A friend of mine sent me this incredibly entertaining Rolling Stone piece called “The Slow Death of the Great Wrestling Promo“. You should read it.
Of course, you didn’t take your mother’s advice to eat your vegetables when you were growing up, so I doubt you’ll take my advice now. Before we talk about the wrestling piece, let’s get to the point: the minute you start communicating with people, you’ve entered the entertainment business.
If you can’t hook your intended audience immediately, you’ve lost them. Oh, and you don’t hook anyone without being entertaining in some way – that’s how you connect with your audience. Wrestling people obviously know they’re in the entertainment biz, yet they didn’t realize what their real message was at first. Here’s a summary of the Rolling Stone piece with my comments in italics:
- Wrestling promos need to connect emotionally with the audience, and there are several ways they can do that. Yep, this is Messaging 101. Wrestling is showbiz, and entertainers are experts in the art of messaging.
- Eventually, wrestling shows started featuring more promos than actual wrestling. Red alert!!! The promos were more entertaining than the purported “real content” of wrestling shows…wrestling. The wrestling folks were smart enough to figure that out, so they started featuring their most compelling content above their purported featured content. Are you doing that?
Now, let’s talk about two more subtle points.
- First and foremost, don’t mistake your brand for what you claim it is. Wrestling folks are smart enough to know that their real product is not wrestling. It’s a soap opera – a male-targeted soap opera. Nothing more. Nothing less. In actual sports, the key storyline is always, “Who’s going to win the championship?” While wrestling certainly mimics that, its actual plot centers around the rivalries and relationships that create emotional reactions. (For a hilarious commentary on that reality, check out South Park’s wrestling parody, in which the kids over-the-top send-up of wrestling storylines is met with adults talking about the “great wrestling” they’re watching.)
- Second, your best messaging and content should always predominate. When the nice people at WWE realized that their promos were more riveting than the “actual” wrestling, they pivoted to show more of them. Oh, and of course, the promos are more compelling than the wrestling; the promos are where their characters can address the storylines than develop both inside and outside the ropes.
Again, that second point is low-hanging fruit (though lots of brands don’t focus on their most powerful messages). Let’s talk about the first point: knowing what the stories you’re telling your customers are about: they’re drama.
Even when your best content is comedy, your overall product becomes, over time, drama. Human drama.
Think I’m kidding? Let’s try a thought experiment. Name the three biggest television sitcoms of the last few decades. I’d go with Cheers, Friends, and Big Bang Theory.
At a certain, surprisingly early, point in each series’ run, each show’s main thrust pivoted, becoming primarily focused on the romantic fates of its characters (and not just the leads).
Cheers evolved (or devolved, your choice) into the telling of Sam’s various attempts to move on from Diane but also focused on the relationships of Woody & Kelly, Frazier & Lilith, Rebecca & Whoever, and so on. Friends went past Ross & Rachel to Monica & Chandler, Phoebe & Mike, etc.
If you’ve watch Big Bang Theory during its final season, you can see the writers struggling to keep things fresh with three of the four key male characters now married. By the end of the penultimate season 11, the writers were fitting a very secondary character for a romantic entanglement.
For extended success in entertainment, you win by making your content about the one thing that no one else has: you. If you’re doing TV comedy (or sci fi), at some point, your plots pivot toward character development. If you’re doing radio, you can only go so far talking about the same topical subjects that everyone else is talking about; your show has to, in the end, be about you. If you’re doing sports, your focus is on the characters, both as teams and as individuals.
And if you’re doing wrestling, well, you’re really doing over-the-top über-male drama, and drama is always about characters.
And if you’re a selling a consumer product? Well, you’re looking to identify a problem – and all of the attendant drama that your customers experience because of that drama – and then fix it for them.
Problems? Needs? Sounds like human drama.
And your story? It’s a soap opera.