The Age of the Underdog

August 26, 2009 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

We are living in the Age of the Underdog. Not sure when it started exactly, but make no mistake, we’re in it and like a huge tidal wave threatening to crash down and reset the brandscape as we know it, this wave is picking up steam. It wasn’t too long ago that companies and brands told us what to think and how to feel. They dictated in no uncertain terms how and when and where we were supposed to engage with them. The communication flowed downhill from one voice to millions and everything was good—provided you had a transmitter, or a newspaper, or a magazine syndicate. Brands talked. Consumers listened. And while that sounds very 1960s “Mad Men-like,” it wasn’t that long ago that companies, not consumers, were driving the conversation. Nike said “Just Do It,” and we did. But now, seemingly overnight, look where we are with the emergence, and more importantly, the critical mass adoption of social media. No longer are we simply responding to our masters commands. We’re barking back. And not just a few of us. We travel in packs now. Today, every consumer who wants a voice has one, and in many cases that voice is perfectly coordinated across Facebook,Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg and a whole series of blogs and Web sites that bark out opinions and viewpoints with such regularity, Metamucil ought to be a sponsor. Think about your own social media footprint. How many packs do you travel in? Every underdog has a platform now. And in the cases where an opinion about a brand rankles brand loyalists, or inspires those who want to be one, impromptu groups form in a matter of hours and suddenly a voice becomes a movement. Last week, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journaloffering a “second opinion” to the health care initiatives presently being pushed by The White House and Congress. It was respectful, smart and well-written—just a differing opinion. Not surprisingly, within hours of the paper hitting the street, there was opposition from the Left to Mackey’s article with some Whole Foods fans calling for his head. One in particular, a man named Mark Rosenthal, organized a Web-generated boycott of Whole Foods that in the span of a week amassed more than 14,000 “members” and became a topic of discussion on Mike Gallagher’s nationally syndicated radio show. Every day in the social media landscape, there are thousands of underdogs making their voices heard. And like the classic dog whistles that only dogs can hear, the sound will not be heard by all. But to those who hear it, who find the sound resonant, there is an unmistakable compulsion to respond. It’s a smaller pack, but one driven to act. One committed to making sure you and the rest of the world will not ignore them. Welcome to the Age of the Underdog. What do you want to bark about?


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.