Apple the Underdog?!

Scanning the blogosphere, the fervent high built up around the Apple Watch launch event seems to have dissipated more rapidly than normal. Many informed commentators seem a little lukewarm in their response.

However, that Apple will have a huge impact on the hyped wearables category is not really up for debate. According to research firm Canalys, in 2014 there were 4.6 million wearables shipped. Apple’s initial order of Watches alone is reported to be more than 5 million units.

And although some do question it’s future ability to keep the successes rolling, no one is seriously questioning Apple’s ability to remain the most valuable company in the world for a while longer.

So, what’s this self serving rubbish about Apple having an Underdog narrative?

Well, it’s not me who made this observation first, it was those wild renegades over at the Harvard Business Review.

In what remains probably the most well researched paper on the subject – ‘The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantage and Determination through Brand Biography’ (told you they were wild and wacky!) – the enduring appeal of the Underdog brand narrative and it’s potential power to recruit people to your brand was tested.

In one experiment they looked at purchase intent against two fictitious chocolate brands:

“One brand had an underdog story: We described it as small and new, competing against powerhouses like Lindt and Godiva. The other brand had a top-dog biography, characterized by experienced founders and a big marketing budget. The result: 71% of subjects chose the underdog chocolate.

They also identified that Apple has carefully protected and projected the two key characteristics of an Underdog brand narrative:

  1. A disadvantaged position – they highlight a company’s humble beginnings and portray it as being “outgunned” by bigger, better-resourced competitors
  2. A passion and determination to triumph against the odds.

In a triumph of careful story telling and PR, nearly everyone knows that Apple was started in the Jobs’ house. We also know that the company was in a near death struggle with the Gates Boogieman – it helps to have a villain – over at Microsoft (which was also started in a garage, but somehow has never managed to project ‘Underdog’)

We also know that it’s phoenix like resurrection only happened when Jobs returned and brought back to the business it’s original focus on innovation and simple, beautiful design.

So, if the most valuable company in the world is able to maintain some of it’s Underdog narrative, could your brand benefit from more carefully crafting your own? It’s not done Apple any harm.

Posted on 13 March, 2015 in Brand Strategy, Underdog

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