One of my greatest teachers in advertising was professional wrestling.
From the early days of wrestling until the 1980s, wrestling was organized by independent companies throughout North America. Each owner obeyed the unwritten code to not infringe on another’s territory.
Enter Vince McMahon.
He bought his dad’s wrestling company and changed the game.
He didn’t accept old gentlemen’s agreements.
He wasn’t a gentleman.
He wanted to make his company gigantic.
Through purchases, acquisitions and ruthlessness, he became the largest wrestling company in the world.
When you read about WWF’s history, you’ll find that Cable TV gave him a wider audience. By using television and its cousin Pay-per-View, Vince created a monster.
Wrestling has used characters since the ’50s.
Because of regionalization, Vince witnessed small stories with small audiences.
Now armed with a better way to tell his stories, Vince creates icons in Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and many others.
WrestleMania became his Super Bowl by the ’80s
Vince developed character arcs and narrative arcs to a global audience for the first time in wrestling history.
He used it as a crescendo so existing rivalries could resolve and new conflicts emerge.
Wrestlers became brands within the WWF brand. Everyone who mattered had a backstory, a conflict, a friend, and a reason to continue. The hero or “face”, made the crowd roar. The villain or “heel” incited boos. The announcers were brands too. There was Mean Gene Okerlund, The King Jerry Lawlor, and Gorilla Monsoon.
Every Saturday afternoon, I watched my favourite wrestlers fight “Jobbers”. Jobbers are wrestlers no one knows, no one cares. Their role was to allow screen time for the heroes and villains. And they would lose.
Vince is masterful in developing his stories and characters. We saw Hulk Hogan shock the world when he turned on Macho Man. We watched Shawn Michaels turn heel when he stopped shaving his chest. He kicked his buddy Marty Ginetty through a window.
Shawn Michaels transformed from the likable, good boy face to the foul mouth, jerk, heel Heart Break Kid.
The most famous heel was Gorgeous George.
All wrestlers, boxers, and even UFC fighters need to thank the pioneer, Gorgeous George, for developing the heel character arc better than anyone before him.
Gorgeous was a flamboyant over-the-top braggart who sassed the crowd and never shut his mouth.
His main talent was his beautiful blonde locks.
The crowd loved to hate him.
He entered the ring with coiffed hair, bedazzled robes with an air of pompousness that would make the Queen sweat.
Rick Flair copied him.
As did Connor McGregor in the UFC
And so did Mohammad Ali.
A 46-year-old George told a young Ali: “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. Keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.”
We remember the bold.
We don’t remember them for what they said.
We don’t remember them for what they did.
We remember how they made us feel.
Advertising is no different.
It’s not about you, your product, or your customer support team.
It’s about YOUR customers.
You want customers to remember you for how you make them FEEL.
Wrestling and advertising IS the same thing
It’s fake unless you know how to move people.
Move them like getting a 90-year-old great-grandma to expose her bare chest to the world.
Lots of companies scream they are the best.
Those guys are attention-seeking knuckleheads showing off colourful robes like they’re going to the peacock dance.
Others say and do nothing remarkable.
They are “jobbers”. And no one cheers for the Jobbers.
We forget them as fast as we see them.
You don’t have to be Gorgeous George.
But you gotta figure out how to be bold.
Like Vince McMahon, you can use Stories, Conflict, and Character Arcs.
It’s a power that will make your company famous if done properly.
Foris Fortuna Adiuvat
“Fortune Favors the Bold”
“I wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
– Mohammad Ali