Chuck Norris was a Fearless Brand Before There was Branding

Chuck Norris

By his own account, his childhood was average at best – but more accurately, it was mundane, if not downbeat. The oldest of three boys, he was born in Ryan, Oklahoma on March 12, 1940. His father – a truck driver, a mechanic and a bus driver – named him after Carlos Berry – his pastor. Growing up, young Carlos was shy and not very athletic – nor was he very enthused about school – achieving mediocre grades. When he was sixteen, his parents divorced – his mother and two brothers moved first to Kansas and ultimately to Torrance, California just outside of Los Angeles.

His life would change significantly when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at the age of 18. For one thing, as an Air Policeman (AP – the Air Force equivalent of an Army MP) stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, he began to go by the name Chuck. In his AP role, he gained self-confidence and while still the quiet type, he became more assertive. It was in South Korea that he was first introduced to martial arts – in particular, Tang Soo Do. Eventually he was transferred state-side and was stationed at March AFB in Riverside, CA. 

He had left South Korea behind, but his love for and pursuit of martial arts continued. Having served four years, he left the Air Force in 1962, going to work for Northrup Corporation – a major aircraft manufacturer. His commitment to the martial arts was such that while he continued to study and train in the martial arts, he opened a chain of Karate schools. His clientele boasted celebrities including Steve McQueen and his son Chad, Donny and Marie Osmond. Even game show host Bob Barker and Elvis’ wife Priscilla trained in his schools.

Chuck continued to study and improve – he also began to enter martial arts competitions. Not surprisingly, he struggled and lost in his early tournaments. Those losses meant one thing to him – train harder, study more intently, compete to win. He lost again in early 1968 – for what would be the last time. He went on to avenge that loss later that same year – becoming the World Professional Middleweight Karate Champion.

Winning that first championship earned for him Fighter of the Year award bestowed by Black Belt Magazine. It also opened some doors in Hollywood – Chuck was given a role in the 1969 film The Wrecking Crew starring Dean Martin. Soon after, Chuck met world-renowned martial artist Bruce Lee at a karate competition. The two ended up doing a movie together with Lee as the lead and Chuck his nemesis. The movie, Way of the Dragon – was a huge hit with Bruce Lee’s Asia fan base and was eventually released in the U.S. His student, Steve McQueen, convinced him to take acting lessons at MGM – as with his martial arts, he studied intently, trained hard and improved as an actor.

Through hard work and commitment – combining his passion and talent – that shy kid with the mediocre childhood went on to accomplish big things. His first world championship was a feat he would repeat for six consecutive years without defeat. He created his own system of martial arts known as Chun Kuk Do and is the founder and CEO of the United Fighting Arts Federation. He has earned degrees of black belts in a variety of the arts, but perhaps most noteworthy is that he was awarded an eighth degree Black Belt Grand Master in Tae Kwon Do – the first man from the West to do so.

He starred in nearly two dozen – mainly action-adventure – films including Delta Force, Code of Silence and a series of Missing in Action movies (these were dedicated to his younger brother who lost his life while serving in Viet Nam). He then moved into television with the starring role in a series which ran for over eight years – Walker, Texas Ranger.  Achieving such success in either of these two careers would be impressive – but the fact that one man did so in both is not what defines a fearless brand. The success is the result of a fearless brand – none other than Chuck Norris.

Sometimes, building a Fearless Brand is not the entire story.

Chuck Norris has built himself into a fearless brand. He has combined his talents and passion in ways which deliver relevant value. Of course, the essential first step is to be authentic – and Norris is certainly that. He is a devout and quite vocal Christian, a conservative Republican, a supporter of the NRA and their interpretation of the Second Amendment. His views are not popular with everyone – nor do they need to be. No one should be faulted for that – but if they are, a fearless brand takes comfort in the fact that they are true to themselves and their beliefs. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from the fearless brand that is Chuck Norris is this –

You can build your brand, you can manage your brand, but you cannot control your brand!

So many people and companies believe they are able to control their brand – which is why ‘control’ is the first of my Seven C’s of Branding®.It is the public that defines our brands – it is their perspective and interpretation that ultimately counts.

Starting around 2005, with Late Night’s Conan O’Brien being the catalyst – Chuck Norris became one of the internet’s greatest meme’s known as Chuck Norris ‘facts’. The statements of ‘fact’ regarding Norris’ prowess and powers are exaggerated and outlandish – yet seen as tributes to the man whose on-screen characters have become bigger than life.

While they are not intended to be anything but light-hearted and fun they did not sit well with Norris in the beginning. His initial reaction was not that the ‘facts’ were degrading – but that they misdirected the source of true power – God. Eventually Chuck realized that all of it was in good fun. He finds many of them humorous and hopes the memes will lead some to explore his beliefs as espoused in weekly columns and several best-selling books.

Here’s a partial list of some of the more popular ‘facts’ – beginning with the one Chuck Norris is reputed to like best…

  • They wanted to put Chuck Norris on Mt. Rushmore but the granite wasn’t tough enough for his beard…
  • Ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Chuck Norris stories…
  • Chuck Norris can split the atom – with his bare hands…
  • Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice…
  • Chuck Norris can hear lightning and see thunder…
  • Chuck Norris’ diary is called The Guinness Book of World Records

The absurdity of the ‘facts’ is what resonates with people – it’s the connection to Chuck Norris the man, the myth, the brand. The results of effective branding come about by creating a positive emotional connection. Doing so demands authenticity and the great value which is created when talent and passion are combined. So build your brand – manage your brand – just know you cannot control your brand.

Calling Chuck Norris a fearless brand is superfluous – Chuck Norris is fearless – period.

Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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