Can Brits' love affair with the underdog translate to challenger brand success?

Dom Burch is the founder and MD of Why Social, a strategic marketing consultancy, and former senior director of marketing innovation and new revenue at Asda. Trained in PR, Dom has spent the last 17 years in a variety of comms roles at Asda, Direct Line and Green Flag including head of PR and head of social.

Us Brits love a good underdog story don't we?

Whether it's a lad from Sheffield winning the Masters in only his second appearance at Augusta, and who was ranked 102nd in the world just 12 months ago (he's jumped up to ninth this morning)...

Or Rule The World, a 33-1 outsider who had never previously won a steeplechase, but somehow was ridden to victory in the Grand National by a 19 year old...

Or former non-league player Jamie Vardy, who stuck in another brace for Leicester City yesterday putting them seven points clear at the top with only five more games to play.

There's something romantic in our psyche as a nation, where we all want the underdog to give the big boys a run for their money.

In spite of all the odds being heavily stacked against them, we secretly hope they will overcome the naysayers and snatch an unlikely win.

And our love affair with the underdog isn't just reserved for the sporting arena, it equally applies to the brands we feel an instant affinity towards despite not necessarily knowing them from Adam.

Loosely termed 'challenger brands', they occupy a special place in our hearts and come in all shapes and sizes.

Nick Agarwal, former spin master at Asda when it was fighting its way back from near bankruptcy in the late 90s, believes the great thing about challenger brands is they can just be themselves.

"Challenger brands are comfortable in their own skin. They seem to get that showing they’re not perfect, but also how hard they're trying to beat the bigger players, can really endear them to a British audience.

"I think for most people, an underdog – even one that messes up from time to time, beats something slick and corporate every time. And I reckon that desire for something real and unspun is stronger than ever."

With that in mind Agarwal is helping new High St underdog PEP&CO build its profile – an assignment too tempting to turn down.

PEP&CO is a new budget fashion chain that has opened fifty shops in 50 towns across the country, in a bid to take on more established players such as M&S, Primark, and the supermarkets.

Headed up by ex-Asda boss Andy Bond and former Sainsbury’s clothing supremo Adrian Mountford, PEP&CO is the pair's latest attempt to put the cat amongst the pigeons on the British high street.

But how do you make a new retail brand famous?

One that's really ambitious, but where the scale of that ambition isn't matched by the size of its marketing budget?

Around 12 months ago, Agarwal tried to answer that question and struck upon a neat idea that plays into the heart of the British public's desire to see the little man win.

The solution was relatively simple, albeit pulling it off in the timescales needed more of a challenge.

"I told the management team we needed get a prime-time TV series about what we're up to.

"And after six months working on the idea with the very talented people at Crackit North, ITV finally gave us the green light last December."

Crackit were commissioned to deliver a six-part prime-time network docu-soap in just over four months.

Nick adds: "Trust me, in the world of TV that's more than super-quick."

So over the past fourteen weeks he and his team has travelled the length of the UK via Weston-super-Mare, Salford, Bolton, Paisley, Cwmbran, Yardley, Birkenhead and more.

ITV for its part is treading a well-worn path when it comes to successful docu-soaps. Whether it's Iceland, Poundland or frankly dramas like Mr Selfridge, we all love getting behind the scenes of retail.

Bargain Shop Wars has all the hallmarks of another ratings winner.

Here's how ITV described the series in its press release:

"This warm, witty and entertaining docu-soap goes behind the scenes of Britain’s newest bargain chain to capture the madness, mistakes and mayhem as they try to take on and undercut the big names of the discount fashion world and become the cheapest on the high street."

The scene is well and truly set...

Will they overcome the big boys? Only time will tell. You'll obviously need to tune in to find out.

"Bargain Shop Wars" will air on ITV1 at 8.30pm from Thursday 14th April.

Follow Dom on Twitter @domburch

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.