Katz Files: WWE’s Brand Illusion

Katz Files – Arnie Katz

WWE’s Brand Illusion

The Kingfish Arnie Katz takes a long, hard look at the WWE’s branding policy as WrestleMania 25 and the annual re-organization loom closer,

One of the most controversial moves WWE has ever made was its decision to segment its product to create three brands: <Raw, Smackdown and ECW. Some fans resented the whole concept of breaking the WWE roster into three groups, claiming that it would dilute the product to the detriment of the show.

At the risk of being called a contrarian, I thought then, and believe now, that brand segmentation was a reasonable response to WWE’s marketing situation. They had three TV shows to present and wanted to get the best possible use out of its personnel, both on television and in the arenas.

I suspect they looked at several possible business models derived from business they feel are similar to WWE. One possible inspiration might’ve been Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, which operates two show casts that only get together for the largest venues. Another source of inspiration may have been musical organizat8ions like Abe Lyman Orchestras, which put four or more bands on the road at the same time under the Lyman brand.

The circus structure might well have worked for WWE, except that the company didn’t stick to its original plan. RAWand Smackdown were supposed to function independently. Each show would put on one pay per view each quarter. The remaining four, spotlighted shows would draw talent from both RAW and Smackdown. ECW wasn’t involved at the start, but WWE eventually established it as a brand related to the weekly hour on the Sci-Fi Channel.

WWE almost immediately ran into a host of logistical and marketing problems:

1. The single-brand pay per views got a cold reception from fans. WWE assigned a high priority to establishing a monthly pay per view, so shoring up the one-brand events took precedence over keeping the brands separate and distinct.

2. Effective plotting required a lot of pre-planning and coordination to make the shows’ storylines weave together.

3. Moving guys from show to show every week required a lot of careful travel planning and probably ended up costing a significant amount of money.

The degeneration of the brand identities started almost immediately. Haphazard shifts of talent from show to show, a muddled title situation and the need for each crew to have stories on which to build house shows.

Guys move around so much that it detracts from the special feel of the pay per views. Even a dedicated fan may have trouble keeping straight who are the WWE Tag Team Champions and who are the World Tag Team Champions.

Fixing the WWE Universe

There are a lot of ways that WWE could keep its brand identities and perhaps improve the RV shows/

One way might be the unite the tag team belts and the two top titles so that there is a team and a star who move back and forth and appear on just about every show. The Intercontinental and United States Championships could be re-styled as the RAW and Smackdown belts to give greater identification with their brand.

It might not be a bad idea to unify the two women’s titles and establish a cruiserweight belt that would be defended across the entire range of brands.

Final Thoughts

That’s not a complete cure for the problems nor s it an ideal solution. It would improve brand differentiation, though, and that would eventually lead to more excitement and pay per view buys.

All pay per views would use the entire WWE roster, as they do now.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising daily wrestling column. I hope you’ll have time to join me and, please, bring your friends.

— Arnie Katz
Executive Editor
[email protected]
(2/24/08)