This Challenger Brand Strategy Helps Real Underdogs

September 29, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


Here’s a sad stat. Each year, approximately 1.2 million dogs are euthanized and so are another 1.4 million cats, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). That’s one dog or cat every 13 seconds. Is there a bigger underdog than a poor pooch locked in an animal shelter cage? Of course, there are some big-hearted people working on a never-ending quest to find homes for these animals and ease the pressure on local shelters. But, as any of them will tell you, finding new homes for cats and dogs is no easy task.  That’s what makes the creative approach taken by the Humane Society of Utah’s Guinnevere Shuster so remarkable. She managed to empty shelter cages with a flurry of pet adoptions.

There’s a problem with the approach many shelters take on pet adoption. The sad furry faces locked behind bars make a lot of people turn away. The category convention for marketing pet placement has long been to tug on heartstrings with a not-so-subtle guilt play. Unfortunately, the photos trigger avoidance behavior for most. Just look at the photo below and think about how it makes you feel. A little heavy, huh? Let’s face it, there’s plenty of sadness and misery in the world, and if we forget this there’s always the nightly news to remind us.


So, Shuster, who is a social media coordinator for the Utah Humane Society, decided it would be more effective to accentuate the positive – cute pet faces. She created theDoggy Photo Booth and took funny pet pictures that make people smile. The photos attract rather than repel. As obvious as this approach may seem in retrospect, it represents a real break with category convention, which is one of the hallmarks of challenger brand thinking. Shuster’s strategy worked. In 2014 the shelter set a record, placing more than 10,000 animals. And, they’re on pace to break that placement record again this year.

The idea represents challenger thinking at its best. After all, it’s no more expensive to shoot happy photos of pets than sad ones, and happiness always out-sells sadness.


challenger brandsunderdogs

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.