Publicity at the Core of UFC Hype Machine

September 28, 2009

What are the keys to building an effective brand? Truth be told, there are probably too many to name or cover in a single sitting. Brand building, after all, is a complex, long-term endeavour with many different intangibles and moving parts.

However, if you were to underscore the key to building the UFC’s brand, what would it be? The answer is publicity.

UFC Owns Strong Competency in PR

The UFC is among the best in the world, regardless of sporting category, at generating publicity across all mediums – print, digital, television, or otherwise. A superior public relations competency has allowed the UFC to not only establish a sporting category of its own – mixed martial arts – but maintain a decisive leadership edge in that category.

The organization has also used an array of publicity – positive, negative, or indifferent – to tie its own UFC brand to that category. In fact, the organization has done such a good job at tying their brand to the sport, that the UFC has become nearly synonymous with MMA in the mind of the consumer – most casual fans actually refer to the sport as “UFC”.

It’s not the UFC, but UFC.

If you were to ask ten random people on a street corner what MMA was, you’d probably get at least eight very puzzled looks. Ask those same ten people what the UFC is and you’ll likely get at least eight correct answers. That’s the power and striking reality of what the UFC has been able to accomplish. The fact that the UFC was essentially the first-mover in North America has helped, but that doesn’t take away from the effectiveness of its public relations.

Publicity is an effective way to build a brand – especially for a controversial sport like MMA – because it’s an alternative way to communicate a message and reach the consumer that is more credible and legitimate than advertising. In a society where consumers are constantly inundated with the same messages every day, publicity can differentiate brands.

Consumers aren’t stupid. They understand the purpose of advertising and the complete lack of objectivity that some ads have. However, an article in the Washington Times or a video clip on CNN give the appearance of legitimacy, because of the third party nature and the absence of any sort of phony sales or elevator pitch.

There are other advantages of publicity, too. Probably the most significant is its cost: generally it’s free as most media outlets use it to their own benefit. On one hand the UFC needs publicity to communicate its message, but on the other, outlets understand that the UFC’s message draws interest in their own publications.

However, the use of publicity also has its disadvantages – specifically a distinct lack of control. While the UFC may have a message that it wants to communicate, it cannot guarantee how it will be conveyed. It’s forced to take the good with the bad.

And part of the UFC’s public relations effectiveness is spinning “negative” publicity into further interest that will draw viewers to the brand. The organization has also done a tremendous job to limit acts which might cross the line and threaten MMA’s pursuit of worldwide legalization and legitimacy.

White Understands His Role, PR

The UFC’s ability to generate such superior levels of publicity for the organization starts with UFC President Dana White. If PR is a strength of the UFC, PR is the strength of Dana White – very few corporate front men are as good as Dana White in terms of generating publicity (and as said earlier: good, bad, or indifferent publicity).

White uses the combination of his personal appearance and tell-it-like-it-is attitude to endear himself with MMA’s core demographic, while at the same time drawing the attention – and most often the ire – of the older, more conservative and traditional bases in the media landscape. He’s a polarizing figure that totes the UFC everywhere he goes, and media outlets seek him out to boost their own ratings (which in the process furthers his own cause).

It’s for this reason that Dana White is still irreplaceable. Despite his criticisms and occasional gaffes, he’s at the heart of the UFC’s public relations juggernaut, which is at the core of the UFC’s hype machine. Without the hype machine, the UFC’s PPV business model wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is; and for an organization so heavily dependent on event-related revenue that’s critical.

One Response to “Publicity at the Core of UFC Hype Machine”

  1. Navid Soltani on October 19th, 2009 12:04 PM

    Great post and site. Good to read something about mma that stimulates the mind then sherdog posts about which show how dumb the average mma fan is.

    keep it up and dont abandon the site. In time it will catch on with ppl like me that are positioning themselves to make money with mma

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