into the ten most common challenger approaches they represent? What if we were to identify for each of them what, not whom, they were challenging, and how they were doing it? What if we interviewed ten shining examples to get an insight on what it really meant to live in that narrative? What if we could unpack the media implications for each?
Good idea, we thought. Let's do it.
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