Event Recap: Overthrow II  

At the launch of PHD’s new book – Overthrow II – a panel of experts put modern challenger brands under the microscope.

Overthrow II, the guide to how brands of all sizes can benefit from adopting a challenger mindset to drive more ambitious growth, was launched in style at the Contagious Villa in Cannes on 19 June.

The event was hosted by the two companies behind Overthrow II: PHD Media and eatbigfish. Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish and one of the book’s co-authors, led a panel of industry experts in a wide-ranging discussion of modern-day challenger brands. The panel included top executives from two of the challenger brands featured in the book: Pascal van Ham, marketing director of Tony’s Chocoloney, and John Schoolcraft, global chief creative officer at Oatly. Completing the line-up was Elio Leoni Sceti, co-founder and chief crafter at The Craftory – a $300m investment fund focused exclusively on amplifying the world’s boldest consumer brands.

Overthrow II arrives seven years after the original Overthrow was published. It continues where its predecessor left off – examining how modern challenger brands position themselves and behave in their respective markets.

The book identifies 10 distinct strategies from the new wave of challengers, ranging from the ‘Missionary’ (brands that identify with, and crucially deliver against, a higher mission) to the ‘Democratiser’ (brands that provide wider access to goods and services). Overthrow II brings each of these strategies to life with brand case studies from a diverse range of industries and markets. The authors also identify the distinctive features and communications behaviours for each of the 10 strategies, but conclude with a detailed analysis of the commonalities that link them.  

In Cannes, the panel discussed a number of important aspects of the modern challenger brand landscape.

The trust crisis 

There was a clear acknowledgement of consumers’ declining trust in brands. The Craftory’s Sceti highlighted the fact that consumers have traditionally tended to trust brands, but recently ‘that trust has been underserved’. This has been exacerbated by the information revolution of the last 10 years, bringing a boom in ‘knowledge about the consequences of consumption’. The importance of transparency was repeatedly stressed, with van Ham explaining how Tony’s Chocoloney has promoted and campaigned for total transparency in Dutch supply chains, while Sceti identified ‘transparency of culture’ as a key factor in determining whether or not a brand wins investment from The Craftory.

Shifting focus 

The conversation then moved to one of Overthrow II’s key themes: the shift amongst challenger brands from challenging someone to challenging something. Both of the brands represented on the panel saw themselves as agents of change in relation to big societal issues. For Oatly, this is ‘the broken food system – the things that go into products and the lack of transparency’. For Tony’s Chocoloney, the mission is about combating ‘inequality in global supply chains…extreme poverty and illegal child labour’. People have increasingly high expectations of brands, and successful challengers are taking active, vigorous, positive roles in the world around them.

Challenger brands are continuing to harness the power of provocation and surprise. A petition on modern-day slavery was delivered to the Hague by van Ham dressed as one of the brand’s chocolate bars. As she explained: ‘we combine the seriousness of the problem with the fun and happiness of the products’. Meanwhile, Oatly’s distinctive advertising campaigns have created impact by acknowledging and embracing modern consumers’ cynicism when it comes to advertising. However, Schoolcraft was keen to stress that Oatly is ‘not provocative to be provocative – that’s a gimmick’.

The last word fell to Schoolcraft, who underlined the vital role that brands are playing in changing the world: ‘you can’t write an article or make a video anymore to make a difference: you have to start a company’. It is the strategic thinking identified in Overthrow II that is fuelling this powerful wave of modern-day challenger brands.

If you would like to find out more about the book, then visit the dedicated Overthrow II website.

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