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The Newsletter | Edition 113
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. This biweekly newsletter explores business and cultural topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.
It’s rare for brands to be overtly on the offensive. But we saw it recently when dating app Feeld seized the moment in response to Bumble’s celibacy gaffe. How can brands identify moments to play offense? Is there anything to take away from offensive strategies in sports (hello, Olympics!) or politics? And importantly, are offense and defense really the only alternatives?
  1. Diversify your defense strategy, from Rose Albanese
  2. Win through withdrawal, from Edouard N’Diaye
  3. Play the long game, from Cara Lohman


From Rose Albanese


When punches are flying, fighting back can be the easy (and expected) way out. But what if we took a chance on doing the opposite? A look at one of the greatest fighters shows us that training our defensive instinct can result in a winning strategy more powerful than any punch that comes our way. How might we take a page from Muhammad Ali’s playbook and embrace the art of ‘floating’ to unlock new competitive advantage?


Up until 1965, offense equated to guaranteed success in boxing. The strongest, most intimidating boxer would win by landing blow after blow, giving their opponent no choice but to succumb to a KO within the first few rounds. Enter Muhammad Ali, a cheeky and brazen 22-year-old who moved like lightning on his toes and dodged more blows than he ever inflicted. Ali’s strategy? Defense, with a capital ‘D.’ His signature moves included: The Ali Shuffle, a distraction tactic, and the rope-a-dope, an energy conservation technique.

Ali’s winning of the World Heavyweight Championship, a match he was not even favored to win, was foreshadowed by a phrase he cried before stepping into the ring, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see." This legendary phrase captured not just the sheer courage but also the strategic thoughtfulness it takes to ‘float’ rather than give into every fiber of our bodies that wants to fight. In many cultures, not fighting back is often equated to weakness. But any account of Muhammad Ali performing his signature moves shows us that to ‘float’ is to practice active defense—conjuring power in stillness, with your heartbeat an engine, readying yourself by observing and learning your competitor.


Actively notice how your body and thoughts respond to everyday challenges to better master the nature of your impulses.


  • Respond in an equal and opposite manner. Apple was under significant heat a couple of weeks ago due to an ad that missed the mark. While competitor Samsung quickly took the opportunity to jab at Apple with its own ad, I wonder what it might have looked like if they had taken a different route. ​​They could have invested those resources to develop a profound and almost obsessive understanding of this chip in Apple’s seemingly impervious armor, gaining insights into how they could better understand the brand as a whole.
  • ‘Ali-Shuffle’ your competitors. Don't get me wrong; Ali flexed his offense with match-winning blows here and there, but he leaned into the moments before those blows. Surprise or even confuse your competitors by acting in unexpected ways. So, when the moment arises to flex your offense, you already have an advantage because your competitor cannot 'hit' what their eyes can't ‘see.'
  • Remember your power even when the odds are against you. Inner power might be difficult to quantify or adequately capture with words, but Ali’s iconic win that day shows us that strategic courage can unleash a power beyond what numbers can predict.


From Edouard N’Diaye


There’s something worse than losing a battle—it's betraying who you are and why people love you. Caught in one of the most-hyped beefs in rap history, J. Cole rapidly withdrew and apologized, pleading this fight had “disrupted his peace” and "didn't sit right with his spirit.” This move wasn’t cowardice—it was strategic wisdom, prioritizing brand integrity over hubris.


Playing offensive is tempting, but it’s not for everyone or every brand. J. Cole's decision to withdraw from the feud with Kendrick Lamar highlights the importance of strategic restraint. J. Cole's brand is not made for battle; he has spent years establishing the image of a lone and “conscious” rapper who went platinum with no features. Despite the world craving drama, engaging further in this pursuit of rap's invisible throne conflicted with why his fanbase loves him in the first place.

Short-term gains from confrontational tactics can lead to long-term damage if it's messing with your brand DNA. Not every brand needs to be aggressive; longevity and growth can thrive in peace and neutrality (Hey, Switzerland!).


Before disrupting your peace, evaluate whether it fits your brand’s core values and audience expectations.


  • Disrupt your product, not your peace. Apple has been more peaceful since it took the innovation edge over the competition; the last offensive move was the "Get a Mac" campaign in 2009.
  • Peaceful doesn’t equal standing for nothing. Jems is revolutionizing the male-centric and outdated condom industry by unapologetically normalizing sex and condom use, without taking shots at anyone.
  • Apologize if needed. It’s never too late to apologize if you've already played offensive. 41% of consumers would return to a brand that concedes to making a mistake and apologizes for it.
  • Stick to your (peaceful) guns. In a time when nine out of ten Americans are exhausted by the climate of polarization, being a peaceful brand might help you win big in the end.


From Cara Lohman


In 2023, the list of Gen Alpha’s coolest brands included Netflix, Amazon and…. Sour Patch Kids? How did this zany, puckery treat whose name is a riff on the Cabbage Patch Kids end up on the same stage as these Fortune 500 players?


In today’s saturated culture, a well-timed jab at a competitor will gain attention, but it may not be enough to gain traction. Instead, brands should take a cue from comedy and “commit to the bit.” Pop culture writer Jeremy D. Larson describes committing to the bit as telling a joke enough times that “eventually, what you’re laughing at isn’t the actual joke…but the fact that it is still going, perhaps never-ending.” Sour Patch Kids masterfully embodies this concept with their quirky personality and bold actions, cementing their status as a crowd favorite of Gen Alpha.


Be like Sour Patch Kids and fully commit to the bit.


  • Dominate untapped spaces. Sour Patch Kids has made significant investments in social media, particularly on TikTok, where they remix trends, create contests, and get down-right absurd—just how Gen Alpha likes it. In 2021, they became the most-followed snack brand on the platform, and have maintained strong popularity ever since.
  • Find bold partners. Over the last decade, they aggressively sought partnerships to expand their presence on the shelf, resulting in products like Sour Patch Cereal, Sour Patch Oreos, and Sour Patch Ice Cream. What’s next? Sour Patch Oat Milk?
  • Keep the gag running. Sour Patch Kids understands the power of an inside joke and invites its fans to join in the mischief. In 2021, a year after April Fool’s Day was canceled due to lockdown, Sour Patch established a “Prank Fund” to award cash prizes and candy to TikTok users who posted videos of their pranks.

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