Leicester City's win shows the power of the underdog story for brands

Britain is celebrating a football fairytale come true. The extraordinary. The unpredictable. The 5,000 to one chance of the underdogs outfoxing their rivals to win the Premier League title.

Leicester City's win shows the power of the underdog story but it has to be authentic, writes Genevieve Roberts
Leicester City's win shows the power of the underdog story but it has to be authentic, writes Genevieve Roberts
Those with little interest in football have also been caught up and swept along by Leicester City’s success, and it seems that no one would want to be top dog at the moment when challenger appeal is so strong. 

For brands though, there are times when this narrative isn’t ideal. 

America’s Southwest Airlines may have used this status to its advantage, but this is an exception: quality is the most reassuring thing airlines can offer - or any businesses associated with safety and security. 

And if a story is inauthentic, expect to be called out: when Zac Goldsmith tried playing the underdog card in the London Mayoral race this week – likening himself to Leicester - social media users swiftly dismissed his attempts as hollow, coming from the son of a billionaire.

The crucial elements of this story include starting with a disadvantage and being outgunned by rivals, coupled with resilience, passion and determination to succeed. 

Think of Under Armour, the sportswear brand that started with a t-shirt. Kevin Plank, former American football captain, was so fed up with sweat-logged shirts that he spent months testing fabrics to develop the HeatGear shirt to wick away moisture. 

Launching in 1996, from his grandmother’s basement, his company is now a $19bn business. 

Technology giants with humble roots, including Google, Amazon and Apple, which all started in garages, are excellent at effectively reminding consumers of their original status. 

Studies consistently show that humans love to root for the underdog, partly because every win isn’t equal – so by backing an unpredictable winner, we feel more happiness when they come good. 

Adidas chose to capitalise on this in its Impossible is Nothing campaign, focusing on athletes’ personal challenges in their rise to fame. 

A study by Harvard Business School suggests support is linked to effort, as we perceive challengers to be trying harder. 

Avis and advertising agency DDB famously – and highly effectively – played on this in the 1960s, with the brilliant tagline: ‘When you’re number two, you try harder.'

The smartest election candidates understand how important this appeal is, competing to position themselves in this way. Justin Trudeau entered Canada’s election race in third place; capitalised on his underdog status and swooped to victory. 

In the 2008 US Presidential election, Harvard Business School was struck that almost every candidate, from from Barack Obama to John McCain, tried to position themselves as underdogs. 

It’s no coincidence that this was in the midst of the last recession, when these stories resonate most powerfully.  

So if you’re developing a brand, and you’re finding it really hard to break into a crowded market with big players, then you may already have the key to connecting with your future customers. 

Admitting that you’re sitting at your kitchen table and working relentlessly may just help people warm to you – and to your brand. 

Genevieve Roberts is brand editorial consultant at Unity

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