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You don’t need to be a challenger brand to adopt challenger thinking.

You don’t need to be a challenger brand to adopt challenger thinking.

24 April 2019 · 3 min read 

Challenger thinking is more than your position in the market. It’s taking an approach to marketing that prioritises impact over sameness. When you have an ambition for your brand that is significantly higher than your resources and are prepared to do something bold and imaginative to close the gap, your only option is to adopt challenger thinking. Simply, if you’re not the market leader, you can’t afford not to.

I have spent the past few years researching to understand the important attributes of challenger thinking for brands and have summarised them in the following 7 key points:

1. Find your monster.

All great stories have a villain. Challenger thinking involves finding yours. Your monster is the enemy your business and brand is going to fight. Fight is a key word here; marketing is war – it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Your monster could be a way of doing business, something deeply wrong in your industry, an unmet consumer need or a social cause worth putting all your weight behind. The trick though is your monster must be something your market also considers to be a monster and has a desire to see it addressed. The bigger your monster, the bigger the effort needed to fight and the longer you’ll have to commit.

2. Avoid the stupidity of sameness.

Brands within a certain industry operate and market in the same way. Why? Because marketers look to the industry leader to see what they’re doing and then do the same, albeit in a slightly different way. But, they do the same thing, offering the consumer no real stand out presence. Page through the first 10 pages of an inflight magazine and you’ll see several competing jewellery ads. Financial services companies, airlines, car ads, beer ads, mobile operators, watch brands, sports brands, banks, investment firms. No matter the industry, brands within a category operate in a sea of sameness. And as Einstein said…

3. Every category is your competition.

A consumer doesn’t neatly compartmentalise industries and then judge advertising or marketing efforts against competitors. They consume everything, all the time. It’s up to you to ensure you get noticed. That Nike ad featuring Venus Williams? That’s your competition. The Red Bull event happening at a venue near you? Competition. The latest documentary on Netflix? Competitor. Sleep, mobile games, sports news. All your competition. If you’re vying for consumers’ attention, every medium is your competition and you better do something worthy to fight for it. The only way to do that is forget about what your industry competitor is doing and focus on what the consumer is interested in.

4. Build distinctive assets, not positioning.

Think of your last crush. Come on, everyone has one. What stood out? Was it a hairstyle, a mannerism, the way they dressed or something they said? Or was it their positioning in the market? Consumers respond very similarly to the laws of attraction. And no one is out there on first dates pitching USPs, mission statements or their purpose in life. Create and focus on the stuff that makes your brand stand out. The stuff that makes it distinct. Differentiating isn’t even enough anymore. The differences within an industry are far too subtle. Human beings are hard wired to notice things that stand out. When dating, you endeavour to make yourself stand out intuitively. But when you’re in a room with your exco trying to pick an idea, you overthink the market’s reaction to the work and gravitate towards the safest option. Safe is not distinct. Stick to your gut.

5. Activate on emotion.

What are your brand’s emotional activators? Have you even thought about them before? Without emotion, you have awareness. And consumers do not buy on awareness. Consumers are deeply irrational beings and studies (thanks Byron Sharp and Richard Shotton) prove that what consumers think they’ll do and what they actually do are 2 different things. Consumers buy what they want, not what they need. They buy first and ask why later. That’s when post rationalisation comes in. Or, conversely, buyer’s remorse. Rationalisation is the after-thought. Emotion creates the desire. And memory. And action.

6. Be strategically dramatic.

A drama is best thought of as a play, an opera, a ballet or a movie. All of which are desirable pieces of entertainment and deeply emotional – well the good ones anyway. Ensure the acts of your brand are dramatic but part of a consistent, long-term strategic path.

To be strategically dramatic means going big or going home. Do more, less often. Spend more time thinking and less time doing until you know that when you do, you do big. As a woodsman once said, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 6 hours sharpening my axe.”

7. Creativity is (still) your weapon of choice.

It’s odd for me. In this day and age, still fighting for the merits of creativity. But nothing I’ve said above can be achieved without fully embracing creativity. It’s the one part of our industry that hasn’t changed for 60 years. Despite what analytics, digital and data companies have you believe, technology hasn’t miraculously replaced the effects of creativity. It’s simply enabled new avenues of expression.

Think about DDB’s famous Think Small ad for the VW Beetle from 1959. It was challenger thinking at its finest. Run that past the first 6 points of this post. Not a single attribute missed. At its core, 60 years ago, creativity changed the game and pushed advertising into the future. Yet for some reason, here we are in the future, and we’ve forgotten that.

Dean Oelschig

Want to chat further about challenger thinking and how to adopt it for your brand, please get in contact with us.

The truth of relativity.

The truth of relativity.

Here’s a test. Be honest now. Think of your favourite weekly/daily magazine, newspaper or publication. If we said to you, you could subscribe to it but you had the following options:


Option 1: The online version only for R49 a month

Option 2: The print version for R99 a month

Option 3: The print and online version for R99 a month


Which would you choose? Answer before you carry on reading.


However, what if we said you could subscribe to just the following 2 options:

Option 1: Online version for R49 a month

Option 2: The print and online version for R99 a month


Now which would you choose?


Does your answer change? It’s likely, unless you’re the exception, you originally choose the double threat of print & online or the cheaper online version. And the main reason is because the power of relativity. If you have 3 options, it’s easier to compare “like for like” so we immediately, and irrationally, pick between option 2 and 3 as they’re similar ballpark options. Our brain considers it the best deal in the circumstance because option 1 has nothing to compare to. But when there are only 2 options, we think logically about each, compare one against the other and pick the one that makes more sense, namely the digital version.


This is one such example from the book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It’s a brilliant book on behavioural economics (we HIGHLY recommend it) and how there are real hidden forces that shape ours (and consumers’) decisions.

Miscommunication is always a two-way street.

Miscommunication is always a two-way street.

It’s easy to assume someone isn’t listening or feel like you’re not being heard. It’s also easy to misunderstand what someone else is saying.  We have done both, regularly. But, in moments of miscommunication, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same communication style or frames of reference. Be patient and uncover ways to express yourself clearly.

Solving problems.

Solving Problems.

As human beings we instinctively try avoid problems instead of actively pursuing them. But the best businesses, not just agencies, are the best at actively identifying and solving problems. They’re also the best at defining them.


If we understand the problems we must solve, and communicate them effectively, we can lead each other in the right directions. If we’re spending time ignoring them or sweeping them under the rug, we may end up under one too. Problems range from small everyday things (I am feeling unmotivated, I have writer’s block, this process isn’t working, we may not have enough billings next month) to big client problems that they essentially pay us to solve for them. As a creative agency, our ability to solve problems in new and unexpected ways is what sets us apart. But that cannot happen if we’re never making it a priority to identify them, talk about them, offer solutions and solve them better than other businesses do. Simply identifying problems isn’t enough, if we don’t actively solve them together. But realising that they do exist and being okay with talking about them, is the most formidable battle you can win in the overall war.


For us, a bad brief is, “We have this product, nothing is good about it, please find more customers for it” or “We are doing this because we think we should”. A good creative brief is one that articulates the problem we’re trying to solve for the client, “This product isn’t working, how can we improve it for customer segment x, y and z”. A great creative brief is one that articulates a problem we are trying to, or can, solve for the customer. That’s where insights and human truths come in.