In front of your eyes over the last twenty-four months, Dwayne Johnson, the man known in wrestling circles as the Peoples’ Champion, has made huge leaps in the business world to successfully embody his old nickname on a level that few icons have done before. But how did a man named after nature’s most boring inanimate object make $64.5 million in 2016 to become the #1 highest paid actor in the world according to Forbes?
Johnson’s path to becoming an international superstar was a winding and improbable road. His story starts as a trouble making teen not destined for much, before getting his NFL dreams crushed while at the University of Florida due to a devastating back injury. Since then, Johnson has overcome countless obstacles to create an entertainment empire that is built on four key pillars – acting, entrepreneurship, brand embodiment and social interaction.
1. The Movie Star
Johnson’s acting is what put him on the map 21 years ago as a World Wrestling Federation (WWF) star, following in his father’s footsteps as a fan-favourite in the entertainment wrestling world. As the son of WWF legend Rocky Johnson, Dwayne had a hefty shadow to crawl out of. Becoming a six-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion was a good start.
Johnson’s wrestling success was a sign of things to come. From there, Johnson had his first big-screen break as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns (2001). The blockbusters have not stopped rolling in, with 37 acting credits since then (and another 11 in the works), including his recurring fan-favourite role as Luke Hobbs in the Fast & the Furious franchise and the box-office hit San Andreas (2015) (Biography, 2017).
Johnson’s acting success didn’t stop there. HBO’s hit show Ballers, which he produces (more on that in a minute), stars Johnson as an NFL linebacker-turned-financial advisor. And as a sign of the versatility of his success no matter the size of the screen, Ballers has been rated the #1 HBO Comedy of the last nine years (Digital Trends, 2015).
Whether it’s film or TV, Johnson’s ability to make the most of his on-screen opportunities to create or reinvigorate blockbuster franchises is truly second-to-none in Hollywood today.
2. The Entrepreneur
One particularly critical mark of a successful businessperson is their ability to consistently identify and exploit opportunities in their world. Johnson’s multi-platform production company, Seven Bucks Productions, launched him from a lowly Hollywood actor to a multifaceted millionaire entrepreneur.
Seven Bucks Productions was co-founded by Johnson and his ex-wife Dany Garcia, as Johnson’s first and largest foray into the business world. The media production company, named for the amount of money Johnson had to his name at age 23, provides Johnson the opportunity to piece together personally meaningful projects from the ground up – and from juvenile mentorship documentaries (Lockup, 2017) to wrestling bio-pics (Fighting with my Family, 2018), Johnson has done just that. In Seven Bucks, Johnson has built a media business that will sustain his Hollywood success behind the camera years after he decides to stop acting in front of it.
Johnson’s business partnerships have snowballed and continued to lead to more opportunities, having connected him to various global brands and initiatives from commercials to tentpole tribute specials. One of these business ventures, the incredibly successful Project Rock, started out as a simple connection to a well-known brand.
3. The Brand Ambassador
One aspect of Johnson’s business sense that sets him apart from most Hollywood icons is his ability to sustain his elite success as he continues to branch further from traditional channels. His partnership with global apparel brand Under Armor is the truest example of this.
In January of 2016, Under Armor announced a multi-faceted brand partnership that was designed as “collaborative development of original content, inspired by the actor’s lifestyle, fitness regimen, and philanthropic initiatives.” The line was launched and maintained with a selection of Under Armor active wear that reflect Johnson’s personal mantras and brand – images of his well-known brahma bull (Project Rock’s official subranded logo), anchors (he famously preaches to “find your anchor” in life) and the words “Blood, sweat, respect” (according to Johnson, the first two you give and the last you will get).
Almost unsurprisingly, the Project Rock line took off immediately and became Under Armor’s most successful initiative of 2016. Under Armor used a careful blend of brand advertisement and influencer involvement, using Johnson’s immense social following and status as a global icon as the key marketing driver (more on that in a minute). New Project Rock product releases routinely fly off the shelf, selling out within days and creating an exclusivity element based on their limited availability.
Part of what makes Project Rock so successful is the careful strategy behind the apparel and products launched within it – the initiative represented an opportunity for fans to take Johnson’s successful and inspirational messages and apply them to their own day-to-day lives. It provided more ways for fans around the world to connect with Johnson while expanding his reach outside of Hollywood.
4. The Personality
The aspect of Johnson’s brand that has truly set him apart in today’s world is his immaculate presence on social media. Johnson’s commitment to Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook allow the everyday fan get a behind the scenes glimpse of Johnson’s life and how he applies his hard working mentality to it. Social media allows Johnson to show the world how he embodies his philosophies to everything he does, using outlets that are much more intimate and direct with today’s consumers.
While personally showcasing his lifestyle to connect with fans is an important use of social media for Johnson, his ability to use it as a marketing tool is what really sets @therock apart. Baked into every movie contract Johnson is apart of is his crucial role as a marketer. He takes each movie’s promotion into his own hands (literally), pushing it to his 95+ million fans on Instagram and other social media, a platform that film insiders say is more valuable to a Dwayne Johnson flick than any ad campaign. It is estimated that Johnson’s social media impact add $15-20 million in marketing value to any film or TV project (Fortune, 2014).
While he is by no means the first globally famous actor to participate in social media, his ability to pull back the curtain and connect with his fans is a case study in personal branding and social media marketing.
Juvenile delinquent. Top NFL prospect. Nearly homeless. Pro wrestler. Movie star. Entrepreneur. Brand Ambassador. Global icon.
The continual development of Johnson’s personal brand made skyscraper-like leaps since 2016. The secret to his success, you ask? Simple:
“I can kick ass better than anyone on the planet. And I have a decent smile.”
This I’ve found: When you climb to the top of a mountain, don’t look back to admire your footsteps. Look to the horizon and take the first step towards conquering the next one.