Malcolm Devoy, Chief Strategy Officer at PHD EMEA, and Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish, join forces once again to introduce the podcast spin-off of their publication ‘Overthrow II – 10 strategies from the new wave of challengers’ to discuss how the media landscape has changed for brands, what this means for category behaviours, and where the opportunities are to build brand value through creativity and challenger thinking.

What does it mean to be a challenger brand?

Twenty years after the concept of the challenger brand was popularised – and seven years after PHD and eatbigfish first visited the challenger narrative in Overthrow: 10 Ways to Tell a Challenger Story – a new wave of challengers has been changing the way the categories around us think and behave. Common to many of these challengers is a very simple shift in understanding what a challenger is: not a brand that challenges somebody, but a brand that challenges something; specifically, something they feel needs to change.

PHD and eatbigfish’s 2019 follow-up, Overthrow II – 10 strategies from the new wave of challengers, explores the 10 different challenger strategies, or narratives, used most powerfully today, each of them embodied in interviews with incisive leaders who have used them to break through in their market. Overthrow II looks at the strategic principles that each follows, the media behaviours they practice, and the part that today’s big themes like technology, data, culture and creativity play.

How can challenger brands survive in a global pandemic?

One year on from the publication of Overthrow II, and already the world is a very different place – yet challenger narratives are proving to be more pertinent than ever. As businesses and people alike revisit their plans for 2020, it appears that brands are at a crucial point of deciding how they can define – for themselves and their consumers – the coming months and years.

In the first episode of our six-part podcast series, Overthrow II: Challenger strategies for a new era, Overthrow II co-authors Malcolm Devoy, chief strategy officer for PHD EMEA, and Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish and host of the podcast series, discuss the changing landscape for challenger brands and which path brands are taking at this advertising crossroads – is it the useful and practical path, or the creative?

Throughout the episode, Devoy explains that up until COVID-19 struck, the media was seeing a natural upweight towards bottom-of-the-funnel activities. As discussed in Overthrow II, challenger brands who have seen dramatic growth do not extensively push bottom-of-the-funnel activities; instead, they focus on creative-led and brand activity even in a crisis.

Now, amidst the global pandemic, with brands quickly rethinking how to advertise in this new era, what we’re seeing is even further emphasis on bottom-of-the-funnel activities. In this climate, there is a huge opportunity for brands to be incredibly distinctive and creative, but the problem for many brands is that these are the very elements that have been cut. For brands that are willing to put in effort, there is a real opportunity – which lies within upper-funnel comms – to be innovative and to define the coming months and years for the brand.

Morgan notes that we’re currently witnessing brands under huge pressure to be useful and practical. This crisis has accelerated brands in two directions – either towards efficiency or towards effectiveness, and it appears that brands who have the opportunity for emotional and creative brand building are pushing it aside to focus on efficiency by maintaining sales and cutting costs.

These are brands which are playing it safe, whereas challenger brands tend to focus much more on effectiveness, pushing the dynamics of the category and setting new ways of interacting. Ultimately, Morgan agrees with Devoy that the time is now and there is a real opportunity for brands to lean into creativity and redefine category conventions in their favour.

Changes in the media landscape most relevant to challenger brands

Innovation and creativity have always been high on challenger brands’ radar, using innovation to draw attention to how a category could be improved. Those brands who have a created a virtual version of themselves are being missed slightly less. Brands need to exercise creativity and bring the character of their brand and the full brand ethos directly into the consumer’s home.

Digital media consumption has skyrocketed due to lockdown measures, particularly across display, rich media, paid social and search. Those challenger brands who keep the lights on, who are innovative and creative will reap the rewards in the long run and will likely be referenced in future case studies of what to do in a global pandemic to keep your brand alive.

Hear the rest from Adam Morgan and Malcolm Devoy with the first episode of ‘Overthrow II: Challenger strategies for a new era’, available on SpotifyGoogle PodcastsApple Podcasts and Audioboom.