The Challenger Brand That’s Changing Lives

October 31, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

There are countless reasons Americans love the challenger. As we noted in the opening chapter of our book, “The Voice of the Underdog,” it could stem from our cultural intolerance of bullies. The notion that it’s unfair to pick on someone or something smaller coupled with our competitive nature fires a primal urge in most of us to stand up and fight for the little guy. But that’s just the beginning of why we cheer for the underdog. And why The LOOMIS Agency has committed our entire focus to building challenger brand clients.

Why we love the challenger.

As people (and an agency), we love challenger brands because we love a great story. Every civilization the world has ever known has revered people who could tell a great story. We’re no different. Stories help us see our place in the world. They frame light and dark, right and wrong, life and death. Underdog stories give us something to cheer for and, often, something to aspire to. There are no stories more heartwarming or inspirational than those of challengers overcoming unbeatable odds.

Underdogs are universal. Every culture has “haves” and “have nots.” Those who are blessed and those who are less fortunate. And whether an underdog is defined by their size, race, gender, or nationality, we can all recognize them. We know how the underdog’s story ends most of the time. But we’ve also seen them pull the upset. To win against every conceivable odd. That’s what we cheer for.

When we look at challengers, we see ourselves. No matter how our personal stories have unfolded, at one time or another, we’ve all found ourselves in the role of the underdog.

On any given day, any one of us could be the underdog. And right now, in America, that’s the role in which millions and millions of people are increasingly finding themselves.

The weight of $195 billion.

According to SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation), “Americans presently owe at least $195 billion in medical debt. Approximately 16 million people (6 percent of adults) in the U.S. owe over $1,000 in medical debt. And 3 million people (1 percent of adults) owe medical debt of more than $10,000.” That was based on 2019 statistics. Another more current report suggests that not three, but 12 percent of Americans owe more than $10,000 in medical debt. At a time when 56 percent of Americans can’t cover a $1,000 emergency with their savings, medical debt has become an overwhelming burden for millions of families, many of them underprivileged with no way to pay the interest on their debt, much less the principal.

For decades, debt collection companies have purchased “bad debts” like these for a fraction of the value. Then, they sue the owner of that debt to recover as much of the debt as possible. When that happened, the hospitals recovered at least some of what they were owed. The debt companies took a flier believing they’d win more than they lose. But there weren’t a lot of resources to help the owners of the debts. Normally those unable to pay rather than those intentionally trying not to. Today, there is real hope on the horizon.

Lightening a real burden.

A few weeks ago, I read an NPR story about an organization called RIP Medical Debt that frankly, I can’t stop thinking about. For those unfamiliar with RIP Medical Debt, it’s a nonprofit organization started by two former debt collectors named Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, who built their careers chasing down patients who couldn’t afford their bills. Today, they raise money, purchase unpaid medical debt for pennies on the dollar and then forgive those debts completely.

RIP Medical Debt is a challenger brand using unconventional thinking to help those less fortunate who are drowning in a sea of debt. For an agency wholly committed to the underdog, it doesn’t get any better than that.

To date, RIP Medical Debt has forgiven more than $6.7 billion in medical debt. You read that correctly. $6.7 BILLION in medical debt held by underprivileged families being crushed under the weight of unpaid medical bills. In what might be the best part of this story, none of the people helped solicited the assistance. That’s not how RIP Medical Debt works. Once people are identified as underprivileged, the organization relieves debts at random. Those helped simply receive a letter in the mail telling them their burden has been relieved.

Inspiring others.

Buoyed by gifts like the $50 million donation they received from MacKenzie Scott in 2020 and greater exposure post-pandemic, RIP Medical Debt is both growing quickly and also inspiring other people and organizations including major hospitals to help solve the problem. “In January, Heywood Healthcare system in Massachusetts donated $800,000 of medical debt to RIP, turning over control of that debt in part because patients with outstanding bills were avoiding treatment.”

Every gift of $100 to RIP Medical Debt wipes out $10,000 in debt for an individual, or family that desperately needs the relief. It’s not drafting off the government or taking money away from any other need. It’s just American citizens and companies inspired by one challenger trying to help another and for all the right reasons. Why do we love the underdog so much? What’s not to love?

If you’d like to make a donation to RIP Medical Debt to help a family in need, CLICK HERE. Every $100 relieves $10,000 in debt!

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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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.