Then. Now. Forever: How WWE Retains Fans After Childhood

By: Max Russell

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“Know what to do with it!” screams Paul Hayman as he tosses the Universal Championship belt between the battered bodies of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. The two larger-than-life superstars scramble for the solid metal belt, with the Beast, Brock Lesnar, ultimately gaining possession. 

He makes to bash in the face of the Tribal Chief, Roman Reigns, when Reigns’s cousins the Usos leap into the ring and start beating Lesnar to the mat. The previously downed Reigns takes the belt, slams it into Lesnar’s head, and hits him with a finishing Spear.  

“One! Two! Three!” cries the official, and the Reigns Bloodline quickly escapes the ring with the belt before the Beast can get back up. 

If your heart was pounding during the Roman Reigns Vs. Brock Lesnar match at this year’s Crown Jewel Pay Per View like mine was, then you are a mark.

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Roman Reigns attacks Brock Lesnar with the Universal Championship belt at Crown Jewel.

Striving For Top Marks

A “mark” in wrestling terminology is someone who buys into the emotion and characteristics of the storylines and characters. 

Creating loyal marks is what WWE’s marketing team is all about. From merchandiseto video games, to the wrestlers’ personas, everything produced by WWE is designed to be literally and figuratively bought up by marks.

The question is, how does WWE make a mark?

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Then… (Childhood in a Mark’s Life)

It all starts in childhood. A grandparent, parent, or friend tells you about a TV program where heroes and villains battle over truth and justice. You listen to stories of legendary men like Hulk Hogan, impossibly lifting the 500-pound Andre the Giant to attain victory. You’re hooked before your eyes even make contact with the TV.

The TV turns on and you see men like the Undertaker who seem to embody the supernatural. Men like the Rock, who don’t take any nonsense. Men like John Cena, who always do the right thing and never give up.

Children are WWE’s greatest assets, because they believe. At this stage in a mark’s life, the characters and storylines are still totally real. The child mark wants to be just like their favorite wrestler and achieves this goal through merchandise.

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Toying With the Audience (WWE and Mattel)

WWE uses merchandise to foster the child mark’s brand loyalty, and if there’s one type of merchandise children love best, it’s toys. 

One of WWE’s most important partnershipsis with the toy manufacturer Mattel. In fact, Mattel and WWE just announced a multi-year extension of their global toy licensing agreement on Oct. 21, 2021.

The child mark begs their parents for action figures of their favorite wrestlers, eyes lighting up every time they pass the toy aisle in the store. Holidays and birthdays might as well have WWE entrance themes, as every opened present brings the arrival of a new wrestler’s merchandise. 

The child mark’s love of wrestling comes from the programming, but the craving for WWE/Mattel merchandise comes from the commercials.

Children’s’ networks such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon bombard the young mark with WWE/Mattel advertisements. When the mark watches Monday Night Raw or Friday Night Smackdown, they are shown even more ads. 

These commercials are intended to make the mark want to buy toys, which will in-turn foster their loyalty to WWE. WWE/Mattel products, the WWE 2K games that will be discussed ahead, and other WWE product lines all utilize their own advertising that benefits the overall WWE brand as a whole.

The strategy is simple: show the wrestling, then show the product. Here’s what you love, and here’s what you want.

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Trouble in Paradise (The Teenage Years)

 Just like Kofi Kingston’s “Trouble in Paradise” kick, there is a stage in a mark’s life that can spell defeat if not dealt with properly. This stage is known as the teenage years. 

It is during these years that the young mark learns that wrestling isn’t “real”. They are told that it is fake, and that they should move on. 

The mark starts looking at their favorite wrestlers in a cynical way, now less impressed by words and more so by actions. The teenage mark wants to see over-the-top moves, wants to see ultimate destruction in the ring. 

Just as a teenager yearns for control over their changing life, the teenage mark seeks control over the wrestling world. This is where WWE’s partnership with 2K games comes in.

 Time to Play the Game (WWE and 2K Games)

LikeTriple H, WWE knows when it’s time to play the game. If there is one thing that teenagers love, it’s video games. Behold, the WWE 2K franchise

WWE and 2K have been producing one game per year, much as 2K does in its partnership with NBA. Both the NBA 2K and WWE 2K franchises see massive success each time a new game is launched. For example, NBA 2K’21 (the most recent 2K game) sold more than 10 million copies with 2.3 million daily players. 

For WWE, video games are the way to keep the teenage mark anchored in wrestling fandom. The teenage mark continues to watch wrestling on TV, then recreates what they have watched by playing the wrestling video game. Playing the games allows the mark to play with others like them, giving them a community to be a part of. 

The child mark does not need other marks in order to enjoy WWE, but the teenage mark does.

Teenagers want to fit in, and the WWE video games give them a place to do so. 

 As the teenage mark reaches their 20’s, they subconsciously decide whether to remain a mark or abandon wrestling forever. All of the wrestling feats, messaging, and merchandise they have absorbed culminates in this decision.

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Now… (Adulthood in a Mark’s Life)

The mark is now in their early 20’s. They have made the subconscious decision to remain a mark, and now they have a life of wrestling entertainment to look forward to.

20 is a little old for the previous methods of marketing to work, though, so how does WWE message to the mark now? Like every other brand competing for the attention of people in their 20’s, WWE uses social media.

 When not watching scheduled WWE TV programs, the mark can connect with their favorite wrestling company on all major social media platforms. They can scroll endlessly through clips of their favorite wrestlers on WWE’s TikTok account. They can see pictures of the wrestlers out-of-kayfabe (kayfabe means in-character) on WWE’s Instagram. 

 The mark can also access all WWE PPVs, original documentaries, interviews, and more through WWE’s partnership with the Peacockstreaming service from NBC. Peacock is home to WWE Network, WWE’s own version of a streaming service.

 The mark is never disconnected from their beloved wrestling.

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Fans erupt in cheers after Drew McIntyre’s emotional 2020 Royal Rumble victory

Forever. (Lifelong Mark Attained!)

Like the grandparent or parent that once enchanted the child mark with stories of WWE legends, the mark now tells their children and grandchildren of wrestling greatness. They enjoy watching with their younger loved ones, just as they did when they were young. 

In the end, WWE’s main marketing method is organic marketing. Fans sharing their love of wrestling with other fans. Through the methods described above and more, WWE creates generations of fans who share their love of wrestling with the generation after them. 

This cycle of marks ensures that WWE will always be there for us to love.  

Then, now, and forever!

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Learn the Moves (How you can apply WWE’s strategies to Your Own Marketing)

As you learned through reading this blog, WWE gains lifelong loyalty from their fans by catering to them in different ways throughout their various life stages.

 As WWE has taught us, knowing the target audience is key. Because WWE’s target audience changes as the mark reaches different life stages, the company employs different strategies and tactics for their various target audiences.

 Ultimately, though, every strategy and tactic WWE uses is with the purpose of gaining the consumer’s loyalty through every stage of their life. You can learn from WWE by being aware of your target audience and using the appropriate methods to gain their loyalty.

 Once your target audience’s loyalty is achieved, they will be just as willing to spread your brand’s messaging as you are. Take it from me, a loyal WWE fan for life!

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