Imagine having to write, create and produce seven-plus hours of engaging television content, promoting your brand and products every week for roughly 20 years. Factor in that the majority of this content is captured live at arenas full of thousands of people and broadcast in more than 175 countries and 25 languages — and you might find yourself skeptical of the feasibility and longevity of such a formula. But this formula is possible. And you’d probably never guess that the company that has most notably perfected this craft emanates from the world of professional wrestling.
With 15 million weekly viewers in the United States alone, sports entertainment giant WWE is a media juggernaut. In addition to television programming, WWE creates and delivers original content via pay-per-view (PPV) and 12 digital/social media platforms (eclipsing half a billion combined fans). All told, WWE reaches more than 650 million homes worldwide.
Last year, WWE Network was launched — the first-ever 24/7 direct-to-consumer streaming network featuring exclusive programming and a massive 3,300 hour video-on-demand library. Fans can access the subscription-based network for $9.99 per month, which includes all monthly PPV events.
I’ve been a fan of WWE for most of my life. The organization’s entertainment concept has me (and the WWE Universe — its legion of fans) hooked, and my dedication goes beyond catching weekly TV episodes. Attending televised events with friends while enthusiastically waving our giant homemade cardboard cutouts of wrestling legends Jake “The Snake” Roberts and “Ravishing” Rick Rude is part of living the phenomenon.
The secret to their global success is far less complicated than a corkscrew moonsault — it’s simply intelligent marketing with a whole lot of charisma. Here are 1! 2! 3! ding ding! (4, 5) lessons that we as marketers and creatives can learn from WWE.
1. Incite a reaction
The most critical component of sports entertainment is the ability of the performers and writers to tell a good story that incites an emotional reaction. Whether that reaction is applause, laughter, boos or shock — every storyline should build an emotional connection with the audience. The content of each story and how well the Superstars deliver it to the fans is what builds affinity and compels us to tune in the following week, buy merchandise and interact on social media platforms.
2. Make an entrance
As WWE has evolved, athlete entrances are now some of the coolest parts of the show. A three-story-tall LED video wall situated on a massive stage (about the width of a basketball court) is now the catalyst for introducing each performer as they make their way to the ring. Signature theme music, video and graphics are paired with pyrotechnics and synchronized lighting — all personalized for each Superstar — immediately setting the tone for that character’s brand identity. When you’re developing a product launch event or trade show space, be impactful. If it’s the first time your audience is seeing your product or gaining exposure to your brand, is the event or tactic something that will be memorable and create a buzz? Is it on-brand and authentic?
3. Sequence (and sequins)
A fundamental of WWE is that each experience today is deliberately setting up a future event. It’s a coordinated and fully integrated effort that has cycled endlessly for decades — and will continue to do so. Whether it’s a match, a promo encounter between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, teasers and updates on Twitter and Facebook, or appearances on SportsCenter and late-night talk shows — the stories and calls-to-action weave in and out of the ring, always creating anticipation for upcoming events. There are rarely any one-off campaigns. The strategy has always been to establish and encourage a deep and lasting relationship with the audience. Marketing teams can take note of the power of long-term, strategic campaigns and how they create suspense and intrigue.
4. Master the art of selling
WWE and its talent are masters at selling. Part of what makes stage combat and perceived violence exciting is the performers’ ability to be convincing. Fans know they’re watching a stunt show — and they expect to see a good stunt show. While the athletes are “selling” their moves, the commentators on TV are selling you on a subscription to the WWE Network to watch next week’s sold-out pay-per-view. Replays of in-ring action are brought to you by WWE 2K16 — a lifelike video game on sale now. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin appears on the game’s packaging, and you don’t want to miss his latest podcast either. All of the selling and cross-promotion builds lifelong fan loyalty. And that sentiment is reflected prior to every TV show and live event with a video bumper that cycles through the brand’s mantra: “Then. Now. Forever.” appearing next to their logo.
5. Your audience is a performer
In sports entertainment, fans pack arenas by the thousands and observe the action with a mentality known as “the willing suspension of disbelief.” They become part of the show — an extension of the action and a vital role in the success of Superstars and storylines. They are vocal and make it known what they think. In marketing, acknowledging an invested and active audience and empowering them with opportunities to provide feedback and speak about your brand is key. The audience performs with your products and brand, and as marketers, that gives us a chance to listen.
Like what you read? Sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter, The Watermark, to get more insights, industry trends, case studies and news from Two Rivers Marketing straight to your inbox.