Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan.

Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan.

A review by  Duncan Brett

This book is a guide to how challenger brands can take on the big guys. This is not a book about research, but I was asked to review it for a client. It is a nod to the fact that not everyone can be or work for the market leader, even if the books are usually about them.

It calls for you to be focused, and distinct. You would need a good PR agent on your side and lots of innovative ideas.

While the book has a lot of good in it and can be quite inspirational and give some idea’s is good, most of the advice is easier said than done. It’s one thing to be a much talked about firm with a lighthouse identity, it is something else to become one.

Still it is good to have an idea of what you want to be…and the core message that if you can’t spend your way to fame, you will have to do something different to get noticed for the right reasons, is worth noting.

The phrase “Challenger Brand” was coined by Adam Morgan from the London consultancy eatbigfish.

The conditions for a challenger brand exist when:

  • It is not a number one brand, but nor is it niche
  • Its business ambition’s exceed it’s marketing resources
  • It is prepared to accept the marketing implications of that gap
  • It is succeeding

As it is not a market leader, a challenger cannot win by outspending or copying the dominant brand.

It needs to take a radical approach to get noticed and alter the status quo. This is a state of mind.

The strategy is risky as a radical approach may alienate. You need to have a clear understanding of your category, competition, customers and your offer.

Challenger brands can take different forms…

A challenger brand can use various approaches to stand out including being startlingly useful (Google), an irreverent maverick (Nando’s), the peoples champion (Virgin, Kulula), a feisty underdog (David vs. Goliath), radically simpler or cheaper (Capitec), or a complete game changer (Apple with Itunes) and so on.

Successful challengers manage to stand out by being completely different to everyone else in their category, and committing fully to a very focused identity. They do things which are worth talking about.

To succeed you will have to operate with a high degree of intensity, and make an emotional connection with your market.

This is easier said than done. It is difficult to become unique and talked about for the right reasons. If you succeed you competition will try to copy you fast.

Challengers are not unusual in that the have good ideas. They are unusual in that they make good ideas happen. This requires:

1.Mental preparation – and the willingness to follow though

2. A clear sense of how to use the ideas to define identity, create leadership, and connect to the consumer

3.Planning and the ability to anticipate resistance and inertia and overcome it


To do this the philosophy lists 8 credos to live by:

1.Intelligent Naivety – change your thinking, break from the past

2.Lighthouse identity – be who you are, don’t reflect your consumers

3.Thought leadership – be the one everyone talks about

4.Symbols of re-evaluation – do the unexpected

5.Sacrifice – work out what you are not going to do

6.Over-commitment – throw everything at what you are doing

7.Get into popular culture – use communications to get talked about

8.Idea centred, not consumer centred – constantly re-invent yourself


1.Intelligent Naivety


You cannot carry on thinking like you do. You need a radical break.


•Ask intelligent simple questions that the rest of the industry is too close to ask

•Look for insights about opportunity rather than just insights to develop offer

•Look to other industries for ideas – look for fresh and dynamic, not just the opposite of what others are doing


What if Google or Nando’s started offering financial services? What would they do?


2.Lighthouse identity


Develop a clear identity of who you are and what you stand for. This must be built on an inarguable brand truth or product. People are drawn to strong brands. Be something.


•Be consistent in projecting your identity. You have to live the identity, not just pay lip service.

•Intensely project this in everything you do.

•Be salient. Make sure people can’t help noticing you.

•Be equally clear in what you are not

•Be prepared to alienate some people



Apple, “The Courier Guy”


3.Thought leadership


Become the brand that people talk about.


•Break convention in terms of where you are being talked about

•Have something distinct to say

•You can become a thought leader without being the brand leader


The Body Shop aligning itself with ecological values


4.Symbols of re-evaluation


Bold, impactful acts that capture the consumer’s imagination. Consumers are generally quite indifferent, and the purchase decision is often more a habit than a decision.

The greatest danger is not rejection, it is indifference


•Acts must be bold and impactful

•Use the symbols that surprise, puncture the myth of establishment supremacy.

•It must build the lighthouse identity

•Symbols are often as important for internal staff as external consumers


When Swatch launched in Germany, they draped a 150m high watch over the tallest building in Frankfurt

Kulula planes



You don’t have the resources to do everything. Be single minded and sacrifice all activity that does not communicate your identity.

This is different to prioritisation. This means dropping secondary and tertiary targets altogether


•Stop all marketing activity that does not support your lighthouse identity

•Measure in the extremes. Aim for top box preference scores, not a high average.



When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he reduced the number of projects in development from 150 to 3..

Personal Trust – focusing on investing for people approaching/ in retirement





Once you have worked out what you are not going to do, throw everything you can at the activities you are going to do.


•You can’t fool the consumer with talk of good intentions, follow it through with action.

•Do fewer things, but do them “big”

•Have a lot of energy


Avis’s We try harder campaign

A myriad of start-ups.


7.Get into popular culture


Since you don’t have the budget to advertise extensively, use publicity and unconventional communication to get people talking. We want people to tell our story on our behalf.



•Do things worth talking about

•The right publicity and word of mouth can be the most powerful tools you have.

•Rethink PR.



Dove’s campaign for real beauty.

Going viral on YouTube.

8.Idea centred, not consumer centred


Sustain momentum by keeping sight of what the brand is about. Focus on generating and implementing new ideas. Don’t become dependent on consumers


•Successful challengers risk becoming the establishment.

•You have to keep innovating with new products and ideas.


Discovery Health – only 20 years old, but now the leader in its category, innovated with Vitality et al. Can it continue?


The graphic below outlines the strategic approach in a summary

Challenger Strategic Approach

Challenger Strategic ApproachChallenger Strategic Approach Challenger Strategic Approach










If you figure it all out, and need some help eating that fish, please let me know, and I’ll come help.




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