AN OPEN LETTER TO THE WWE ABOUT THE NETWORK
Dear World Wrestling Entertainment,
In my latest RAW REVIEW I describe what it's like to already be a WWE Network subscriber and still endure the relentless, seemingly ineffective and incredibly repetitive marketing campaign:
There's no time permitted to process what you've seen and heard in the moment (a segment or a match), only the bombardment of new information meant to convince you to become a paying customer.
When you're already a paying customer, especially a paying customer who uses the Network primarily for the pay-per-views, you just feel like you're caught in an infinite advertising loop where you're constantly being punished for giving them the thing that they're asking you to give them, all the while you're not allowed to absorb the stories and characters you love.
The WWE, and our culture, has become something of an Orwellian nightmare, happily chanting a price tag we hate, where the only way out is to "buy in", but then, when you do "buy in", you're punished for "buying in" because the company is going after those who haven't "bought in". So all you hear is "keep buying, keep buying, keep buying" and you're defeated, thinking, "What more can I possibly give you to make this go away? Do you want my leg? Is that what you want? My soul? Will that be enough to just let me watch pro-wrestling?"
And this is from someone who genuinely loves the WWE and thinks it's the best it's been since 2001!
I'm no marketing strategist, and I appreciate the tireless effort that goes into creating everything the WWE creates. I'm not adding another overly negative, cynical, and critical voice to a sea of reactionary "internet fans". I'm as discontented with your fans as you are (even though I'm a little more understanding of the fan's plight) - if not more-so, because they invalidate my criticisms in your eyes. Even though our relationship is strained...I love you...I want to help you. Like some delusional, and perhaps slightly obnoxious lover, I want you to be all you can be. But, more importantly, I want you to stop stomping on my love and taking my love for granted - it is not a given. My viewership is not a given. My subscription is not a given.
This is genuine "feedback", a paying customer's humble suggestion, and a genuine plea for you to rethink your marketing strategy in a way that not only rewards current subscribers, but draws in new ones. I want the Network to succeed, because much like The Authority says, I want the WWE to "get better".
I genuinely enjoy the WWE Network, and even if I didn't require it for my work on this website, it would still be worth the price-tag as a fan of pro-wrestling and the WWE. The Network cleverly repackages archival footage to create expository History-Channel-like documentaries each week focusing on The Monday Night Wars, Rivalries, and the like, in addition to thirty-years-worth of pro-wrestling content.
The only criticism I have of the Network itself is that the player is terrible. Unlike Netflix or other modern streaming services, there is no preview-box to show subscribers where they're progressing on the timeline when they rewind or fast-forward. So, if they want to skip ahead to Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13, they have to blindly fast-forward, guessing where exactly to stop.
Apart from that, it's an invaluable, excellent, relatively inexpensive resource for even casual fans of pro-wrestling. Should someone typically buy a couple pay-per-views a year, it obviously pays for itself. A fan might not feel like they're paying less and they might be hesitant to "buy in" because they don't like the idea of another monthly "bill", but if they spend any sort of money on WWE products throughout the year, this is where their money should go if they wish to watch WrestleMania and The Royal Rumble in the least expensive (and legal) way possible.
That previous paragraph sells the Network more effectively than anything currently visible on Monday Night Raw; the all-important word of mouth.
Currently the "Nine-ninety-nine" phrase looms over WWE programming like a dark, inescapable cloud. The fact that the Network is only $9.99 a month has permeated the product so thoroughly that it even cropped up in places it clearly didn't belong (like a Dean Ambrose promo).
I'm sympathetic to the company's need to raise awareness, and I understand that if you get the information out there, by any means necessary, then such is viewed as a victory.
But you're shouting in the dark at people who already have all the information they'll ever need. You're beating a dead horse at this point, not raising awareness. That should be obvious by now.
You're clearly aware that "Nine-ninety-nine" is incredibly frustrating to hear over and over again, hence why you've put the phrase primarily in the mouths of heel-characters like Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.
