The recent announcement of WWE's streaming digital video service served as some "sweet chin music" to the haters, doubters and critics who dismiss the sports entertainment giant as no more than a sweaty soap opera starring men who shave their legs.
It's easy to roll your eyes at the WWE. After all, America is hardly over the the wrestling giant's Attitude Era (1996 - 2002), when kids ran around classrooms yelling suck it, doing "crotch chops" and diving off shed rooftops. Add to that a beer-guzzling, jort-wearing, double-bird-flipping brand hero who was more recognizable than the president or pope.
Those were the days...
Today things have calmed down a little. The ladies' divas division still has wardrobe mishaps and the creative team is not above exploiting some ethnic stereotypes for cheap heat. But the WWE took a slight right turn toward becoming "family friendly." Some had to do with wife of the CEO, Linda McMahon, and her failed Connecticut senate run. But more had to do with the one thing that the WWE does better than most brands: taking a temperature check and adapting the brand to survive.
The WWE is rarely tone deaf. Flashback to several years ago, when the recession grew in tandem with a general backlash toward any media content that could be interpreted as offensive. After all, today's headline-making celebrity mis-Tweets were born in a steaming cauldron of phony media outrage containing the shrunken heads of Don Imus, Alec Baldwin and others.
The WWE took the opportunity to build programming and champions that were more PG and family friendly. Just Google "John Cena," who's squeaky clean (but a little less fun) compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Or consider the outfit's much ballyhooed support of overseas military, compared to the old XFL experiment, which encouraged third-rate football players and cheerleaders to get jiggy with it. Unlike so many other companies that stand stubbornly on corporate vision statements and static messaging, Vince McMahon and Co. have never been afraid to pivot when it made sense.
Superior fan engagement helps, too. Whether the WWE corporate overseers are developing yet another social media app with huge by-in or they're simply reading the Sharpie-fresh signs proudly hoisted by the folks in the crowd, few organizations work harder to read and react to the pulse of their customer base.
So go ahead and make fun of the WWE. There is a lot to make fun of. A lot. And while the wrestling may be fake, the brand is the real deal.
Note: Yes, I am a wrestling fan. And I even attended Wrestlemania last year. It's real to me!
Mike Ward is the Founder and Chief Brand Driver for Milepost 0 Creative. In other words, he's the only employee. Mike likes helping companies tell stories - or fables, as Aesop called them - as well as reminiscing on his days as a failed stand-up comic, semi-successful movie critic, and cheering for losing sports teams (Go Bills!).