Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete against Brand Leaders

Michael Enright (Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




Enright, M. (2000), "Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete against Brand Leaders", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 358-372.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is a book about how to become number two. The dust jacket entices the reader with a promise of eight credos on how to reach that ranking in your category. All of this is contained in an “it’s‐a‐jungle‐out‐there”‐style delivery. Author Adam Morgan has taken a look into marketing’s shallow epistemological base and re‐crunched it with his version of Darwinian lore.

Chapter one holds excellent observations on the problem of oversupply in late twentieth‐century markets. Whilst the point is well made and well taken, one has to wonder if this is news. Over supply is, after all, when marketing comes into its own.

Chapter three seeks to define a challenger brand, and three criteria are used to identify them. Thereafter follow the “Eight Credos” which constitute “a new kind of strategic process and series of exercises we can apply [to] our own brands” (p. 35). The first credo is “break with your immediate past” (chapter four), the second “to build a lighthouse identity” (chapter five). The credos continue: “assume thought leadership of the category,” “create symbols of reevaluation,” “sacrifice,” “overcommit,” and so on. The culmination is held in the last three chapters, where making use of the Challenger Strategic Program is discussed.

The book has some flashes of brilliance. In chapter two, entitled “The Consumer Isn’t,” descriptors such as “audience,” “consumer,” and “category” (p. 14) are held to no longer be endowed with the meanings they once had. Morgan suggests that some shift has occurred to flaw the validity of such terms. He argues that brands probably should move beyond their category. Given its Levitt‐style similarities, this is an interesting point. Along with the almost postmodern sub‐headings “The Audience Isn’t” (p. 14) and “The Consumer Isn’t”, the scene seems set for some irreverence for monotheistic marketing models. Sadly, any open challenge is avoided. This is a pity. As soon as the author gets to a point of departure from conventional wisdom, a set of findings, usually in tabular form, send the reader reeling back into the Land of Conventional Wisdom. The postmodern headings continue. The section from p. 19, “The Category Isn’t” is excellent material indeed. It trashes once‐and‐for‐all the idea that marketers’ categories are relevant to customers. The content is superb in the final section of the second chapter. Never mind if the material is thinly argued. Entitled, “Communication Doesn’t”, the arguments move from the surreal,

“If total ad spending in the United States was $162 billion in 1995, and we are a brand that spends $20 million on advertising a year, our real share of voice is 0.012%” to the unreal,“If we are in the laundry detergent business, our competition is…pizza, batteries, cola, beer” (p. 22).

Morgan sees market associations where others would not. Perhaps he is looking more clearly than the others, but to agree with this, you would have to believe that the direct competition of a chicken burger might include Cadillac cars and a used London bus ticket. What makes his brand of branding unique is his relatively unique position. This position, as an advertising principal who is enamoured of the launch phase more than the maintenance humdrum that must follow the fun bit, allows him to make associations the rest of us might be too scared or too busy to make. That doesn’t make them right. Nor does the credo compulsion and the relatively impenetrable syntax of the work make it easy to believe that he really has anything significant to contribute. The problem is that even if his contributions are shackled by the ongoing numeracy and secrets/steps/credos crazes, and the language is all attitude and no ideology, Morgan has made a contribution. He has at least tried something his more banal contemporaries have not done to break with the Kotlerites, that bleak group of marketing druids that ordain that marketing can only operate using their monotheistic models and only with the pseudo‐scientific rationalism of microeconomic approaches.

Morgan’s last three chapters provide an alternative, do‐it‐yourself method of changing your organisation’s approaches to itself, its markets and others. It would be easy to dump on this approach given how little is stated about how to do it and so much about what one will get from it. Morgan’s answer is simple,

…Challenger is not really a series of actions but an underlying way of thinking… (p. 242).

Of course, if you cannot get the thing going, the author, his organisation and associates are more than likely to be able to help. This is a sell. So what. It sells better than an umpteenth re‐draft of the marketing plan. It might even change your organisation’s approach for the better.

This is an advertiser’s view of a product; they don’t see products, they see brands. If your shelf is groaning under the weight of books with Ansoffian outcome matrices, Harvardian best practices and Kotlerian meat mincer market planning models and they are covered in dust this book is highly recommended as a refreshing, flawed, polemic, nutty and very stimulating alternative.

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