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Published August 22nd 2014

David & Goliath: Lessons For Food & Drinks Brands

A foray into how Malcolm Gladwell's David & Goliath can apply to Food & Beverage brands. Why being the small guy isn't always such a bad tactic.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s reimagination of the David & Goliath epic, he questions the common notion of one of the most iconic underdog tales ever to exist.

The story pits David, a small, humble shepherd with no armor, against Goliath the giant.

Yet using the original text, Gladwell paints a different picture.

In his version, Goliath was a giant because he suffered from acromegaly, a growth hormone syndrome that caused him to move slow and have poor vision. Furthermore, he carefully points out that while David is “just a kid,” he is also an expert slinger. David is quick, intelligent and can confidently launch a highly dense barium sulphate rock with roughly the force of a 45mm handgun.

In this light, we stop feeling so much underdog pride for the young shepherd and start recognizing his hidden cunning.


Gladwell’s interpretation, received with mixed reviews, proposes an interesting question for current businesses.

Are today’s small businesses the underdog David we’ve known for so long or are they more aptly described as Gladwell’s David?

Social media paints an interesting picture of this debate.

Big brands have the large following and strong name recognition to easily generate chatter from the general public. Their tweets have significantly more reach and carry a louder voice.

Yet as a result, they are also under a much sharper scrutiny and are less suited to respond to each of the many tweets they regularly receive. Their social media crises receive immense publicity, giving homage to the saying “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

On the other hand, small brands generally have fewer followers and mentions. However, they are also better equipped to individually handle each tweet with greater attention. While their posts won’t reach as many people, it’s often easier for smaller brands to direct conversation toward individuals in a more personal way.

The reality is of course far less black and white.

Some small and large brands are “expert slingers” in social media that are able to metaphorically find the holes in Goliath’s armor… stay with me here.

Let’s take a look at some data, taken from our food & beverage report, of three brands that were able to find strong niches to bury their messages in.


Clif Bar, Kind Bar and Larabar were able to identify and market themselves in the snack bar market around three key topics: energy, health and gluten-free.

In an overly saturated market, they were able to find an untapped angle.

However, perhaps Gladwell’s most important analysis is not of the story itself but instead of the reader.

Why is it we sympathize with David and cheer him on as he defeats Goliath? What is it about the underdog overcoming adversity that draws us in?

For brands, the point is this: social media presents mainstream brands with the opportunity to have a real conversation with their consumers. It permits industry giants to keep their heads to the ground and listen deeply – grassroots listening and communication at scale

Big brands no longer need to act like and be seen as the Goliath.

Take for example the AriZona Beverage Company. They are a medium to large brand that successfully maintains a David-esque persona through their marketing strategies.


In a recent conversation with one of our food & beverage social media experts, AriZona’s co-owner and director of social media, Spencer Vultaggio, told us:

“For the past twenty-two years, Arizona Beverages has relied solely on grassroots marketing efforts and more recently, social media to connect with our fans and to market our products. Over the years we have cultivated a very strong online fan base which we are proud of.  Our fans are intensely loyal brand enthusiasts and ambassadors who are as passionate about Arizona Iced Tea as we are. We use our social media networks as a marketing tool to examine our audience to look for new beverage trends and to collect consumer insight. We also like to use our social media to connect with our fans as a lifestyle brand.”

If there’s anything to learn from Arizona Beverages and Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of David & Goliath, it’s that even if you’re operating with upwards of a million followers, be a David.

Listen and understand the market deeply. Then find a niche or untapped target and hit it.

Be the underdog, be grassroots, and think the way your audience does.

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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.