What every challenger brand can learn from Peyton Manning

March 28, 2014 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Is there any celebrity, athletic or otherwise, more respected and beloved than Peyton Manning? Last season, Manning set a number of NFL records, including throwing for a gaudy 55 touchdowns. He won his fifth league MVP award and went into the Super Bowl as the sentimental favorite. We all know how that turned out, but do you remember his demeanor after the game? He was a total gentleman, praising both theSeahawks and his teammates. Not because it was the politically correct thing to do, but because that’s who he is. Peyton is humble. He’s funny. He’s crazy talented and nobody works harder. That’s why he’s the most bankable pitchman in sports. And why today, his stock went up yet again.


In an interview with MMQB.com, Manning’s agent Tom Condon revealed that when Peyton made the move from Indianapolis, there were at least a dozen teams interested in his services. Condon told him he thought he could get a contract for $25 million a year. Manning asked his agent, “What does Tom Brady make?” Condon responded, “$18 million a year.” “Then I don’t want to make a penny more than that,” Manning said. Wait, a professional athlete leaving $7 million on the table on principle? Can you EVER remember that happening? I can’t. But then this isn’t some professional athlete. It’s Peyton Manning.

And that got me thinking—would the same kind of behavior result in the same kind of beloved following if we were talking about a company and not Peyton Manning? We talk a lot about underdogs and how they can best fight the big dogs in their categories and I wonder, what would this look like for them? Scanning the challenger brand landscape, it didn’t take long to find the answer.

I once heard GSD&M legend Roy Spence estimate that Southwest Airlines could make more than a BILLION dollars a year if they just charged for bags. They know that. But they won’t, because it’s not who they are and it’s not what they stand for. Every year,Chick-Fil-A sits at, or near the top of Average Unit Volume for National Quick Serve Restaurants—and they do it open six days a week! They could open up on Sundays. But they won’t, because it’s not who they are and it’s not what they stand for.

When you’re a challenger brand, knowing who you’re not is just as important as knowing who you are. The world doesn’t need more cookie cutters. It needs brands that are real, genuine, transparent and not afraid to be who they are. Companies that treat their stakeholders the way they would want to be treated. When a brand can do that authentically, they’ve got something, and people will follow them. Even if they stumble.

Anybody want to bet against Peyton Manning next season?

Michael Tuggle is Executive Creative Director at The Loomis Agency in Dallas

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Mike Sullivan

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


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