18: Primal Branding

I made this video before we recorded the podcast. If you’re interested in content from the book, well it still might not be the best resource. But it sticks a little closer to talking about the book.

How professional wrestlers nail the 7 branding elements

We talked about Primalbranding by Patrick Hanlon. In the episode, we talk briefly about wrestlers and their brands. That idea stuck with me so I expanded on it in this post.

On this week’s podcast, we talked about Primalbranding by Patrick Hanlon. In the book, he explains how successful brands hit all seven components of the primal code:

When products and services have all seven pieces of code (the creation story; the creed; the icons; the rituals; the pagans, or nonbelievers; the sacred words; and the leader), they become a meaningful part of our culture.

Let’s take a look at how it applies to wrestlers, because that’s the only mental model I’ve got.

Creation story

Remember how the Midnight Rockers were AWA darlings and went big time by signing with WWF while still champions?

No? Remember when Shawn Michaels kicked Marty Jannetty right in the chompers then threw him through the glass window in Brutus The Barber Beefcake’s portable barber shop?

From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments:

Some powerful defining moments contain all four ele- ments. Think of YES Prep’s Senior Signing Day: the ELEVA-TION of students having their moment onstage, the INSIGHT of a sixth grader thinking that could be me, the PRIDE of being accepted to college, and the CONNECTION of sharing the day with an arena full of thousands of supportive people.

The elevation of seeing this on camera. The insight of thinking that could be me if I also was knocked down by standing too close to my close friend body slamming a Nasty Boy. The wounded pride of being a fan of the Rockers. And the connection of sharing that with wrestling fans around the world.


The creed is sometimes made obvious by a company’s mission statement. From Primalbranding:

The statement was written by founder Horst M. Rechelbacher: Our mission at Aveda is to care for the world we live in, from the products we have to the ways in which we give back to society. At Aveda, we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility not just in the world of beauty, but around the world.

Our mission at the new world organization, I mean new world order, is to destroy the world we live in, from Rey Mysterio Jr.'s tiny head to the Giant's giant one. And we're always hiring. Come join us (really!)


A lot of companies have recognizable logos. Wrestlers have them but their brands have more prominent elements. The factions do the best job with logos. DX had theirs and nWo's logo is probably the most popular in history.

Colors and costumes are more important. How do you separate Crush from his Demolition days? Swap the black and white for purple and orange.

It's a world where you can pull off pink through an entire career. From Bret Hart's biography Hitman:

Judy, the seamstress who made our wrestling gear for us, had mentioned to me that she had a nice new color she wanted Jim and me to try: neon bubblegum pink. After careful consideration we realized wearing pink would get us instant heat and give us a new look for our SNME debut. Still, in the dressing room in San Diego where we were doing pre-tapes for SNME, Jim and I felt funny pulling on those pink tights.

I was dressed and picking up my tray in the cafeteria when Vince, who was sitting with Dick Ebersol, head of NBC sports, yelled at me, “Stop! Don’t move!” Heads turned. It got suddenly quiet. I thought we were in some sort of trouble, and I couldn’t imagine why. Vince stood up and circled around Jim and me grinning, “Don’t ever change that color! That color is you! It’s what you guys have been missing all along! From now on I don’t want you to wear anything but pink!”

Steve Austin had the Austin 3:16 shirts which I'm guessing are still the best selling wrestling shirt ever. It's immortalized in Kevin Love's Budweiser celebration. Stone Cold also has the smoking skulls as another icon. But it doesn't stop with visuals. Icons can target your other senses. Steve Austin's most recognizable icon targets your ears.

Wrap your hand in a towel and punch through the nearest window. A bathroom mirror will work also. Or grab a drinking glass and toss it as hard as possible at the ground. Just make sure to say say da-dun-da-dun-da-dun.

Every wrestler has intro music.

Ohhhhhh what a rush!

That looks dumb on screen when I type it. But that really got me going when I was 5.

It plays before the match but there's a more important time for it to play. Someone you like is in real trouble. You tense up. You don't notice that your ears are waiting for it. Mick Foley got his sock blocked and now he's getting stomped in the middle of the ring. No mercy. They're taking turns hitting him with chairs now. By god, someone's gotta stop this madne..

…If ya smelllllll..!


Monday nights, I'd fire up Nitro and watch the first hour passively as the various Mortal Kombat clones wrestled without much narrative. Then the overlap came and I queued up USA Network. For the next two hours I jammed on the 'Jump' button to toggle between Raw and Nitro. I'd run into my brother's room. "Did you see that?!" Nods. Then run back to my TV.

Popping when someone's music hits is part of the ritual.

When dark characters come out, people now put their cell phones in the air like lighters.

And you can always throw your toothpick at your friend and say "Chico".


Nonbelievers are the people who don't believe in the creed. Or who actively oppose it. Nonbelievers usually have their own brands.

Here's a shortcut to see which creeds are opposed to each other: look at the Survivor Series rosters.

Demolition's got 3 partners and they need one for Survivor Series. And their mystery partner is… one of the Bushwhackers?

It wouldn't happen. Well it probably would. But it's noticeable. It feels off.

Sacred Words

Brands have sacred words. If you want to have a strong brand, just do it.


It takes time to develop your brand. But it's what you need if you want to be the best there is. The best there was…


Personal branding is more important today than ever. Start working on it, whether you're the realest guy in the room or you're 7-foot tall.


You've got to nail all the elements of the brand. Again it takes time. But once it's all together, brother, you'll be able to run wild on everyone.


You sit there and you thump your silhouette of guys on horses playing polo. Talk about your Swooshes and your Jobs 3:16. Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass.


"Bret screwed Bret."

Vince McMahon became Mr. Manager. He stepped into the light. Whoever had that winged eagle belt around their waist used to be the leader. The company followed that champion.

Now reality mattered. Well. "Reality."

Listening to older WWF broadcasts, ok there a ton of things to notice. But one thing that sticks out is hearing McMahon as strictly an announcer. That was his character.

The Montreal Screw job was the creation story for his personal brand. He was the manifestation of The Man, which itself is a personification of corporations. It gets exaggerated at each step. He became The Devil adjace.

The villains need someone to answer to. The antiheroes need a leader to antagonize. Now they looked to Mr. McMahon.

Backstage, they had always looked to Vince.