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March 4, 2012#

Positioning Powerade as an Underdog

Positioning your brand as an underdog–#2 to a powerful #1–is nothing new.

Avis, most famously, positioned itself as the car rental company that tried harder, especially with regard to customer service compared to market leader, Hertz.  And, of course, we’re all familiar with Apple vs. Microsoft, Under Armor vs. Nike, and the Jamaican bobsled team against . . . all odds.  These brands caught our attention and generated broad-based appeal because they were all a variation on the classic David vs. Goliath story–the humble but determined underdog pitted against the arrogant, bloated titan.

Now another brand is attempting to join the ranks of these famous underdogs:  Powerade sports drink.     With a market share of 28% compared to Gatorade’s 70%, it certainly qualifies as the little guy.  Powerade’s new brand campaign carries the tagline “Power Through,” a set of words that promote the idea that Powerade is for people who go all-in to achieve success—that nothing short of relentless, hard work is required to win. This idea resonates with even more meaning when put in the context of the underdog.

Powerade is on to something here.  Being the underdog has always been a viable positioning strategy.  But it may be even more relevant in today’s difficult economic environment, in which people are increasingly suspicious of large government and businesses.

According to a study at Harvard Business School, “In today’s world, underdog narratives address real-world challenges and anxieties faced by increasing numbers of Americans.”

Of course, many companies today, even top dogs in their own right want to think and act like underdogs.  No one wants to look like the sated, fat cat.  As Phil Knight, founder and CEO of Nike, said, “Although Nike is the goliath of the industry, we will always think and behave like David”

I’d give Powerade strong odds for making forward progress with this positioning,  It closely aligns with the winning-through-hard work attitudes of its youthful and ambitious target audience.   It also taps into the internet induced zeitgeist of the times, where everyone likes to believe they have a shot at being seen and heard; where authors can’t be rejected by traditional book publishers, and musicians can’t be turned down by record labels. Also, as noted in an early blog posting here, Gatorade has lost focus in evolving its brand positioning from hydration to sports nutrition, and offering a somewhat confusing product line-up.