Marketing Collateral Damage: The UFC’s Marketing Department Should Do Better

As an 80s child and growing up in the era of video clubs (not video stores like Blockbuster, but little mom and pop video clubs where you had to pay $10 a month to rent videos), one of the things I found most magical was VHS cover art.  I’d comb through aisles, not necessarily looking for anything in particular, but looking to the cassette cover art for videos I would have never be able to rent because I was underage.

The fantasy/sci-fi section always had the best cover art simply because of the genre, but the best cover art also seemed to always have similar traits: they were rendered illustrations, they showed not only the characters but the setting, and they tried to have a really interesting tagline.  They did more than inform.  In short, they told a story.  Some of the gems I remember from my youth included:


1984 - Deathstalker (VHS)


That’s not to say just because they had interesting or attention-getting artwork that the movie was necessarily good, but it did the job.  It got me hooked enough to want to invest time to see the movie.  The opposite could also be said for the movies where the marketing department simply mailed it in.  Nothing about the following movies really stood out, and so I never made the attempt to see any of them (except for Stone Cold, that movie is a guilty pleasure even if the cover art was lousy), and I dare you to say that any of these look remotely interesting:




Honestly, there is an art to marketing posters that seems to be lost on the UFC’s marketing department.  Fight fans are days away from the second-ever event in Abu-Dhabi with a card that can only be seen on the UFC’s Fight Pass subscription service, featuring a main event between heavyweights Big Nog, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and Roy Big Country Nelson (a battle of the Bigs!), and this is what the UFC’s marketing department has trotted out to entice viewers who don’t already subscribe to the service:


Click to embiggen… everything but Big Nog’s Arm.

This is the official poster for the event.  Someone looked at this and said, “Oh yeah.  That’s the one.” Cue the sad trombone.

Forget for the moment that Big Nog has an atrophied left arm.  Forget the fact that said arm has Roy Nelson’s right arm moving through it like a ghost.  Forget the fact that Big Country’s head is contorted into a position that could only happen if the bones in his neck were removed.  Forget the fact that they have shaved down the one part of the body that Roy Nelson finds the most marketable about himself outside of his hair.  Really forget about all of this.  We should all be so lucky.

Shouldn’t consumers expect more? Shouldn’t the UFC expect more? After all, it puts a great deal of emphasis on making sure its fighters perform to the satisfaction of its fans as well as the promotion. With the expansion of events in 2014 due to Fight Pass and the need for more quality fighters to fill those cards, perhaps the UFC’s marketing department needs performance incentives as well because the marketing collateral for UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson shouldn’t have made it past the draft stage.

By in large, the UFC’s posters are stylized to one speed: informative.  There is a checklist/style guide, and the UFC sticks to it with some regularity:

  • photo of the main event/featured fighters
  • logo
  • date
  • location
  • sponsors

No muss, no fuss. It’s a pretty hard formula to screw up, but it’s effective.  It follows a similar pattern already put in place and doesn’t rock the boat.  However, with the new subscription-based service still in its infancy, it seems that the marketing machine at the UFC’s disposal would want to do everything it can to advertise Fight Pass as something unique.  There’s an opportunity there.

The “hardcore” MMA fans have had this discussion for years, especially regarding the comparisons to the posters Pride FC would use to advertise their events.  With the Pride FC posters, the marketing materials were small works of art that caught the eye:




Yes, the audience and Japanese market is different, and the product itself was different, and maybe it doesn’t make sense for the UFC to adopt the exact same style to advertise its own events stateside, but it seems as though the Fight Pass service deserves something more unique than the same one used for the PPV model, especially with the customer facing materials it produces.

To the UFC’s credit, it does move away from the traditional mold occasionally (hello gorgeous), and even it misses the mark now and again (I’m looking at you UFC 122), it at least calls enough attention to itself that it makes the average customer do a double take.  That’s never a bad thing.

The risk in using a formula that is tried and true is that the output becomes formulaic.  There is little room for surprise or opportunity in something templatized.  The posters then become a metaphor for the bigger issues the UFC seems to be struggling with as it grows.  After all, how does a marketing machine justify something special for a card headlined by Jimi Manua and Nate Marquardt when the fight itself raises eyebrows?

The UFC may not be able to make each card a unique and wonderful snowflake, but it can at least act like each card is a unique and wonderful snowflake.  Or it can at least do the public the courtesy of lying to them in the marketing materials.


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