This upcoming Sunday is WrestleMania Backlash, which sounds simultaneously ridiculous and extremely logical.
From the moment it was announced, there were multiple reactions, ranging from:
- Ew. Why did they tack “WrestleMania” onto Backlash like that?
- Wow. WWE is really going to try to capitalize off the WrestleMania branding like that? That’s cheap.
- Ha! Is the next event after that going to be “WrestleMania Money in the Bank” and eventually, “WrestleMania SummerSlam” and “WrestleMania Survivor Series” and such?
Of course, we know one of the reasons WWE is doing this, because it’s the most obvious of the bunch: WrestleMania is the biggest event of the year and by tacking that name onto this, it’s a marketing strategy to try to fool people into thinking this is more important. It’s similar to how putting the price for $4.99 definitively has been proven as a technique to drive sales. People are psychologically tricked into rounding down, thinking it’s $4 instead of $5 plus sales tax. No matter how smart you are, it works, and more importantly, it works on the vast majority of people because most people are stupid.
Likewise, a good portion of the fan base and even some casuals will see WrestleMania Backlash and think they’re getting something special. “Limited edition” can mean 50,000 units, but if you put it on the label, people will think it’s rare. WWE’s constant use of the phrase “for the first time ever” is indicative of this idea that the fans are stupid and this will manipulate them into thinking they’re getting something better than they’re really getting.
But I have another theory that I’d like to expand on, too.
I think this is a follow-up to last year’s experiment with taglines.
Tagline? What Do You Mean?
Back in the day, WWE events used to have subtitles to them. In particular, the In Your House events were always marketed with some sort of supplemental branding. For instance, “In Your House: Good Friends, Better Enemies”, “In Your House: Buried Alive” and “In Your House: Revenge of the ‘Taker” and so on.
WWE stopped doing those a long while back, though. We got into habit of just seeing Survivor Series 2018 and whatever it might be.
Last year, though, things changed. They went back to putting an extra title to virtually every single event following Elimination Chamber.
- WrestleMania 36: Too Big for One Night
- Money in the Bank: The Risk is Worth the Reward / Climb the Corporate Ladder
- Backlash: The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever
- The Horror Show at Extreme Rules
- SummerSlam: You’ll Never See It Coming
- Clash of Champions: Gold Rush
- Survivor Series: The Undertaker’s Final Farewell
As a big James Bond fan (check out my A Review to a Kill series), a line from Goldfinger pops into my mind: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
This wasn’t just a one-time gimmick. It was a planned marketing strategy.
My guess is this was a pitch from someone in the marketing department or someone who is high up enough that they overtake said department. I can imagine a scenario where people on the board were saying they need to think of ways to drive up interest in pay-per-views and this was someone’s pitch.
If you want my completely baseless speculation? It’s Bruce Prichard’s idea—for both better and worse.
He was a key member of WWE Creative during an older era where things like this happened all the time. On Something to Wrestle With, he’s big on using slogans to help sell ideas. My guess is he suggested this will spice things up and make them seem like they’re more than just the 12th Hell in a Cell and so on.
Some of those names are decent, like Clash of Champions: Gold Rush. However, even that one is unnecessary. It’s just fluff. There’s no extra added value to anything other than window dressing and we all saw through it immediately and continued not to buy into it.
Be honest. Were you more willing to watch The Horror Show at Extreme Rules because of that title alone? No. If anything, you laughed at it and thought it was so dumb that you didn’t want to see the event. But if you did want to check it out, it was likely because you were interested in the matches themselves, rather than the tweak to the title.
So What’s WrestleMania Backlash?
My guess is they realized this wasn’t working and that’s why we didn’t see it for TLC, Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber or Fastlane.
We did see a return for WrestleMania with the Back in Business slogan, though. That was largely due to spinning the rhetoric and trying to convince people this was the start of getting back to normal and, in a sense, beating it over the head of the fans that “if you weren’t watching because of the pandemic, you need to tune in now, please, we’re begging you.”
But Backlash isn’t in front of a crowd. It’s a ThunderDome show again. So how do you make it feel special? What do you do to prevent it from being just Backlash 2021?
Tacking WrestleMania onto it was 100% the easiest option. It’s not so much lazy as it is uninspired.
But I also think this was done to try to mask criticisms of having repeat matches. It’s not a total carbon copy of WrestleMania, but there are enough similarities going on right now:
- Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler fighting the same other tag teams after Mania, including a rematch against Natalya and Tamina on SmackDown.
- Drew McIntyre fighting Bobby Lashley again for the WWE Championship. This time, with Braun Strowman in the mix.
- Asuka, Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley.
- Dirty Dawgs against The Mysterios from the WrestleMania SmackDown edition (note: same marketing strategy there, too, calling it “WrestleMania SmackDown to try to convince people was a more special episode)
- Damian Priest vs. The Miz
- Apollo Crews and Big E, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
- AJ Styles and Omos against The New Day isn’t on the card, but it’s still going on
If you specifically call it WrestleMania Backlash, you’re basically saying an equivalent of “WrestleMania Rewind” or “WrestleMania Repeat” or “WrestleMania Follow-up”.
This helps excuse WWE with their repeats because they can try to argue that it’s a supplemental show to wrap up those storylines (5 weeks later, mind you) and that you shouldn’t be down on it for not being new because it’s just the backlash from WrestleMania.
The Future of PPV Names
The current 2021 WWE PPV lineup calls for the next few shows to be NXT TakeOver: In Your House, Money in the Bank, Extreme Rules and SummerSlam. None of them have been 100% officially confirmed by WWE, but reliable sources have “confirmed” this to be the case.