Underdogs Rock!

It’s not always about being the biggest, strongest, longest, smartest, fastest or other chest-thumping claims. Some brands – especially start ups – can and should take the humble route in their communications.

Everyone loves an underdog:

  • Rocky Balboa: an unknown prize fighter who took on the champion
  • Frodo Baggins: the least expected carrier of the One, precious ring
  • Jake Sully: the wheelchair-bound savior of the Na’vi alien race in Avatar

Or in Malaysian brand terms:

  • Perodua: introduced the diminutive Kancil and is now the No.1 automaker
  • Ramly Burger: started from a mobile kiosk and now a household name
  • MarryBrown: took on the fast food giants and now has over 200 outlets regionally

The Perodua Kancil
The pint-size, often ridiculed Kancil; paved the way for Perodua to become the nation's top automaker.

An underdog’s tone and manner is always relevant and relatable because each and every one of us have been dismissed as not worth it (or underdogged) in the past. And we always like to hear stories where the protagonist goes against the odds or does something beyond his or her means to save the day.

One good example of this is the still-classic advertising campaign for Avis Car Rental. In 1963, Avis launched a campaign declaring “We’re Only No.2, We Try Harder”. In my books, a headline can’t get any better that this: it tells the truth, it immediately promises a benefit and it puts a smile on your face.

Needless to say, the campaign knocked the then No.1 Hertz Rent-a-Car from the top spot. And even to this very day, Hertz has to live with the stigma of being one-upped by Avis. In fact, I don’t think they really recovered from the “punch” in Avis’ tagline.

However, an underdog claim not only has to tell the truth, but must also be able to act the part. You can’t be an established, top player in your business category talk about the hardships you face. It’ll be like De Beers explaining the adversities of extracting diamonds from war torn Sierra Leone. Believable? Not in a million years.