Using The Underdog In Marketing Storytelling

by Jason Falls |

Editor’s Note: This guest post is from Olivia Coleman who typically writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.

We’ve all heard the benefits of using storytelling to further engage consumers with your brand. But does it work? According to a fascinating Miller-McCune article published a few months ago, a very specific storyline appeals to American consumers in particular. And that’s the narrative of the proverbial underdog.

The article cited a study conducted by Harvard researchers, which found that consumers are much more likely to purchase products from companies who incorporate the underdog tale in their products and profiles. The underdog story, researchers noted, had a few things in common external disadvantage, along with a sense of passion and determination. Even more interesting than these findings was that consumers picked the underdog regardless of their socioeconomic background, suggesting how deeply the underdog ethos is ingrained in our national mentality.

Although these findings aren’t necessarily surprising, I was particularly interested by the fact that, although the article makes no mention of storytelling specifically, the notion of the underdog depends on solid storytelling techniques. The companies cited which use the underdog theme all do so through their company “story” Clif Bars, for example, note on their wrappers, “In 1990, I lived in a garage with my dog, skis, climbing gear, bicycle and two trumpets”

Underdog balloon at 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving D...
Image via Wikipedia

Going one step further, social media is a vehicle that is particularly suited to storytelling techniques, especially when it comes to incorporating the underdog tale. Why? Simply because social media in itself is, in many ways, a set of platforms that grew from humble beginnings. What was once a set of tools created by average people that average people used to air personal grievances and triumphs has now exploded into a space where both individuals– perceived “underdogs”– and larger corporations and organizations communicate. Successfully communicating with consumers means connecting with them by demonstrating alignment with their perceived identities.

Of course, the key to successful social media marketing is approaching consumers through genuine interactions. Social media is about people, and people crave personal stories that aren’t necessarily wholly focused on the product, but rather on the people behind the product and their desire to create value together with their customers.

David Kennedy, a marketing specialist and blogger, hits on many of the same ideas in his article, “Why New Media Favors the Underdog.” Kennedy states, “Technology is full of underdog stories that started somewhere small. People love that type of story. It encourages the kind of thinking that says anyone can succeed with the right idea. It’s why the idea itself, and the story behind it, is my favorite idea in new media.”

In the final analysis, companies that want to further their brands through social media should look to storytelling especially telling stories of their origins and thus connect with their customers on a very intimate level.

Olivia Coleman is a freelance writer who primarily writes about online colleges and universities, but who also has an affinity for social media, college life and  internet marketing. She welcomes your comments via email olivia.coleman33 – at –

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).