The Authority represents the corporate hacks the "regular people" of this planet despise. You, recognizing that you must relentlessly push this Network, seem to have accepted that this push can be nothing but grating and so you've turned it into a means of seemingly accomplishing two important feats: raise awareness and generate heat for heel characters. In so doing you've made a snap decision based on user-feedback instead of figuring out a way to allow viewers to enjoy a marketing campaign for the Network.
It seems you believe that the importance of "raising awareness" far outweighs the potentially detrimental association viewers will make between the Network and villainous characters.
$9.99 has become something of a running joke in the company and the WWE Universe, but the company simply hears the crowd chanting those three numbers and thinks, "We're onto something" or the company regards it simply as a victory for brainwashing the audience into becoming a voice for the Network, willingly or otherwise (the audience hates "nine-ninety-nine", but has embraced it for the destructive gag that it has become for no other reason than making it through the show, and turning something terrible into something slightly communal - everything about that reality represents a destructive relationship).
I can't help but think that this ongoing association between the Network and general negativity plays a large part in its continued lack of success.
In settling with the idea that the advertising campaign for this Network can be nothing but grating and allowing heels to be its natural champions, the company has boxed itself into a destructive place, where the relationship with the fan base and current subscribers is strained, and the potential subscribers are emboldened to not "buy in" simply for the sake of "sticking it" to the WWE and the heels. You may think people are "smart" enough to distinguish between the legitimate WWE organization and the heel personae represented in Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Even though people are aware of "the work", of the fiction in pro-wrestling, that association between the company and evil does not change. People have been trained for nearly twenty years to regard the WWE as an evil character. People might be "smart" to the business, but they do not shed their emotional investments, least of all those associations they made when they were impressionable children.
Everything that comes out of the mouth of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon is associated with deception and evil. Therefore, the WWE Network is a massive, corporate evil. And it's a massive corporate evil that is attempting to bludgeon viewers into submission.
Beyond that simpler problem, embracing the perception that the WWE is nothing but a corporate shill, revealing desperation, creates an environment that is decidedly not fun, not entertaining, and completely unconvincing. Why would I want to watch something that seems to hate me and simultaneously hates itself? You're attempting to court someone with a completely negative perspective on the world. It's unattractive.
Current subscribers are completely ignored, and potential subscribers are treated to the same desperate, relentless adverts as everyone else - wondering why they should pay ten bucks a month when they're watching RAW for free - especially when RAW's monstrous three-hours saturates them on the overall product.
The value of the WWE Network is completely lost in such an environment.
The only information anyone gets is, "It's $9.99 a month! You get all the pay-per-views!"
Clearly no one cares about this. Clearly, hearing this over and over again is alienating. Embracing the fact that it's alienating, allowing negativity to inform the actual marketing campaign is even more alienating.
Clearly this is not going to work.
So what could work? What would get people excited about the WWE Network? What would inform them about what they're missing without making them feel like an idiot for not "buying in" and without making current subscribers feel like an idiot for "buying in"?
The WWE Network needs to be associated with joy.
Pro-wrestling, for pro-wrestling fans past, present, and future is inherently linked to a childhood experience of magic and wonder.
That is how the WWE Network can get over - it needs to be associated with a unique feeling of happiness that bonds professional wrestling fans with one another, the heroes they admire, and the company that gives them what they want.
This cannot happen by merely putting the phrase "Nine-ninety-nine" in Hulk Hogan's mouth during a RAW promo. The "$9.99" phrase is so associated with evil that those who speak it, even a character as benevolent as Hogan, instantly become evil. So that is just as ineffective as putting that phrase in Triple H's mouth. And Hogan always says it with self-loathing. Everyone says it with self-loathing and snark. It's hateful.
To create a new, more effective strategy, I humbly suggest you consider the following question: what does the WWE Network actually offer?
