Lessons Learned From Pro-Wrestling

The next time you want to take in a lesson on highly effective marketing practices, I suggest you take a couple of hours out of your already busy schedules and plunk yourself down in front of your TV for Monday Night Raw.

That’s right. I want you to watch professional wrestling for two hours. I confess: I do it every Monday night.

Why? Because there is a seamless connection between pro wrestling content and its marketing objectives. We as online marketers often forget about the wisdom of a strong link between the two, and watching Monday Night Raw could serve as a weekly reminder.

What are the World Wrestling Federation’s marketing objectives?

Well, they have several. One, they want to ensure that every pay-per-view event (served up monthly for a cool $29.95 per viewer) generates as many viewers as possible and sells out the live event. They succeed consistently.

Two, they want to promote and sell a whole bunch of related merchandise like T-shirts.

Three, they want to create a seamless connection between their audience (heavily comprised of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys and me) and their advertisers (heavily comprised of video game producers, candy makers and adventure TV shows).

They succeed on all counts, week after week after week.

Last night, the pay-per-view objective was to build heated interest in the upcoming “Royal Rumble.” The key to building interest in a pay-per-view is to have ongoing, unresolved conflict that will be settled once and for all at the Big Event, which of course you have to pay to see.

This week, we saw the return of the fan’s favorite, former WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin , the dreaded enemy of the corporate titan (and owner of the WWF) Mr. McMahon.

Stone Cold represents the beer swiggin’, good ol’ boy from Texas who is his own man — he won’t be a corporate stooge for anybody! Stone Cold and Mr. McMahon had another in an ongoing series of confrontations and would it surprise you to know that they will be facing each other at the Royal Rumble?

The new WWF champion, Mankind, had a verbal confrontation with the recently deposed champion, the corporate supported “The Rock.”

Would you be shocked to hear that they will face off at the Royal Rumble?

Each match, every interview, every comment from the announcers is aimed toward building the Big Story, which will reach its climax and conclusion at the pay-per-view. They don’t waste an ounce of air time on anything that doesn’t further that agenda.

How much of your content is focused on information or news or entertainment that furthers your agenda?

While you are watching, pay close to what each wrestler is wearing. Most likely, Stone Cold is wearing the latest Stone Cold Steve Austin T-shirt. All the D-Generation members are wearing a variety of DX garb that is available with a call to an 800 number or a visit to a web site.

And while you are watching the wrestlers, notice the percentage of the crowd wearing official WWF gear, which they paid major bucks for, as they roamed the hallways on the way to their seats.

(Heck, I was wearing my very own Stone Cold Whoop Ass T-Shirt as I took my weekly marketing class last night. I’m just as vulnerable to slick marketing as the next guy!)

Do you merchandise your products and services as well and as consistently as the WWF does on its TV show?

And while you are slurping back your third Miller Light (Stone Cold’s favorite brew), watch the commercials and how cleanly they tie in with the content. The video games are violent, and often promote WWF wrestlers. Sponsors often feature the “Slam of the Week” with a replay from an earlier episode. The candy companies promote the product that will produce a need for the zit medication that is advertised later in the show.

No disconnect between ads and content.

And most important, despite the fact that it is on a TV medium, WWF fully exploits and refers to its online presence and the community it has built. I’ll bet Vince McMahon monitors all the talk going on in the newsgroups, AOL areas and web sites every single day.

It constantly hones its story lines in response to what fans are talking about. WWF announcers refer to the Internet in the commentary. They report results with editorial on the WWF web site.

Again, a seamless connection in all the media they use to accomplish WWF’s marketing objective.

Yes, wrestling is staged, fake and fixed. (Just like a political campaign, I might add only better done.) What’s significant is not how many body slams the WWF features in its two hours on the air. What is impressive is how a master marketer does it right: How he inspires his audience, leverages his assets, and integrates all the elements at his disposal together seamlessly. And that master is Vincent McMahon, owner of the WWF.

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