How the ROCK Turned Turbulence Into A Rock Solid Brand

Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson

His was a turbulent childhood – born in Hayward, California, the only son of a Samoan mom and an African-American father. The family moved thirteen times during his youth. His father traveled often to find work – and that work paid inconsistently. Not surprisingly, he went down the same path that many young boys travel who don’t have paternal direction, live with little money and have few material goods.

He was consistently in trouble – fighting and stealing – basically leading the life of a delinquent. His family had moved to Hawaii when he was in his early teens. There he joined a theft ring which preyed on wealthy tourists and high-end stores. At the age of 14 he saw his mother’s car repossessed – the following week they came home to find an eviction notice on their $120 per week efficiency apartment.

Soon after, the family relocated once again – this time to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He had begun lifting weights and building his body earlier in his life – but it was in high school that sports became an important part of his life – football, wrestling, track and field. He was a good athlete – good enough that he received a full scholarship to play football for the University of Miami.

He played defensive line and started as a freshman, a rarity in 1990. During that season, he suffered a devastating shoulder injury. He dealt with that setback and was part of the Miami Hurricanes team that won the National Football Championship. However, further injuries plagued his college career, which resulted in every NFL team passing on the chance to draft him. Instead, he went to play in the Canadian Football League. Two months into that career, he was cut from the team – not good enough – dreams of becoming a professional football player shattered.

It was 1995 and as his father drove him from Miami to Tampa, Florida he counted the money he had – $7.00. It was then that he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, and his grandfather’s for that matter.  His father was apprehensive, knowing that it was his life as a wrestler that had caused such hardship for his family. Eventually his father relented, agreeing to train him and teach him the trade. He spent years working through some of the same wrestling circuits his father had – but with different results. The son knew what professional wrestling was truly about – entertainment…and entertain he did. He became a crowd favorite.

He was a talented athlete and a passionate entertainer and an uncanny knack for connecting with the fans.. Ultimately, he was discovered by Vince McMahon, the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). McMahon became his mentor, adviser and friend. In St. Louis on November 15, 1988, he became the youngest Heavyweight Champion in WWE history. His persona grew to the point that in the year 2000, another entertainment door opened for him – when he hosted Saturday Night Live.

One door opening leads to more doors opening. He  was cast in the movie The Mummy Returns, and was paid $5.5 million to star in The Scorpion King, the most money ever paid for a first time leading man. The man was an entertainer – in the world of wrestling, television and now the big screen. It’s been twenty years since he realized his total net worth was a grand total of $7.00 -the cash he had in his pocket.

In that time he has won 11 individual wrestling world championships and five tag team championships. He has acted in over 30 movies, starring in many of them. His 2013 box office total was $1.3 billion. He earns as much as $12 million as a leading man. He’s authored a best-selling autobiography and starred in two reality television series. He also stars in a highly rated new series on HBO. With over 50,000,000 followers on both Instagram and Facebook and another 10 million on Twitter, he has a powerful presence on social media as well.

These incredible accomplishments do not define a brand – rather they are the results of branding. Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson has become a fearless brand the old fashioned way – he combined passion, talent and relevance.

Fearless Brands achieve dream results

Dwayne Johnson – the Rock – is the leading action star in Hollywood. He has built a worldwide fan base as an entertainer – as a person. How important is that? It is estimated that over 70% of an actor’s clout comes from an international audience. Yes, he is still active in the WWE, earning about $3 1/2 million per year for various appearances. His primary focus continues to be in the film industry – both as an actor and a producer. Seven Bucks Productions is his company – aptly named after his earlier status in life.

What really makes the Rock such a star is his personality and his ability to connect with his fans. While at 6′ 5″ and 260 pounds he is truly a physical giant, he is a man with an equally large, kind and soft heart. He loves meeting fans in parking lots where they wait for him, on social media where they interact with him – virtually anywhere they are. At the recent London premier of his latest film, San Andreas, he set the Guinness record for most selfies taken in three minutes – 105 pics .

Johnson has been very open about the hard road he’s lived, the disappointments and his battle with depression. Three events triggered deep bouts of depression – getting hurt as a freshman, getting cut from the CFL and divorcing his wife of ten years in 2007. They have a daughter and he felt he’d failed as a husband, a father and a man. However, he and his ex-wife remain friends, as a matter of fact, she is still his manager. He speaks about it because he knows it can – and will – help others. He acknowledges that his current girl friend is the best thing that’s ever happened to him. She embraced him at his very worst and lifted him up to become his very best.

There is a depth and dimension to Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson which is easily overlooked by the skeptics. Yet there is so much to learn from his story that his second book is in the works. For now, focus on the four basic elements which make the Rock a fearless brand.

Authenticity – Wrestling tried to mold him into something he wasn’t. Hollywood attempted to recreate him using their formula to leading men. Neither approach were Johnson. It was when he decided to be himself that he began to realize success.

Passion – Johnson is a driven man. He has a passion for entertainment and an unyielding desire to be ‘the best’.

Talent – Dwayne ‘the Rock’ knows that he’s not the most skilled actor, that he didn’t begin as the best wrestler. However, he continues to work hard to learn, to improve, to get better. You are committed to being the best when your day starts at 4 AM with an hour of cardio and ninety minutes of weight training.

Relevance – To ensure that his work is relevant, Johnson listens to his fans and delivers what they want. He follows his instincts. He listens to very smart trusted advisers. His fans say yes when they hear one of his signature phrases – “Can you smell what the Rock has cooking?”

You likely won’t be a world champion wrestler, a box office phenomenon, nor 6’5″ and 260 pounds of solid muscle. You can, however, become a fearless brand. Follow the Rock’s strategy. Dream big. Be persistent. Work hard. Be grateful.

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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