The Strength of the Underdog

Ingrained in us since childhood, the story of David and Goliath is one of hope. The unlikely defeat of a much stronger adversary, by his seemingly weaker opponent, is the classic tale of the “underdog.” The moral of the story, of course, is that size and power don’t guarantee victory and that even a “little guy” can defeat a giant.

The idea of weak versus powerful permeates our culture in every way. From schoolyard bullies, to big corporations, people root for the underdog and yearn to see “Goliath” defeated.

Who doesn’t fondly remember United Breaks Guitars, the series of viral “protest songs” by Dave Carroll, a frustrated flier whose guitar was shattered by United Airlines baggage handlers? Ignored repeatedly by United’s customer service, he chose an alternative means of getting their attention. Despite United’s attempt to rectify the wrong, the damage to their reputation was done. A win for Dave Carroll was a win for all frustrated consumers who felt ignored.

The swift defeat of Netflix’s Qwikster after announcing a new business model has now become a case study on how to ruin a business by ignoring the needs of consumers. Raising prices, changing the business model and ignoring consumers’ needs did not sit well with loyal Netflix customers. After launching the fifth highest trending hashtag on Twitter, #DearNetflix, and leaving tens of thousands negative comments on their Facebook page, the consumers had spoken. After being subjected to the wrath of 800,000 angry subscribers and suffering massive financial losses, the company abandoned its new model and has been recovering ever since.

More recently, companies like Comcast and T-Mobile have come under fire for unethical billing practices. To boost their bottom line, they have lied to their loyal customers, many of whom do not even know that they are being deceived. Even the government has gotten involved to help protect the consumer.

When we think about the biblical story of David and Goliath, these large corporations seemingly have the power. But if you listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating take on this classic tale, there is a very good reason why David is able to defeat the giant, making this victory not so unlikely after all. The lesson here is that David’s weapon to defeat the giant is stronger than we think and that the giant himself is not nearly as powerful as he might first appear. When applied to our daily, ongoing battle on behalf of the consumer against big corporations, this is a very powerful lesson, indeed!

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