One of the heroes of my youth, the WWE/WWF wrestler Ultimate Warrior, has died. In 1990 I clearly remember he and Hulk Hogan facing off for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania 7. I had consumed at a young age the American wrestling ‘product’.
WWE wrestling is not a sport – it is sports entertainment. Lead by marketing genius Vince McMahon, he’s found a way of selling a unique form of entertainment to a fanbase that don’t necessarily find the stories that they want from traditional sports.
And in essence, that’s what the WWE sells as entertainment – stories. With the creation of cartoon-like wrestling ‘characters’ like Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and later The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena, it’s a profitable billion dollar business.
It’s not a real sport, but that’s possibly what has made it so internationally successful. The rules are very simple (if in fact wrestling has any real rules), and the characters are so larger than life that they can translate all over the world – 150 countries in more than 30 languages.
With the weekly transmission of programmes like Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown, the WWE writing and marketing teams have worked out how to build characters and stories, convincing people to spend money on pay-per-view events like Wrestlemania, where plotlines reach fruition and fans see the resolution of stories which have been going on for weeks or months.
Wrestling Content Marketing
It’s great marketing – in fact it’s great content marketing. What the WWE has been doing for years is creating compelling content and supplying it through different platforms, whether it weekly TV shows or main events.
What the WWE can do with sports entertainment that traditional sports can’t do in the same way is change the product regularly to suit the fans/consumers. If they start favouring a character who doesn’t get much screen time, the writers can simply give him a push. If a superstar isn’t getting so much heat from the fans, they can downgrade him or her lower down in the TV programming order.
Or like massive fan favourite Daniel Bryan, they can build a story around him for over a year, convincing fans that the heads of the WWE wouldn’t allow him to be top of the business because he didn’t have the right ‘look’. This was all concluded at Wrestlemania 30, where he was given the World Championship at the biggest WWE event of the year.
But like the best marketers, the WWE doesn’t stand still. Here are a few examples of where it leads the way compared to other brands in terms of brand engagement.
The WWE has managed to build huge social media communities around its superstar wrestling characters. For example, John Cena has 6 million followers on Twitter. This allows with fans to directly engage with the entertainment product if they so want to.
WWE Twitter accounts also react directly to what’s happening in TV shows. For example, this tweet was sent very soon after Daniel Bryan won the world title at Wrestlemania, receiving 5,038 retweets and 3,803 favourites.
— WWE WrestleMania (@WrestleMania) April 7, 2014
It’s also known that the WWE creates social media reports after TV programming, which includes sentiment analysis. This means they can see how social media users are reacting to what’s happening to the WWE characters they are seeing. And of course for the heel (bad guy), negative sentiment is actually a positive!
In January, the WWE announced that its mobile app surpassed more than 10 million downloads in 220 countries. Like social media, the app interacts directly interacts with live TV programmes – a second screen experience which allows them to see match continuation during commercial breaks, backstage content, live polls, photos and exclusive information on WWE Superstars.
The WWE Network
The next stage in the WWE’s evolution, this is the creation of a Video on Demand channel which asks fans to pay a Netflix-style fee for content such as pay-per-view events and a library of vintage matches.
It’s a very early and ambitious attempt to reach a younger audience who is consuming content through computers or smartphones. But considering the WWE’s marketing strategy has been successful for more than 30 years – no one should bet against it.