Adversity in Successful Brand Stories

Marketers craft elaborate stories focusing on the origins of their brand, including their choices and struggles. How are these narratives interpreted by consumers increasingly focused on product features and pricing? In this lesson, we'll explore the importance of self-identity and why consumers always appreciate a good underdog.

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Brand biographies are carefully constructed stories designed to highlight a brand’s origin, experiences and evolution over time. From potato chips and speciality coffees to political candidates and resort hotels, more brands have been embracing underdog narratives that focus on the humble beginnings and harrowing struggles that were overcome almost entirely in service to the consumer.

What did the research find?

Researchers found that as consumers try to relate their own sense of identify to individual brands, underdog biographies can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on their purchase intentions and product choice. In other words, consumers react positively when they see the struggles of their own lives reflected in the history of a brand.

How can I apply this to my own brand?

A successful underdog biography requires two components: an external disadvantage that was overcome, and a sense of passion and determination that was central to the effort.

These effects are strongest when consumers are purchasing for themselves versus others, where choice and product usage are public, and when objects have an identity function (fashion) rather than a utilitarian one (lightbulbs).

Remember that these stories can help to differentiate across brands, as well. For instance, Stacy’s Pita Chips uses an underdog brand biography to distinguish itself from Doritos even though they are both owned by the same company, Frito Lay.


Paharia, N., Keinan, A., Avery, J., & Schor, J. B. (2011). The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantage and Determination through Brand Biography. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(5)