CREATIVEMANIA: Can your brand withstand a smackdown?

Branding Cincinnati WWE

You’ve been given the task of creating a powerful, engaging message for a brand. The boss is ready for you—wanting to hear what ideas you’ve got. You weren’t given much time, but you’ve been practicing your lines all morning. They have to be short and sweet. Something catchy. Memorable, immutable.

You think you’ve got it … but is it a message that will persuade millions of people to spend millions of dollars on your idea? Or is it crap … just another catchphrase no one will repeat for a character no one will remember? If it’s good, will it get transformed into a design? Show up on a shirt? In a magazine? The side of a tractor trailer? How will it play out in a full hype video package? Will it connect with the audience?

The spotlight is on. It’s your turn. You point your finger right at the camera and say … “And that’s the bottom line, ’cuz Stone Cold said so!”

Surprised? If you thought this narrative was happening inside the mind of a creative—from the perspective of a designer, writer or ACD at any advertising agency—you would’ve been right. Agency creatives commonly talk ideas, brainstorm concepts, deliver high-pressure pitches for a brand’s identity. And they frequently do it in a lightning-fast amount of time.

This scenario, however, was actually part of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s groundbreaking promo from King of the Ring ’96. It blew up, and almost instantaneously, he became the biggest draw in the history of “the business.” All from a few words. In the weeks that followed, the WWE (then known as WWF) would produce T-shirts with “Austin 3:16” printed on them—the tagline from that same 1996 promo. They would sell more than eight figures worth of those shirts.

Eight figures. From those simple words.

Stone Cold Steve Austin is a brand. His audience is the consumer. Coming up with powerful, engaging creative for a retail or business brand is not much different than a wrestler trying to get their brand “over” with an audience. We all know wrestlers need to put on a performance (an intense athletic one at that). But they also have to create a character. They have to come up with a tagline. They need to be able to deliver that line convincingly in front of both a TV camera and an arena full of judgmental fans. They have to work with designers to get their brand into logo form. Print that logo on shirts. And hats. And other merch. They have to work with a composer to come up with a piece of signature music for their entrance. It takes a complete production team to help them come up with a video package to get fans hyped for that brand so the fans in turn want to buy those products. And buy those tickets. Again and again.

But for every Stone Cold Steve Austin, there’s a wrestler whose brand floundered (or failed). Didn’t have the right look. Their taglines were cringey. They couldn’t connect their brand with the audience.

Case in point, a good example of a bad gimmick is Rocky Maivia. Rocky was a legacy brand. A third-generation blue chipper baby face. Very generic. The fans never accepted him. They would chant “Rocky sucks” over and over again. Eventually they just didn’t care—which was even worse. Rocky needed to rebrand. So he turned “heel” (aka, the “bad guy”) in the wrestling world. He changed his attitude. Changed his look. Changed his music, his video package. He started saying things like “Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?” He invented the word “Smackdown.” And eventually, he became known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Complete rebrand at its best. Now the man is a legend.

If something isn’t working for your brand, maybe it’s time to turn “heel” and try a refresh.

And that’s the bottom line, ’cuz Stone Cold said so!