I took a lot away after reading Mike Sullivan and Michael Tuggle’s new book The Voice of the Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction by Thinking Culture First. Not just the actual topic and content itself, but the sense of heart and emotion pervasive throughout the read. Sullivan and Tuggle genuinely love the material, not just the statistics but the ideas. They wholly embrace the pragmatic and visceral pleasures that come with being the titular ‘underdog.’ A pertinent example is where they write on the underdog factor as it applies to religion and politics: “It’s no great shock that the creative world of entertainment is largely built on stories about challengers and overcoming the odds. But what may be surprising is when we shift that lens to the world at large we find just as many challenger stories, and we seem to be just as captivated by them.”
“Look at the origin stories for Christianity and Judaism, America’s two largest religions,” they continue analogously. “Jesus didn’t suddenly emerge as some great military leader. He was born in a stable to a teenage mother and worked as a lowly carpenter. His three-year ministry was the very definition of an underdog challenging the status quo and, ultimately, it was that fight against the establishment that got him crucified. Like Jesus, Moses had an extremely humble beginning, born under an edict from Pharaoh to kill every male Hebrew child. Moses was only saved by the bravery of his mother who hid him among the bulrushes at the edge of the Nile in the hope he would be found and adopted. As we know from Exodus, Moses was saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, grew up side by side with Ramses, and ultimately rejected his privilege and his adoptive brother to lead his people out of slavery. Noah built the ark when everyone thought he was crazy.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers before ultimately serving Pharaoh and saving all of Egypt. And we all know the greatest underdog tale ever—the story of David and Goliath. In today’s vernacular, any time we talk about an outmatched challenger taking on insurmountable odds, that’s what we call it: David versus Goliath. The boy taking on a man. The smaller and outmatched taking on the stronger and seemingly more capable. The outsider taking on the established champion. Over two and a half centuries of American politics, the David and Goliath narrative has popped up countless times in races at every level. But it’s worth considering whether it has ever dominated the landscape as it has during the past 12 years.”
By making pertinent analogies and real-world references, Sullivan and Tuggle breathe relevancy and life into something that could easily be dismissed by outside ideological crowds. They democratize the material, making it communicable for everyone. Even with a decidedly patriotic flair, a la the following. “Much is made of all the ways the United States comes up short,” Sullivan and Tuggle write. “But according to Giving USA, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute, Americans contributed more than $449 billion to charity in 2019. To put that in perspective, $449 billion is more than the individual GDPs of South Africa, Ireland, Israel, Hong Kong, Denmark, Singapore, Finland, the Czech Republic, or New Zealand in the same year. We don’t just love the underdogs in our country. We embrace them. Are there opportunities to do more? Of course. But no country on the planet offers challengers a better opportunity to compete and win than the United States.”