André the Giant

What a story to start with. I watched the documentary on Sky this week. Tea in one hand, chocolate in the other. 

I used to like watching wrestling as a kid. Hulk Hogan was the big name at the time. Loud music, colourful consumes, terrible acting and really (really) enthusiastic spectators- what was not to like! 

I don’t really remember much about André the Giant (or André René Roussimoff by birth). Though weighing in at 520lb, this 7ft plus Frenchman certainly earnt the title! Described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, André’s story is one which starts with recognition. People were (and still are) in awe of his size, strength, and ability to take control in and out of the ring. Incredible. We see the rise of André and how he came to be the brand he was. Known locally as ‘Géant Ferré’ (which translates as Giant Fairy) after folklore, Frank Valois (André’s manager and business advisor) thought a rebrand was needed before his World Wide Wrestling Federation debute in 1973. Although Giant Fairy has a certain ring to it, I think the move was probably right. I don’t think the commentator announcing, “the Giant Fairy is coming into the ring” would have quite created the same anticipation as, “André the Giant”. Not to mention the wrestling outfit- fairy wings perhaps? I don’t think so.

The documentary tells of the rise on André in the wrestling scene and what a remarkable person he was. We gain insight into his habits (including a rather impressive alcohol consumption), his thoughts and feelings. Though as the story develops, we begin to learn about the tolls on André’s health and wellbeing. Friends recall André’s feelings towards people whispering about when he was present, treating him like a circus act. Surely, the rise of social media only makes this a greater challenge for people in the spotlight today. They make a very real statement about stardom; that celebrities tend to go into disguise when they don’t want to be seen. With the physical features of André being what made him famous; it was impossible.

After watching a series of emotional accounts from his friends, I realised that the impact stardom must have had on André’s life is huge, not to mention the physical challenges he faced. Identity and perceived stigma have a huge role in wellbeing and whether we feel we have a good quality of life. As a researcher in this area, this made me reflect on André’s behaviours. Was the sheer volume of alcohol consumed a coping strategy, or did it just take more for André to feel ‘the buzz’? Was wrestling actually an outlet for some deep-rooted feelings, or was it all just for fun? I don’t know. I can’t legitimately say one way or the other. What I do know, is that this story really made me think about the importance of protecting the brand; in this case, the wellbeing of people who are our business brands. This led me to think (and by that, I mean hope) that there are strong mechanisms in place to protect the wellbeing of people who are brands. With the stories of celebrities who have battled (or who are battling) depression and the many that have lost; I can’t help but wonder if more can be done. This has influence in the world of the social sciences, though from a business perspective, this documentary highlights the management of a person as commodity; management tactics to ensure value.  Here, brand protection takes a completely different definition to that of Copyrights and the likes.

Considering André the brand in more detail; the documentary reports of venues ‘selling out’ when André was booked for appearance. He was valuable. To maintain this value, the management purposefully did not schedule too many appearances. As there was no social media, no YouTube – to see someone like André in person was extraordinary. People wanted to see him with their own eyes!

However, what I also found interesting from a business perspective was the strategic repositioning of the brand (that is André) towards the end of his career. In 1992, André’s health began to suffer. Hulk Hogan was awarded the opportunity to defeat André, taking the World Wide Wrestling Federation Championship title. Contributors to the documentary reflect ‘André knew what was good for the brand’. Whilst I would really like the management of ‘asset/brand’ wellbeing to be the take home message here, from a business perspective value maximisation became priority. The ‘passing of the torch’ allowed Hulk Hogan to regain his spot in the limelight and allowed André to take a back seat- though still be a valuable asset; maximising the product life cycle. We can see links to strategic positioning frameworks here, along with rebranding theory. However, what this story shows us is that the brand can still have value. You might not generate as much profit from it but ‘getting out while the going is good’ gives you a chance to still retain its value.

If you are reading this thinking ‘cheers Liz, I don’t need to watch this now‘. You cannot be more wrong. This is a must-see documentary for anyone wanting to manage a sports brand or entertainer. In fact, anyone who wants to think outside the box a little within the business discipline. With themes around strategic positioning, timeliness and brand reputation, there are certainly valuable lessons to be learnt. If nothing else, “it is a good story”, as my grandfather would say.

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