Challenging the status quo

Challenging the status quo

In today’s cluttered world, traditional marketing is no longer competitive. If you have your eyes on knocking the market leaders off their thrones, you need to think smarter; think like a challenger. 

Challenger brand marketing has existed since the 70’s, thanks to Pepsi’s bold move with challenging Coke head-on. But interestingly, it is still not widely adopted.

Challenger brands thrive through nimbleness, being more innovative and creative imagination. They disrupt the market with a smarter approach, not with a bigger budget.

With the right ambitions and the power of social media, challenger brands have the ability to beat the market leaders. Get ‘em while they’re stalling.

Get inspired with these top 5 challenger brand marketing case studies of our times.

1. Mini Cooper

As a challenger brand, Mini lacked the larger budgets of its competitors. To reach its audience, the brand needed to think and act smarter.

In 2010, Mini issued a formal race challenge to Porsche. This was launched with a full-page ad in the New York Times, following by a 2-week campaign via social media and viral videos. A branded Facebook page was the main engagement platform, inviting consumers to play along. 

The results were phenomenal. Mini earned over 3.3m impressions to its Facebook page, with over 300,000 people watched the videos. The cheeky rivalry continues today on a smaller scale.

2. Avis

Prior to 1962, Avis spent 13 years in the red. To turn the business around, ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (now DDB) were recruited. 

The agency embraced the 2nd place status and created the “We Try Harder” ads complimented with bold headlines like “When you’re only no.2, you try harder. Or else”.

Within a year of the campaign, Avis went from $3.2m loss to earning $1.2m profit – the first time it had been profitable in more than a decade.

3. Pepsi

Pepsi is the prototype of a strategic challenger brand.

In 1975, when the Pepsi Challenge was launched, the brand literally launched the idea of a challenger brand to the public.

Blind taste tests were televised as advertisements. It featured people drinking two colas and deciding which they liked better. To Coke’s surprise, Pepsi won. It was an embarrassing loss for the cola giant.

That, coupled with declining store sales, contributed to Coke’s market share decline (just 23% by 1983). Over the years, Coke had to spend millions to climb back to the top.

Today, the Cola Wars are still well alive between Pepsi and Coke, with Pepsi continuing to challenge the cola giant in its marketing.

4. Nando's

Nando’s is renowned as one of the cheekiest challenger brands worldwide. With smaller budget, the brand creates cut-through with its humorous, cheeky advertising. 

Nando’s advertising also tackles issues of the day in an irreverent, witty way. This clever, timely and consistent advertising has allowed the brand grow rapidly worldwide.

Today, Nando’s is considered South Africa’s most famous food export.

5. Volkswagen 

In the 1950’s, Volkswagen was competing in a market where cars were fashion statements and muscles on wheels. 

But the Beetle was anything but. It was named after a bug and known for being slow and small. So what chance did the brand have? 

To breakthrough in the market, the brand completely destroyed the status quo for automobile ads by launching the revolutionary “Think Small” campaign. 

The bold campaign was considered exceedingly successful – it immediately boosted sales, built a lifetime of brand loyalty, and was ranked as the best advertising campaign of the 20th century by Ad Age.

About the Author:
Grace Chau, Director and Founding Partner of Attractivo 

Attractivo is a next generation agency for challenger brands. See their work at: or follow the agency at:

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