It’s Time for Marketers to Spread the Defense

October 14, 2008 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

What can smart marketers learn from a high school football coach? It turns out there’s a great challenger brand marketing lesson to be learned from the Piedmont Highlanders football team. Tired of the team’s status as a perennial loser, the head coach devised a classic underdog strategy: he changed the game so his team could win more often. The coach invented and installed the A11 offense, which increases the number of plays the team can run from the standard 36 to 16,632. The resulting unpredictable Highlander offense has thrown opposing defenses for a loop. It’s been so successful, in fact, that the team has caught several formidable opponents off guard, improved its record, and attracted attention from the national media. Scientific American even jumped in with its own story on the little school that could.

Why don’t more challenger brand marketers embrace this kind of innovation? It may be that they are just successful enough. Unlike the Piedmont Highlanders who had been recording losing seasons for years, many companies do just well enough. They break .500 and call it good enough. Let’s face it, installing the A11 offense was risky for the coach. If it had failed he very likely would have been hunting for another job. Head football coaching may be the only profession with tenure shorter than CMOs.

But risk can be paradoxical in that often not taking risk is the riskiest thing a marketer can do. That’s especially true in challenging economic times when the fight for market share has become even more grueling. We would argue that today’s market conditions are perfect for innovation for underdogs of every breed. What can you do to change the rules in your category so your brand can win more often? What is your A11 offense?


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.