Pro-wrestling fans consider 1985 a seminal year in their sport. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T battled Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff in the first-ever WrestleMania. The annual event has since become a pop-culture phenomenon.For Jakks Pacific, the master toy licensee for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which produces the show, WrestleMania has been a merchandising success over the years.
On March 14, WrestleMania XX returned to New York's Madison Square Garden for the first time since its inception.
"The 20th anniversary was a great opportunity to re-issue and bring back our old stars," said Jennifer Sacca, publicity manager for the WWE.
Along with the anniversary, Jakks needed a splashy campaign to unveil a new line of toys, as well as WWE video games that it publishes and markets in a joint venture with THQ Inc.
Jakks and the WWE set a plan in motion to develop a series of events in New York in the weeks before WrestleMania XX that would attract media attention for the main event, while also boosting toy sales.
In addition to targeting local and national mainstream outlets, the PR team focused on key trade publications.
Genna Goldberg, Jakks' VP of corporate communications, says, "For us, the collector and action-figure writers are considered A-list. We work regularly with all the national media, but kids and collectors are getting their news in action-figure magazines and collector media."
To court that audience, Jakks gave select media a mid-February sneak peak at the new toy line at Toy Fair, the industry's biggest show. They also set up private meet-and-greets with WWE star Mick Foley.
The US' biggest toy retailer, Toys "R" Us, had a custom-built, in-store "Windows on Broadway" display at its Times Square flagship store during March. Four days before WrestleMania, the PR team held a fan event there, with appearances by wrestlers Ric Flair and Triple H.
The next night, Jakks and THQ hosted the second annual "Superstar Challenge," a video-game competition that pitted 16 WWE wrestlers against each other in a tournament at Planet Hollywood in Times Square.
The entire effort was supported by the WWE, with $5 million in advertising and other non-toy related promotions.
The kickoff event at Toy Fair attracted nearly all the major media that cover action figures and toy collectibles. Jakks and the WWE were able to introduce the new product lines to those influential media first in a more intimate setting. They earned placements in ToyFare Magazine, Wrestlingfigs.com, Figures.com, and RingsideCollectibles.com, among others.
The celebrity event at Toys "R" Us drew a line of fans that stretched around the block and was covered in the local mainstream media. Jakks reports that sales of wrestling products increased 191%, as compared with the same week last year when WrestleMania was held. Moreover, they continued to see sustained growth of more than 100% each week.
Kelly Cullen, senior PR manager for Toys "R" Us' Times Square location, says, "It was one of the best events we've ever had."
At Planet Hollywood, more than 100 journalists and paparazzi attended the video-game challenge, which resulted in added national and local coverage from IGN.com, Maxim, ESPN2's Cold Pizza, TV Guide, FHM, and others.
Plus, by pay-per-view standards, "WrestleMania XX was by far the biggest one yet," says Sacca.
Goldberg doesn't expect anything soon to eclipse this year's event, but she says, "On an ongoing basis, we work with all of our different major retailers to come up with exclusive products for them, as well as in-store signings to try and help drive sales there."
PR team: Jakks Pacific (Malibu, CA), THQ Inc. (Calabasas Hills, CA), Toys "R" Us (Wayne, NJ), World Wrestling Entertainment (Stamford, CT)
Campaign: "20 Years of WrestleMania"
Time frame: February to March 2004