And I don't mean in terms of content like unlimited pay-per-views for a cheap price. I mean: what is the actual human value of the product? How does it enrich one's life?
The WWE Network offers people their childhood.
24 hours a day.
7 days a week.
365 days a year.
The Network offers fans access to magic - proof that men and women can fly.
That is what you get when you subscribe to the WWE Network. You get your childhood and your adolescent joy, as well as your present-day joy, all in one place, on one app, that you can access as often or as little as you like, for one low price.
This is much more convincing than a sad Jerry Lawler, a gleefully self-hating JBL, or an insistent Michael Cole.
How does the company reeducate the audience to make a more positive association with the Network?
Let pro-wrestling heroes talk about their favorite moments in wrestling history.
You are excellent at creating vignettes and video packages that emphasize the nostalgia and historical significance of past WrestleManias and the like.
Instead of having Hulk Hogan come out to shill, sit him down in front of a camera and ask him what it felt like to bodyslam Andre The Giant, and let the legitimate man that is Hulk Hogan tell this story. And then, when he's done describing that feeling, flash the logo for the WWE Network on a title card along with the monthly price.
Michael Cole could even follow this up with, "You can get all of these cherished memories and more when you subscribe, ladies and gentleman".
Each pro-wrestler, manager, and The Advocate of every generation could sit down and describe their favorite moments in WWE, WCW, and ECW history with the accompanying archival footage. Hearing these beloved icons discuss these classic moments establishes a bond between these larger than life characters and the people who love them. Viewers would see, in such vignettes, that their favorite pro-wrestlers are also pro-wrestling fans, also subscribers, and in that bond exists an uplifting, unifying principle. These documentary-style, realistic adverts could be unique to RAW and other live shows so that subscribers and non-subscribers are rewarded with original content every week.
This encouraging, positive spin on the marketing campaign would also demonstrate the uniqueness and the value of the product in a marketplace flooded with streaming video services - the only way to see these cherished pro-wrestling moments whenever you want in one easily accessed service is if you purchase the Network.
This is a realistic, humane approach to marketing this service that is actually representative of what it offers. It should be separate from the WWE fiction, existing purely as an uplifting, encouraging marketing strategy.
This is obviously not the only approach and I don't suggest I'm somehow more intelligent or capable than those who have been doing this for decades. I'm simply telling you something a paying customer (and perhaps non-paying customers) would actually enjoy watching on RAW. I'm sure there are other ways to achieve this more positive association, but this is one simple suggestion that gets at the very heart of the product you sell.
Currently, all anyone knows about the Network is that Triple H ironically tells us how much it costs every week, and that commentary desperately repeats the same self-deprecating lines.
No one wants to buy that.
People respond to a feeling, not a price. At the moment, they're responding to desperation.
They want to respond to happiness.
They want to respond to their own history, not catchphrases and catchy tunes.
People are moved to "buy in" with sincerity, positivity, and uniqueness, not blunt demands.
I've been writing my RAW REVIEWS for three-years. It wasn't until I dropped irony and pandering attempts at internet humor that anyone in the wrestling business started to give a damn about what I wrote. Only when I took myself seriously, only when I treated my own material and my reader with respect did it start to catch on. Think of yourself as human being trying to seduce another human being - what is my value, what sets me apart, what do I love about myself, what is it others will love about me.
You are not a totalitarian state ruling over an oppressed, subjugated society. You cannot strong-arm people into doing something they naturally don't want to do (spend ten bucks a month), no matter how brainwashed the audience might become.
You're a business that sells dreams.
As of now, those dreams have mutated into abject nightmares.
That needs to change that.
I hope you will consider embracing the positivity, hope, and happiness your company naturally represents.
That's what people want.
That's what people will buy into. People do not find desperation, snark, anger, self-loathing, and indifference attractive.
People are attracted to confidence, intelligence, and graciousness.
I thank you for your time, and I wish you the best of luck.
The Work of Wrestling
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