Research Digest

High-Level to Hyperlocal: How Challenger Brands Should Approach Their Connected TV Creative Strategy


  • Challenger brands might be constrained in resources, but not in creativity. Our insights explore how these advertisers can level up their brands.
  • Challenger brands meet (and exceed) consumers’ increased expectations in price, convenience and performance.
  • Challenger brands who had approached their media planning with CTV bundled with linear TV advertising are now shifting towards CTV as an agile platform that derisks traditional TV advertising.
  • These types of brands should adopt a tiered approach to their Connected TV advertising, utilizing the testing capabilities of CTV for their creative.

Here’s how challenger brands are disrupting the industry with a performance mindset.

What is a Challenger Brand?

Historically, television advertising has often been reserved for the top-tier advertisers: brands who have the resources and time to make a giant statement on the big screen…with the expectation that they might not be able to accurately measure the impact of such an effort. Times have changed, and with the move to a performance marketing mindset, advertisers expect more from the digital channels in which they invest. 

Challenger brands by definition, set themselves apart by a mindset. They are often confused with disruptor brands, who spot an unmet need in the market and work on a way to better deliver the customer experience (think brands like Uber and Airbnb). However, challenger brands aren’t necessarily the market leader, but they do things differently by challenging the norm (like Lyft, Aldi and Amazon Prime). Adam Morgan, an authority on challenger brands who authored the book Eating the Big Fish, defined challenger brands as companies that “…[have] big ambitions and aims to use bold actions to break through existing conventions and create change within an industry.” They are often more focused on challenging a mindset or belief (i.e. the customer experience) rather than who they are challenging. Not only are these brands tasked to amplify what they do best—they simultaneously need to reposition the power player brand they want to take down.

How Challenger Brands Can Challenge Creative Norms

Ideally, challenger brands should aim to be in position (1) as highlighted in the chart above, which is where ‘what consumers’ want intersects with ‘what your brand does best.’ From a creative standpoint, challenger brands can achieve this in a few ways:

  • Find flaws in a leader’s strengths and amplify weakness: If you find your competitors weak spot, hone in on it in your creative. For example, Mint Mobile’s latest ‘Deflation’ ad plays up two things: macroeconomic trends (inflation) and highlighting how their brand is severely undercutting its pricing compared to its competitors in both voiceover and prominent messaging.
  • Challenge consumers’ perceptions of market leader’s strengths: Challenger brands not only change consumer mindsets—they transform entire categories. Virgin Atlantic is a solid example of making viewers take a second look in their ‘See the World Differently’ commercial, and challenging the stereotypes of the airline industry by utilizing an all-star cast of actors and diverse talent. What makes this  ad creative particularly impactful is that it is devoid of voiceover and messaging—letting the cast and song ‘speak’ emote more than words can.   

Media Planning, Feedback Loops and Taking Chances on Connected TV

“I think what you get in scale and targeting, you give up in quality on other marketing channels,” said John Deschner, Maximum Effort’s Vice President of Creative. Deschner has helped a roster of challenger brands, including Mint Mobile and Aviation Gin, to build creative strategy. “Connected TV opens up new opportunities for challenger brands who were previously not able to afford television advertising as these brands don’t often have the resources or mechanisms in place like mass-market, ‘power player’ brands.”  

Most of these brands are combining Connected TV and linear TV in their media buys, however Deschner cautions this approach. “Connected TV derisks television advertising without compromising the quality of the interaction with the consumer. But linear TV is a huge monetary and time risk.” The beauty of Connected TV lies in its agility, as brands can be in a cycle of making new creative, experimenting with different audience segments at a minimal cost. Many Connected TV techstacks are responsible enough to help “…these brands constantly learn and iterate instead of taking one large Super Bowl swing and hope for the best.” Deschner shares how challenger brands can apply a performance mindset on television—therefore cutting down the time it would normally take to build an ad (on average it takes nine months to create a 30-second commercial):

  • Tie your creative exercise to a desired outcome: Whether it’s site visits, ROAS, CPCV, establish a clear goal. 
  • Establish a growth loop from awareness to conversion: Deschner relates this to industries that tend to have longer buying cycles, like automotive—but these principles apply to other verticals as well.
    • Tier 1: Communicating your brand, leaning on a storytelling approach (introducing and explaining a brand to create an affinity with audiences)
    • Tier 2: Communicating your product/service features and benefits. If your brand is global or national, you’ll want to break down this tier into a regional/market approach.
    • Tier 3: Communicating a distinct call-to-action on a local level, utilizing other platforms like social media and display. For example, if you’re an automotive brand this would mean building hyperlocalized creative that speaks to dealers.

Additionally, when challenger brands are approaching their creative strategy they should also consider their planning cycles, as these types of brands don’t usually plan in two-year cycles. Connected TV advertising supports brands who want to make quick pivots, without having to risk unwinding a whole year’s worth of media planning (such as would be the case with linear TV, which is a huge monetary risk). This supports shorter, frequent tests, like investing $10,000 to $15,000 in production, with another $15,000 invested in media. “Even if it doesn’t work well, you’d probably get $20,000 (or more) worth of insights from that test alone,” adds Deschner.


Challenger brands, who are defined by their breakthrough mindsets, don’t necessarily have the budgets or resources as more established, household brands. These brands can win on Connected TV as much as the latter, with the aim to amplify what their brand does best. Adopting a tiered approach to creative strategy and media planning can help these brands to stay nimble and readily pivot, taking the learnings from their creative testing to fuel their future campaigns.

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