Marketing History: Strange Bedfellows Poses an All or None

Posted on December 19, 2013



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If you can make one heap of all your winnings,
and risk it on a single turn of pitch and toss,
and lose, and start again at new beginnings,
and never breathe a word about your loss. –
-excerpt from If by Rudyard Kipling


In the 1970s, Robert Craig Knievel, epitomized and embodied what it meant to be a daredevil. Evel Knievel was his stage name, but that would be like describing Beyonce as simply a singer. Evel Knievel became an iconic term, a thrilling mix of danger and stardom.  It was a franchise as recognizable as Barbie, a $125 million dollar industry, equating to nearly a half-billion today. For young boys, being labeled an Evel Knievel became a badge of honor and a nightmare for their parents. Mr. Knievel’s career spanned an incredible 15 years,  remarkable for his death-defying feats, yet exhaustive, watching a man continuously stare down his own death. But a lesser known defining presence is the number of times he stood at a door, that the average person may face only once in a lifetime. The opportunity to walk through it, decreases the number further, since it does not always open. Nearly every time Evel Knievel went to work, there was a record to be broken, and on many occasions, history to be made. Like in the Snake River Canyon Jump, a feat that had not been tried or imagined by anyone.

But Evel Knievel was a big time performer, who reveled in the grand stage. In the time before cable, the internet and hand-held entertainment devices, television was one of few entertainment options, and a limited number of choices. But to those who craved superstardom, it was the perfect medium, as there was less competition, since we all watched the same shows. The marketing blitz leading up to the jumps, were paramount to the promotions of a world heavyweight bout, consolidating all  the belts. A new line of Knievel merchandise would hit, then fly off department store shelves.  With the 24-hour news cycle not yet in existence, and social media not invented, and before the term paparazzi arrived in America, the media outlets would set up their tents and all eyes were on him.

Seventy percent were real fans who wanted to be there to see the jump. Twenty percent wanted to come and if there was an accident, they wanted to see it. But they didn’t want to see me get killed. Then there’s 10 percent of the population that were looking for blood and/or death.” – Evel Knievel


Raising the bar became a game within itself. He cleared 13 cars in 197o, set a record with a spectacular 19 car jump in 1972. and in 1973, he delivered a see-it-to-believe-it performance,  making history once again in the process, with a 50 car jump. As the legend grew, the marketing machine grew stronger. Each successive event, would be bigger and more outrageous than the one before. Marketing is designed to sell a product, to convince the people of what they want. Hype is often sold, far before a movie is finished shooting, and within the Industry of Evel Knievel, clearing cars was no longer enough, and marketing history became grandiose (remember the Caesar’s Palace jump). But unlike Superman or the Caped Crusader, who were never actually in real danger, and while Evel Knievel was billed as a superhero, in actuality, he was a man named Robert, of flesh and bone.

The magnitude of his injuries is a subject by itself. But it was not the 400 broken bones he suffered that brought down his career. Interest would wane because he reached his limit of how high and far he and his motorcycle could fly. Evel Knievel would unintentionally change his brand and the focus, from a daredevil to an all or none, history-seeking moment. Eventually, even successfully clearing whatever obstacles placed in his way, the slightest imperfection would label the performance a flop (He cleared 13 London Buses but complaints were made because they were not double decker).

I admired Mr. Knievel as a kid for the heart-stopping moments he provided back then. I admire him today, but for a very different reason. He had to know that each jump was a risk, at best chance, 50-50 of win or fail. And each “failure”  placed his larger than life persona in jeopardy. But Mr. Knievel, must have been humbled by the number of times he returned to history’s door, and I like to believe, it was humility that drove him, and not celebrity nor a  man’s public death wish.


In the early 90′s, after returning from book tour and selling, one by one, nearly 10,000 books, a number far removed from the bestsellers list, and virtually unnoticeable by any publisher, I was interviewed by an undergraduate journalism student, who asked if I felt the tour was a success. I paused for a moment, then offered these few words “Success is relative. Success can be measured in the moment. Success to one, may be an abject failure to another (After Thriller, a million-selling Michael Jackson album would be considered a disaster). So to answer your question, Yes.”

The 2013 Thepublicblogger Awards nominees, the volunteer  judges, the special guests performers, the set collaborators, the neighbors and to everyone heeding my call to assist in the marketing & promotions, by spreading the word about the Season-Ending Show. The sheer number of contributors working behind the scenes, demonstrates a relevance, all by itself.  But if you have not already, look now where we stand, as the first and only online-bloggers award show in existence, we stand at the door of history, itself.


a special note: Marketing history are strange bedfellows, indeed. And the thought of an all or none, brings the nerves to wrack. and doubt to rear its head. Before it settles, I take a moment to breathe. I become inspired by all of you, and realize that The Neighborhood is already successful, because of your belief in the imagination,, celebrates its one-year anniversary.

The Neighborhood’s Season-Ending Show: 2013 Thepublicblogger Awards 
a Star will be Born
debuts on December 30, 2013 @ 6:01 a.m. EST

list of all nominees within  their category

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Evel Knievel, Weird Pages

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