‘We’ve got a completely different playbook now’: Hardhat boss on agency cheat codes

Late last year, indie agency Hardhat announced its 'Cheat Codes for Challenger Brands' - but why make them, what are they and how can brands use them to accelerate growth? Dan Monheit, CEO of the agency, sat down with Mumbrella to explain. 

The cheat codes are said to be a national offering of strategy products, presentations and workshops, where the behavioural change agency gives brands the tools and techniques to drive better return on investment, grow quickly and purposefully, and continue challenging category leaders.

“We’ve known for the past few years what our [Hardhat’s] role is going to be in the world. We’ve started to shape this idea and what we are, and where we do out best work, and it’s taken time to realise that,” Monheit tells Mumbrella.

“And our best work comes in the form of working with challenger brands and helping them disrupt their categories.”

The Cheat Codes

He explains three key observations about how the agency thinks and evolves: Seeing every brief as a behavioural change brief; understanding the essence of behavioural change; and acknowledging that nobody has more to gain than challenger brands.

“There’s all these behavioural change models, but they basically come down to the same two levels, which are desirability and ease,” he says.

“If every brief is a behavioural change one, and all behavioural change is desirability and ease, then you can build an agency around those disciplines of creative communications, which leans into desirability, and digital CX, which is ease.

“Then when it comes to behavioural change, nobody has more to gain than challenger brands because they literally bet their existence on some different future happening than what is happening now, they are as invested in a different outcome as we are,” he adds.

He says that working with these brands gives Hardhat a point of difference, in an ever-expanding industry.

“Behavioural change for challenger brands, that’s what we do, and looking back that’s what we’ve always done. And it works, and it challenges not only the categories of the brands, but also for the agency.”

The 10 cheat codes have been developed with this behavioural science understanding, as well as thousands of hours of research and proven strategies.

When it comes to maximising growth, the challenger brands can’t afford to run the category playbook – even if they find a way to spend like market leaders.

According to the agency, challenger brands split the category by looking at the spectrum other brands are organised along and refusing to conform. Instead, they add a new dimension or attribute to the category, instantly placing them in one camp and everybody else in another.

Challenger brands add ‘fun’ to driving, ‘body positivity’ to skincare and ‘unbranded’ to grocery shopping. When done well, they make customers question if they’ve been shopping the category incorrectly until now.

And the cheat codes are said to benefit them by bringing different ideas that work over, under and around category conventions. Hardhat has already been implementing the offering into work with existing clients through 2023, and Monheit says it is time to deliver this offering to the rest of the industry.


“The brands are willing to do something bold, they don’t need convincing to do something different,” Monheit says.

“When they’re targeting the untargeted, making small impacts on big audiences or big impacts on small ones, or tapping into new cues, they trust us to represent that in their advertising effectively.”

The cheat codes are a teaser of Hardhat’s upcoming agency relaunch, which will include a whole new visual identity, website and logo.

“It feels like the right time to be in market with this proposition,” Monheit concludes.

“We’ve got a completely different playbook now and we want to help brands also develop their own point of difference.”

Come back fortnightly to hear more from Monheit on each cheat code.


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