When small makes big look good

The recent Google Chrome campaign in the UK featuring satchel-maker Julie Deane tapped into our innate support for the underdog. The film describes Julie as […]

The recent Google Chrome campaign in the UK featuring satchel-maker Julie Deane tapped into our innate support for the underdog.

The film describes Julie as ‘mum-of-two’, and shows the growth of her business from idea to product to customers to internet sensation. All powered by Google.  As well as featuring in Google’s TV advertising, the film has had six million views on YouTube.

Google used to be the underdog.  When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded the business at Stanford University, they were challenging the status quo, as most successful start-ups do.  Their mantra, ‘Do no evil’, consciously set them apart from the established, more corporate competition.  ‘Do no evil’ remains an unofficial slogan, but it’s become more of a plea for people outside the company to use Google’s power in the right way, rather than a rallying call for those on the inside of the organisation.  Google’s market dominance now leads to criticism over issues like copyright, censorship, and privacy.

It’s a difficult thing for companies who start off as the challenger to change that mindset once they become the market leader.  It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but Tesco started life as a start-up challenger – a few market stalls in the East End of London.  In a new book, ‘The Making of Tesco’, Sarah Ryle describes founder Jack Cohen’s struggles against the status quo in the early days: ‘Jack learned that the establishment did not always work well for customers……Jack’s biggest challenges were external. The National Federation of Grocers and Provision Dealers’ Association, in effect an early union for small traders, was cross about the street markets.  The costermongers undercut shop prices and, although this ensured survival for families on or below the poverty line, the London County Council eventually passed a bill in 1927 seeking to curb the markets.’

Today, Google and Tesco face the same problem: how do they maintain support and brand love when they stop being the underdog and start being the dominant player?

Virgin has managed to maintain its original challenger ethos and positioning by entering new sectors and challenging those dominant players – playing the underdog to British Airways, to Sky and BT.  But that’s not possible for brands that want to stay, broadly, in their main area of expertise.

Another option – the one Google has taken in its latest campaign – is to position itself on the side of the underdogs, and to use its scale as a force for good.  The satchel campaign clearly struck a chord in the UK, helpful at a time when Google had just provided questionable evidence of its ‘Do no evil’ approach by ‘managing’ its tax liabilities in the UK.  Tesco too has championed its smaller suppliers to illustrate the good its scale can do (vested interest alert here – we’ve been working with Tesco on this campaign).

Adam Morgan has written extensively about how challenger brands can compete.  Google Chrome’s satchel story shows how market leaders can tap into some of that challenger energy and support for the underdog.


Photo credit: Martin Pettitt