Content Strategist & UX Writer


Why People Can't Resist An Underdog Brand

Back in the 1970s, Nike consisted of a former track coach selling running shoes made on his wife’s waffle iron out of a VW bus.

Today, Nike is an athletic brand behemoth that raked in 27.7 billion dollars in 2014 and the parent company for the famed Jordan Brand basketball shoes.

How’s that for a long shot?

As humans, we can’t help but root for the little guy. In fact, Harvard Business School conducted a study that found up to 71% of consumers picking an underdog brand over an experienced powerhouse.

Why can’t people resist the underdog?

Struggle is universal but adversity varies.

Yes, life is full of ups-and-downs but the problems of an orphaned child from the wrong side of town are not the same as the only child of successful entrepreneurs. The same goes for brands.

We love when there’s a million-to-one chance of somebody succeeding and they do.

Those stories ignite within us the belief that we, too, can overcome great odds and come out on top.

But how have some of the world’s biggest underdogs gone from zero to hero?

1.     They’re not afraid to be different.

In 1985, NBA dress regulations were that a player’s shoes had to conform to team colors and be predominately white. Michael Jordan and Nike had other plans.

The first Air Jordan shoe, the Air Jordan 1, was black and red and rebellious.

Nobody had ever seen such bold basketball sneakers and this model went on to become the shoe that sparked an entire subculture that is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

2.     They’re relentless with their vision.

As a result of that dress code violation, then NBA commissioner, David Stern, slapped Michael Jordan with a $5,000 fine and banned the shoes. Nike, sensing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in branding and marketing, paid all of the $5,000 for Jordan.

They would go on to pay each and every one of the NBA fines and create a legendary advertising campaign based on the “banned” shoes.

3.     They listen and talk to their tribe, first and foremost.

There’s a saying that goes, “When you speak to the world, you speak to nobody”. The same is true for branding and marketing.

Former University of Oregon middle-distance runner and Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, decided that his company would be an athletic company made by an athlete, for athletes.

Everything from the research, to products, to the messaging, was tailored to speak to that tribe of people. And the tribe spoke back.

How else would a company founded with just $1,200 in the bank grow to become the most profitable sports brand in the world?

What underdog techniques do you use to build your brand? Let me know in the comments or feel free to share with your network of underdogs.


Jae SungbrandingComment