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Eatbigfish is obsessed with, and completely devoted to, challengers. Founded in 1998, the company spent more than 20 years researching and working closely with more than 500 challenger businesses including PlayStation, Twitter and Google. The eatbigfish team has been up close and personal with the founders, leaders, managers and teams who have driven the success of those businesses. The Challenger Project is its evolving study of challenger brands and how they succeed.

There are 10 challenger types, exemplifying the different ways organisations are challenging their categories and changing the game.



The dramatic disrupter is a brand or product that signals a noticeably real and significant product or service superiority over the rest of the category. It promises consumers a dramatic step-change in the product or service performance, quality or convenience.

Discovery has “upgraded” the financial services category entirely. Through its Vitality programme, a globally recognised science-based behavioural platform, Discovery structures products around customer behaviour, and in so doing, has shaped the group’s ability to offer a product and service that is superior to what existed in the category before.


The democratiser is a challenger that takes something previously only available to the few and makes it accessible to the many. Democratisers are led by a big idea that breaks down and challenges a range of exclusivity barriers, opening up a limited category to a broader group of people.

Gugu Intimates has done precisely this. Recognising that nude underwear has historically exclusively served light-skinned individuals, the brand created nude underwear that caters to darker skin tones more representative of the African skin palette. In so doing, the brand hopes to empower and liberate African women to be more comfortable and confident in their own skin.



The enlightened zagger is an organisation that deliberately challenges the prevailing and generally accepted norms of a category or culture, provoking and stimulating consumers’ perspectives through its surprising or contrarian stance. 

Simply is a digital life company launched in 2016 that makes life insurance quicker and simpler, swimming against the category tide of complexity and time-intensive processes. This is achieved through a tech-led approach, innovative products and strategic partnerships that augment its product portfolio.


The feisty underdog presents itself as locked into a binary battle we can all recognise: small vs big, good vs evil, us vs them. This challenger is willing to stick it to the market dominance of and consumer preference for the category leader, with a key characteristic being the ability to create disproportionate noise for the size of their budget, relative to the category leader.

Chicken Licken is a brand that started doing this almost 50 years ago, challenging the big finger-lickin’ incumbent. Since day one, Chicken Licken has taken on the dominant market player through serious court cases and topical, relatable and entertaining communication, winning the hearts and minds of local consumers while it’s at it. 


The irreverent maverick is a challenger that sees the world’s seriousness and narrow-mindedness as an opportunity to stand out. It uses wit and humour to challenge complacency and the apparent comfort found in the same-old same-old, engaging with attitude, character and irreverence.

Savanna Premium Cider has been keeping us engaged and entertained for 20 years with provocations that challenge the traditional category cues. Whether through dry-humoured communication or the launch of the #SavannaVirtualComedyBar during the Covid-19 lockdown to keep consumers entertained, Savanna injects humour into everything it says and does, provoking the otherwise safe and dull convention of the category.


The local hero champions the importance and character of local needs, local culture and local people. It shows pride in where it comes from and reflects the emotion and energy around a renewed appetite for localism and local character. 

SA Tourism concentrates on the humanity of SA’s people rather than on the destination itself. It aims to capture the energy and inspiration of the people that give life to our country’s diverse and picturesque destinations, centring its communication on the depth of human presence and celebration of local communities. Instead of relying on the preconceived notion of tourism being reliant on external visitors, SA Tourism appreciates the value of local people.


The missionary seeks to change something that is wrong or unfair in the world, driven by an ambitious and relentless cause. For the missionary, the business is the mission, and the mission is the business.

RLabs is a social enterprise driven by the purpose of “making hope contagious” while operating in an environment that indexes high on unemployment, poor education, gangsterism and drug abuse. RLabs understands that South Africans living in marginalised communities have less access to quality education, resulting in fewer job opportunities and growing hopelessness. So it works to create environments and systems where people have access to skills, training and economic empowerment at no cost — regardless of whether they have a formal high school education. The enterprise has already had an impact on 15-million people across 23 countries, and has a bold ambition to positively influence the lives of two-billion people by 2030.



Next generation challengers are focused on creating products or services for the now. They challenge the appropriateness and relevance of the market leader, or even the whole category, for the times we live in and can elegantly position the incumbent as perfect for a time gone by, but new times call for new brands and services.

Naked Insurance is insurance, but not as you know it. It's a new generation of car and home insurance that challenges the fundamental model and accepted convention in short-term insurance that expounds “company profit is dependent on claims”. The insurance company does this by charging a flat fee to do everything. That means, because its income isn’t dependent on how much it pays out in claims, it has no reason to make claiming difficult. In so doing, Naked is breaking the traditional cycle of distrust between insurers and their customers, bringing in the next generation of insurance. 



The people’s champion deliberately sets itself up as being on the side of an ill-served community. It often uses people-powered platforms to create change with the community’s interests at heart. 

The Umthunzi Farming Community is a people’s champion, launching an e-marketplace in 2018 to connect a community of farmers, volunteers, consumers and other stakeholders to create “a food system where small-scale farmers are key contributors”. Actively working to serve and empower local farmers who have been excluded by the entrenched and dysfunctional local food system, Umthunzi stands up for the farmers that have been short-served or exploited by the establishment for too long. 


The real and human challenges the impersonality and faceless persona of the market leader and the dehumanising industrialisation of the category. It strives to appeal to people on a more personal and emotional level, genuinely caring about what they are making, about their relationships with customers, and about the people who make their products and services.

Koo has been warming SA hearts for the past 80 years with a winning recipe of heritage and heart. Koo connects to its consumers in an authentic way by building a sense of family, encouraging people to tell their own Koo stories, and bringing real, genuine, everyday language to the table. Koo has also brought a face to an otherwise impersonal category through its Mama Koo persona, who is constantly pushing to bring something better and more extraordinary to the table through taste, quality and value. 


Eatbigfish wrote the best-selling business book Eating the Big Fish that showcased how they achieve this, how the little guys were beating the big guys at their own game. The book has had worldwide success, changing how businesses can achieve more with less, and challenge conventional thinking profitably.

The company has since written a few more books on challengers based on what it has learnt about how they work and what helps them succeed.

  • Overthrow II: 10 strategies from the new wave of challengers
  • A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages
  • The Pirate Inside: Building a Challenger Brand Culture Within Yourself and Your Organisation
  • Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders

If you would like to speak to someone in person or arrange a meeting, please call or e-mail Delta Victor Bravo, the Africa partners for eatbigfish on david@eatbigfish.com or call +27 (71) 483-8514.

This article was paid for by eatbigfish.

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