What do rock music, whiskey, and professional wrestling all have in common? They’re unable to create new superstars that can capture the imagination of a consumer base desperate for new blood.
What are rock music, whiskey, and professional wrestling all doing as a result? They’re looking to cash in on nostalgia—a quick fix—going back to the past as much as necessary in order to generate revenue while scrambling for a permanent solution.
Look at the WWE’s Raw Reunion this past Monday as exhibit A.
In the face of terrible Q1 earnings and general apathy from wrestling fans as a whole, the WWE went back to the nostalgia well for the umpteenth time and paraded out as many former superstars as possible in search of ratings gold. It worked, of course. For now.
It worked just like bringing out old bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and Black Maple Hill works for any retailer who can’t sell whiskey these days now that their supply of Weller is drying up. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of other great whiskies out there on the market people can drink instead; because there are, just like there are plenty of exciting young wrestling superstars ready for their moment in the spotlight. Ditto for rock bands.
The problem isn’t the quality of the product. The problem is the creative laziness and general marketing malaise that inevitably comes on the tail end of any big boom. People get used to making lots of money for doing less work and they forget what it means to build consumer interest from the ground up. They get used to sold-out stadiums and fifty-case orders on the regular, and they forget to sure up their foundation. The WWE apparently thought Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Brock Lesnar could carry them forever, much like whiskey retailers thought Sazerac would be able to pump out limitless amounts of wheated Bourbon. Large venue owners are hoping Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger can continue into their eighties because, other than the occasional reunion of a long disbanded rock group, they don’t have any other way of filling the seats.
But, to be honest, it isn’t easy in today’s market to create new stars. In fact, I believe it’s the core marketing issue of our modern age. The world’s attention is no longer focused on five radio stations, three broadcast television networks, and a handful of national booze brands. It’s crowded, overpopulated, and spread out across numerous mediums, which makes it difficult to concentrate a marketing effort with any real force. As if that’s not a daunting enough challenge, finding the next big thing seems to be beyond anyone’s creative capacity.
Instead of Brock Lesnar (who was literally called “the next big thing” for years), we get Roman Reigns—the Keanu Reeves of wrestling. Instead of 12+ year old Bourbon for $30, we get 2 year old Bourbon that costs twice as much and tastes half as good. Instead of Nirvana or the Strokes, we get Ed Sheeran.
Thus, when we’re out of ideas and times get tough, we go back to what’s easy. What’s familiar. What still works as a sure-fire way to boost consumer interest with as little effort as possible: the past.
Look at our president’s famous tagline as exhibit B.