There was a recent fun Twitter exchange over the Rocky films between three comms bods. It sparked the inevitable ‘How can we link comms learning to the Rocky films’ post.
by Ross Wigham, Alan Ferguson and Darren Caveney
The Rocky films. Is there anyone on the planet who hasn’t seen at least one of them?
We think they’re a thing of beauty, capturing one man’s heroic battle against adversity, not to mention taking on the whole of Russia.
Following a recent Twitter chat on the subject we decided to write a three-way post, with each of us choosing our favourite comms and marketing lesson.
In the blue corner, Ross Wigham
It was a quiet Friday evening a couple of weeks back with the three children tucked up in bed that an unexpected film turned up in my Netflix feed and I posted a tweet:
"Put this off for a long time but…………about to watch Rocky: Creed"
The two things that surprised me about this were the number of people who go mad about Rocky movies and that the latest in a long, long franchise was actually pretty bloody good.
Like Rocky Balboa himself this seems like the franchise that will never give up, with yet another sequel scheduled for later this year (how long until they start with some Rocky origin prequels?)
If you don’t know the films they’re basically a straight underdog vs arrogant establishment parable – taking in themes of redemption, family, the power of hard work, honesty, integrity, friendship and beating the Soviet Union as a political ideology single handedly (of course).
However, taken as a whole they are far more interesting than that. In the standard telling these sort of action movies would see the hero victorious at the end draped in the Stars and Stripes. But here’s the thing. Rocky doesn’t always win (neither does the central character in this new film) and when he does it’s usually a moral or pyrrhic victory.
Understand what you goals are
His targets are realistic and the struggle is more about proving something to himself, that he’s not worthless and he can overcome the odds and define what his own success is.
The films also hammer home the value of hard work, usually in montage form complete with grey tracksuit. What better comms lesson could you want? Success never comes without hard work and dedication.
One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time
Far too much of comms now is about jam tomorrow in some imagined golden future that’s just around the corner. It’s really important to live in the ‘here and now’ both from a professional practice and personal point of view.
Making predictions about your career and what direction it might take is something that current PR students should be very wary of. The speed of change is so relentless that the skills you learn now might very well take you in a completely different direction in the future.
In the red corner, Alan Ferguson
When we got chatting online about the films, my wife started telling me the history behind the films, which is Stallone’s heroic battle to get Rocky on screen, and Stallone’s battle to be Rocky.
Stallone was a struggling actor getting nowhere fast when he watched the great Ali fight Chuck Wepner – a man he should have beat easily. The fight went the full 15 rounds and was the inspiration for our underdog fighter – Rocky Balboa.
Stallone pitched it to an agency and they liked it, offered a decent sum for it…but there was a stumbling block. Stallone insisted he played Rocky. They upped and upped their figure – no, Stallone wouldn’t budge. In the end, the story goes it went right down to $35,000 (from 10 times that amount!) just so Stallone could play the part.
This was one monster game of cat and mouse on Stallone’s part. He was broke before he got the offer. To go right up to $375,000 and then drop to $35,000 was a massive risk, but he knew Rocky inside out – he was and forever will be Rocky, no matter what part in any movie he plays ever. He took the risk, and did it his way…and the rest is history as they say!
I was probably as inspired by the story before the film as I was with the actual films themselves (albeit I cunningly managed to side step watching Rocky V).
So it’s really a message about the self belief he had in his idea and the willpower to see it through, no matter what the cost.
I’ll watch the films in a different light after learning about how Stallone became the one and only Rocky Balboa.
The message is simple – think like Stallone and fight like Rocky!
And our referee for the bout, Darren Caveney
I’ve loved the Rocky films since I was a kid. It’s cinematic escapism at its best. Are they daft? Course they are. I’m too embarrassed to tell you how many times I have watched them, although you only watch Rocky 5 once.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rocky film then take a read here. You’ll either love them or hate them. But don’t forget that the original – from way back in 1976 – won four Oscars including best picture.
This film franchise is actually a brilliant example of brand extension- taking one highly successful film and eeking every last bit of profit out of it. That is pretty much a definition of marketing. And marketing at its best.
To be still going strong with a new film due in 2017 – Creed 2 – makes this one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Staying relevant across 40-years, and to a brand new audience to boot, whilst the whole world changes around you is a marketing triumph.
But which is the best of the seven (soon to be eight) films?
Alan – I’m going Rocky IV, which is the first I saw at the cinema. I was 11 and went with school friends for a birthday treat. When it got near the end and he was fighting Drago, we were up on our feet chanting ‘Rocky, Rocky, Rocky’…until we got told off by a cinema usher – shame on him. He was lucky I was 4ft 2 and 5 stone 3 at the time or my right hook might have come out to play J
Ross – Best is difficult to define because it’s less ‘A story told over 7 films’ and more ‘7 films telling the same story 7 times! With that in mind the original is probably still the best.
My favourite? I’m sure Rocky 3 has already been taken, so I’ll go with this latest incarnation which stayed true to the essence of the story and paid homage to movies of the past.
Darren – For the record mine is a straight draw between Rocky 3 (“Clubber Lang – your prediction for the fight?” Lang: "Pain") and Rocky 4 (who doesn’t want to head to the gym after watching THAT training montage)
If you want to read the very interesting story about how the original Rocky film came about take a look here.