Challenger Brand Thinking Produces High-Octane Results

May 5, 2014 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Have you ever had to mix gas and oil for a two-stroke engine? That sort of opening line limited my dating success back in the day, but there’s a great marketing story in the answer today.

I grew up racing dirt bikes powered by two-stroke engines fueled with a mixture of gas and oil. The blending process requires grade school knowledge of ratios and a special can for storage so as not to confuse it with the straight stuff. It’s simple work and a simple system. In fact, mixing fuel for two-stroke motorcycle racers is like grilling steaks for chefs. It’s the kind of chore that becomes so routine, the process simply disappears from conscious thought.

Despite twenty-five years in advertising and marketing and even more time playing with two-stroke engines, it never occurred to me to pre-blend fuel and oil and sell it as a product unto itself. In fact, the genius of such a simple solution only dawned on me when I spotted Husqvarna’s new pre-mixed two-stroke fuel and oil product on an end-cap at my local Lowe’s.

It turns out VP Fuels is at it too with a product and packaging similar to Husky’s—think Red Bull and Monster Energy here. To be fair, I don’t know which company owns the rights to first-mover status, but since VP makes its entire living in the fuel business, I would guess they nailed it first. Either way, the competitive knock-off is not about flattery.

Often the best ideas are the simplest.

In the unforgiving wilds of the consumer marketplace, imitation is the clearest validation of a great idea. The newly imagined method for selling a Reece’s-style mix of two different century-old products commands a premium that would make an oil sheik blush. Husky’s MSRP for a quart of its new power juice is $7.49. That’s nearly $30 bucks a gallon, and it leaves plenty of room for a sale price of $4.99, or $20 bucks a jug. It’s a fair price for folks who don’t know a two-stroke from a Big Block V8. It’s the perfect solution for a large customer base that has ruined enough weed eaters and leaf blowers with straight gas to put warranty call center operators on weekend suicide watch.

The new product is also the sort of brilliant challenger brand marketing play that category dominators with all their riches and resources so often overlook. The big guys often let their expertise get in the way. Exxon Mobile should have had a product like this on the market decades ago. The lost revenue might look like a rounding error for a multibillion dollar category dominator, but missing opportunities like these can come back to bite you. Challenger brands can make big waves in a market. Again, recall the way an Austrian inventor caught Coke and Pepsi asleep at the wheel and revolutionized the beverage industry with an energy drink called Red Bull.

Often, our expertise as marketers and our deep experience in a given category blinds us to the obvious. This is why an outside perspective is so valuable. Adam Morgan, author of the seminal work on challenger branding, Eating the Big Fish, calls the kind of thinking required to produce ideas like this “intelligent naivety.” Being intelligently naive is about forgetting what we know in service of asking more imaginative questions. It challenges marketers to shed the bits and pieces of clutter that pass for the basis of expertise and strategic thinking in order to spot the real opportunities for extraordinary growth.

If challenger brand thinking can be used to produce brand new products in a category that dates to the turn of the 20th century, what’s holding you back?

– Mike Sullivan is President of The Loomis Agency in Dallas.





The Loomis Agency is one of the leading ad agencies in Dallas. LOOMIS specializes in advertising and marketing for challenger brands. Helping challenger brands outthink the competition rather than outspend them is what we do. LOOMIS is the voice of the underdog. We are a full-service advertising agency offering senior leadership, account service, creative services, media planning and buying, brand development, strategy, planning, brand standards creation and management, business analysis, research and insights, creative ideation, target audience definition and segmentation and touch point analysis. We have deep experience in restaurant marketing, retail, services marketing and sports and entertainment marketing. Creatively, we offer the full spectrum of traditional and digital marketing channels including broadcast (television production and radio production), print (magazine and newspaper), out of home (billboards and signage), in store point of purchase (POP), direct mail, packaging and package design and digital (user experience (UX), website design and development, digital display ad design and development, content marketing, email marketing, e-Commerce, keyword strategy, testing and optimization, analytics and insights, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), mobile advertising and Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat, Vine). LOOMIS also offers an in-house studio providing print production and retouching and video post production services through See Spot Run (SSR). See Spot Run is a full-service video production services facility dedicated to creating the highest quality work for every sized client. From editing and motion graphics to turnkey production and beyond, SSR offers a unique mix of cutting-edge technology, creative thinking and low overhead. LOOMIS also provides exemplary music production and audio support in three world-class studios through our partner Luminous Sound Studios. If your focus is advertising ROI, or marketing ROI, if you are an advertising search consultant, an agency search consultant, or a marketing search consultant, call us. Let us show you the power of challenger brand thinking and what LOOMIS can do for your clients and your brand.

challenger brands

Mike Sullivan

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


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.