The Challenger Hook

What a lackluster boxing match between an influencer and a retiree taught the ad industry about disruptive communications planning in today’s media landscape.

Written by Mani Schlisser, Senior Communications Strategist at Mekanism

Two men step into a heavily-sponsored ring.

Prepared to swing and miss, bob and weave, blood, sweat, and maybe tear.

They touch gloves. Bright lights surround them. Friends and family, celebrities and colleagues, all eagerly sitting ringside ready for the bout of the year.

One million people tune in, paying a hefty price for what could be a five second product. A product these two have been promoting for months.

One used more traditional channels, like interviews, press conferences, and editorial pieces, while the other tapped into niche online communities around NFTs, cryptocurrency, YouTube, and podcasts to build hype around the event.

As you can tell by the insufferable string of Wall Street Bets dialect I have just spewed, this is not the 2012 Tyson vs. Lewis fight that generated $112 million.

Nor is it the $150 million grossing Mayweather vs. Alvarez fight of 2013.

It’s Floyd Mayweather versus Logan Paul and, at $49.99, they sold so many pay per views (1MM+) that Showtime actually crashed. So many PPVs that timelines were filled with eight straight rounds of meme making utopia.

The greatest fighter ever with a 50–0 record went against a social media phenom with an 0–1 record in an exhibition match, with the influencer’s only previous meme-making-paradise coming against another social media boxer.

In the end, Mayweather v Paul did not rival the intensity, craftsmanship, or excitement you’d experience from a fight from a boxer like Canelo Alvarez.

It did not end in a haymaker nor did it make us applaud the skill set of two world class fighters. And it certainly didn’t make or break the sport of boxing.

However, what it did create was a blueprint for how disruptive brands (like Logan’s) think about their contemporary communications strategy.

Every comms strategy starts with a clear objective and an even clearer barrier (or barriers in most cases) to achieving it. Here, the two were rather simple.

Generate as many pay per view buys as possible (objective) in a sport that is losing viewers at a price point worth half of your annual Netflix subscription (barrier).

For Floyd, his plan of attack was simple.

Continue to entertain the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, that tune into and purchase his every move. In that respect, Mayweather is the iconic brand in the category with mass appeal, top of mind whenever boxing is in.

Think of Floyd as Hilton.

A brand with such notoriety that people flock to its stream of hotels and experiences no matter what city they’re in. Or at least they used to.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at his 2018 fight with Japanese kickboxing sensation Tenshin Nasukawa in which Floyd secured $88 million from local promoter RIZIN for a fight that ended with a first round knockout of (and tears from) Nasukawa.

For Paul, the plan of attack was more experimental, diversified, and digital.

The Airbnb to Floyd’s Hilton.

Paul’s comms approach included a Pokemon-inspired NFT drop in February that generated $5 million, dozens of episodes of his Impaulsive podcast, which rose to #6 on Apple Charts, a brand refresh for his merchandising business that once sold $3 million in three days, a growing club of subscribers that pay $19.95 a month for exclusive content, and, of course, his standalone YouTube channel which has generated 100 million views so far in 2021.

Each of these touch points brought in new audiences and revenue streams for Paul, but what “The Maverick” did most successfully in his comms plan was something every disruptor craves in today’s fragmented media environment.

Unlike their category-leading competitors, challengers do not have the budget to own a major cultural moment. While blue chip brands can plan their media and messaging around tentpole events like the Super Bowl or the Oscars, challenger brands must create cultural moments of their own.

In Logan’s case, the fight itself was his perfectly designed moment. A moment that created so many mini events prior to June 6th that the five I just named don’t scratch the surface. The biggest might have come from his little brother.

Early in its history, in 2015, Airbnb created a cultural moment of its own for its growing community of hosts. The event, dubbed Airbnb Open, was a gathering of 6,000 early adopters who were instrumental in building the platform and, ultimately, spreading the Airbnb brand across the globe.

At the same time, Hilton was spending close to $190 million on advertising to accomplish similar tasks at a much more mature stage in their business.

Fast forward to 2021, Airbnb is more culturally relevant than Hilton and, I’m sorry to say, Logan Paul is more relevant than Floyd Mayweather.

Not just in terms of followers or headlines, but in elevating the sport of boxing that YouTubers like Logan have been told they’re destroying.

According to those Google Search Trends, the term “boxing” took off on the platform during and after the June 6th event.

The other date and event that saw a similar spike? Logan’s brother Jake’s November 28th fight against former NBA player Nate Robinson.

If you ask Les Binet, he’d tell you those search increases signal future increases to the business of boxing. All thanks to a bunch of ex-Vine stars.

If this wasn’t enough to convince you of the marketing acumen of the Paul bros, ESPN reported that UFC legend Anderson Silva is currently in talks with Logan’s team about an upcoming boxing match, while Jake is preparing for an upcoming fight against another UFC legend, Tyrone Woodley.

So whether you came to see the Charizard draped over Logan’s neck or Floyd’s skill as the greatest fighter to ever live, the comms strategies employed by both fighters clearly achieved that clear objective.

After the fight, the two embraced each other, with Paul dropping the combative approach that generated so much attention in the lead up. Instead, he came to Floyd with a wave of humility and appreciation.

What he could’ve come to Floyd with is a framework for how an inexperienced fighter got the chance to step in his ring, drive eyeballs and credit card swipes. Something Mayweather Promotions’ endless stream of challengers must learn if they are going to succeed on their own in a post Floyd sport.

A framework for how this challenger hooked millions with his comms strategy. Although if he did, where would you be right now?

Not watching boxing at a Hilton. That’s for sure.

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