Buy me, I’m the underdog …

TakeAway: Americans love to root for the underdog.

New research shows that this tendency is applicable to marketing.

In a difficult economic environment, marketers have been leveraging underdog brand perceptions where feasible to gain consumer favorability.

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Excerpted from HBS Working Knowledge, “The Consumer Appeal of Underdog Branding,” by Martha Lagace, September 13, 2010

Picture the Jamaican bobsled team going for the gold at the Winter Olympics.

Or competitors in what seem fundamentally unbalanced battles: the Chicago Cubs versus the New York Yankees, Apple versus Microsoft, and Southwest Airlines versus United.

In the public eye, the weaker party is often more attractive. Why?

The reason might be an increasing willingness on the part of consumers to identify with the underdog. In today’s economically difficult times, it appears, underdog brands are gaining psychological, and real, power in the marketplace. …

“Today, underdog brand biographies are being used by both large and small companies and across categories …. Even large corporations, such as Apple and Google, are careful to retain their underdog roots in their brand biographies.” …

“Through a series of experiments, we show that underdog brand biographies are effective in the marketplace because consumers identify with the disadvantaged position of the underdog and share their passion and determination to succeed when the odds are against them.”

Marketers can use underdog narratives to positively affect consumers’ perceptions of and purchase of brands …

The common themes that link … underdog biographies are

  1. a disadvantaged position in the marketplace versus a “top dog,” a well-endowed competitor with superior resources or market dominance, and
  2. tremendous passion and determination to succeed despite the odds.  

Brand managers need to consider the credibility of the underdog narrative for the firm.

Many brands emphasize their underdog roots, but if they are later acquired by large corporations, it diminishes the credibility of their underdog brand biographies.

Brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Snapple have been criticized by consumers once they were acquired by large corporations. …

Edit by DG

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