Challenger Brand Rule No. 1: Change Something

October 26, 2009 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

10OFFRD_YZ450F_B_A4_0129_98553a3cI’m a lifelong motocross fan, so imagine my delight whenYamaha served up a supreme example of challenger brand innovation with its all-new YZ450 for 2010. For years, Yamaha and all the other motorcycle manufacturers have been playing follow-the-leader behind Honda, the undisputed category heavy-weight with something like 50 percent market share. While their friends at Kawasaki andSuzuki have been largely content to compare and mimic as a means for competing, Yamaha has re-written the rules a couple of times. Yamaha got a giant jump on the category when they introduced the first production 4-stroke motocross bike in the late 90s, and promptly won a prestigious motocross championship with it. And now, as the category has quieted down and the economy is lulling companies into more conservative strategies Yamaha has done it again. They’ve literally reversed field on the competition by totally reinventing and redesigning the way engines fit into their bikes, making them remarkably different – and Yamaha argues far more effective – than any other bike on the market. I don’t want to bore non-enthusiasts with the details, so just imagine what it would look like if a car manufacturer turned the wheels sideways on one of its models and wound up with something that looked cool and worked better? Yamaha’s new design is that radical. And, importantly, the company’s new convention-challenging approach illustrates what is perhaps the most fundamental “underdog” strategy of all: It’s not what you say, but what you do that makes an effective challenger. I predict Yamaha will sell all the blue bikes it can make in 2010 – the economy be damned!

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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