Pamela Anderson to the Rescue

March 5, 2019 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
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Once you start thinking like a challenger you start finding examples of brilliant challenger marketing in the most unusual places. In fact, the examples start to glow in the dark.

Challenger brands are defined not by their runner-up status, though market rank is a tempting proxy. Being a challenger is primarily a mindset. Being number two, three, or ten in a category isn’t what makes a challenger brand. What makes a challenger brand is the way the people responsible for marketing it think about their position.

A paradigm shift.

Challengers always have ambitions that outstrip their resources. Being a challenger is about reframing limitations as advantages, challenging convention, and harnessing the power of surprise – something that often goes unappreciated. But the single most compelling thing a brand can do is surprise people. “Surprise” is what makes a 3,000-year-old story about a boy knocking over a giant so darned durable. It’s the upset that fans remember, not so much the game.

An unbelievable come-back. By definition, most brands are average. They don’t do anything special to make us remember them. They’re predictable, unsurprising, and ultimately forgettable. The story of Triumph Motorcycle’s resurrection in the United States was surprising for the very fact that it was so absolutely improbable.

On occasion, I’m rewarded with a great challenger story while indulging my favorite pastime — riding and racing motorcycles. Whether you love or hate motorcycles, if you find the heroic journey of great challengers as inspiring as I do, you’ll want to tune into this RacerX podcast interview with Triumph’s former CEO, Michael Lock. He relays the story of the American resurgence of a once-venerable British brand, which began production in 1902 and got wiped out in a head-on crash with receivership in the early 80s.

“Thank God we were young and stupid because if we were older and more experienced we wouldn’t have done half the things we did. But it worked.”

Long odds and rocket fuel.

Done and forgotten, it was against the backdrop of the U.S. motorcycle market — which had been cut in half by shifting interests and demographics — that Triumph triumphed under the leadership of a young new leader. Lock’s naïveté was eclipsed only by his enthusiasm. In the end, it was that naïveté along with long odds that served as rocket fuel for motivation, ultimately catalyzing his pure marketing ingenuity.

“Thank God we were young and stupid because if we were older and more experienced we wouldn’t have done half the things we did. But it worked,” says Lock, who happens to be an outstanding storyteller (the British accent doesn’t hurt a bit). In fact, being British and an outsider of sorts is precisely what helped Lock look at the American motorcycle market with a completely fresh perspective. Lock noticed, and then leveraged, Hollywood’s 60s-era love affair with Triumph and used it to create out-sized success for his 90s brand re-launch.

So, what do Steve McQueen and Pamela Anderson have to do with this old, tweedy British brand? The story cannot be done justice here, so do yourself the favor of listening to the podcast with marketer’s ears. If you happen to be a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll find his telling absolutely riveting.

But wait, there’s more. It seems Lock is a natural born challenger brand marketer because after he worked his magic with Triumph, he performed an encore act for American Flat Track motorcycle racing as head of pro racing for the American Motorcyclist Association. It’s all in his RacerX interview.

Again, you may not give a flip about racing motorcycles on oval-shaped dirt tracks, but both the story of Triumph and Lock’s work for the AMA are the stuff of business school classics — if only business school academics were tuned in to niche motorsports. But unlikely as that is, it is perhaps no more unlikely than the surprising marketing magic pulled off by Michael Lock.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president 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.

ad agencyadvertisingadvertising agencyCEOchallenger brandCMOLoomismarketingMichael LockMike SullivanmotocrossPamela AndersonRacerXSteve McQueenThe Loomis AgencyThe Voice of The UnderdogTriumphTriumph motorcyclesunderdogvoice of the underdog

Mike Sullivan

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

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