Scotland’s independence vote delivers powerful challenger brand lesson

September 19, 2014 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

The headlines could have been a lot different this morning. Had Scotland voted to leave the United Kingdom in favor of independence Thursday, the economic and political aftershocks would have been felt across the world, radiating out from an epicenter in London. But alas, given the choice, a record turnout of Scots voted down independence in an historic 55 percent to 45 percent vote that kept their 307-year union with England intact.

Many across the pond viewed the push for independence as a “heads vs. hearts” campaign with older, more conservative Scots acknowledging the financial risks of going it alone, while a younger, more liberal cohort embraced the excitement of building their own country. The debate has been fascinating and in the past few weeks, has crystalized into the perfect look at a Challenger Brand trying to emerge. What could be more of an underdog story than a country fighting for its independence?

When we talk about challenger branding, there are three states that must be satisfied before a company, or in this case a country, has any hope of winning. The first is “State Of Market” where you ask yourself, “what is our presence in the marketplace?” You’re clearly not the market leader, but are the conditions right for you to make a move? In the case of Scotland, the answer was yes. Those behind the independence movement were convinced Scotland’s extensive oil reserves, their resolve and the yearning for true independence from the Bank of England and the others in their UK brotherhood were enough for them to break away and stand alone.

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The second challenger state is “State Of Mind” which is all about determining your level of commitment. Real challengers are either the best at something important to a specific group, or they are actively striving to become the best at delivering something that group wants. Clearly, those behind the Scottish Independence movement were convinced the national mindset for secession was close enough to critical mass to push for a vote. They were convinced they could establish their own currency, care for their citizens, protect their own borders and drive their own economy without any help from the UK. Word of mouth told them they were close. Polls and research told them they were close. And they were. But not close enough.

The third and final challenger state is “State Of Readiness,” probably the most important of the three. Without it, there’s simply motion and no traction. True challenger brands engender a culture of willingness, openness, and energy for embracing new modes of thinking and acting on them. National independence certainly answers that. But state of readiness also takes a higher organizational tolerance for calculated risk taking. In this case, the organization was a country of 5.3 million Scots and on Thursday, their divided, but collective voice said “we’re not ready.”

It’s easy to see how the Scots could get whipped into a frenzy to declare their independence. It’s invigorating being the underdog. And being a challenger is exciting. But as the election yesterday showed us with great clarity, winning as a challenger is also really, really hard.

While we love David and the1980 Olympic Men’s Hockey team and Seabiscuit and the reemergence of Apple, what we often forget is that for every underdog that wins, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands who don’t make it. Winning as a challenger is tough business. It requires exceptional thinking, Herculean resolve and the heart of a champion. Only when those things align along with united states of market, mind and readiness, is it possible to shock the world.

Michael Tuggle is Chief Imagination Officer at The Loomis Agency, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency.

challenger brand

Mike Sullivan

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


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