Viva La Brand: Creative Branding Tips Learned From Bam Margera

Branding. For some odd reason, the word evokes the vision of Bam Margera for me. After years in marketing, it would make sense for my word association to be with one of the hundreds of successful branding projects I’ve completed.

But nope. Branding — still Bam for me.

Margera’s unorthodox teachings remain lodged in my psyche like a remote in between two couch cushions; his lifetime of stunts blending together into one unforgettable scene of cinema forever residing in my brain.

Branding Tips To Monetize Debauchery

For those of you who have no idea what I’m getting at, or who Bam is for that matter, let me give you some quick context.

In the early 2000s, Bam Margera was the Pope for almost every budding “Dude/Man” that was caught in the crossfire of pre-, mid- and post-early adolescence. If you wore tattered Adio soles, carried splintered wood with rusty trucks, and held a general FU attitude, Bam was a legend.

He skated and performed with a sloppy grace like a slapped, one-eyed gazelle. He messed with his friends and was endeared to drive his parents crazy. And he documented it all, giving newfound meaning to a generation of turnover.

Come on now; stuntman and filmmaker doesn’t do Bam Margera any real justice.

Bam didn’t lead the charge, but he was a big part of the new world of creative expression. He helped capture who he, his friends, and family were in an authentic medium to reveal an equally authentic character. He then chopped it up, added a little spice, and served it up for mass consumption. A hunter, butcher, chef, patron extraordinaire. Some might define that as a classic entrepreneur. Any modern marketer need look no further for high-brow branding tips.

In many ways, Bam was social media before social media even existed. His success with skateboarding and CKY (Camp Kill Yourself) videos ultimately paid off. Major cable and satellite television channel, MTV, grabbed wind of the radical hilarity and couldn’t turn a blind eye to the growing cult-like following. As such, a new brand, Jackass, was born. Enter the era of the mainstream. The rest is a wild, reckless history.

After a number of seasons on MTV, Bam and the likes of Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Ryan Dunn, Chris Pontius, Wee Man, and many other recurring, lovable mavericks took their acts to the big screen. They were raunchy. They were cerebral in a weird, non-scripted way. Most of all, they kept it real and stayed true to themselves.

Jackass: The Movie killed it in and out of theaters. With just a $5M production budget, (Yes, just. For comparative purposes, The Dark Knight ran up a tab of $185M before hitting theaters) Bam and the Jackass team reeled in $79.2M at the box office worldwide, thus showing that putting a live alligator in your mom’s kitchen has one hell of a return on investment. Marketers from every publisher and outlet were trying to glean branding tips from the guys who blew up doing dumb stunts with their friends.

Things continued to scale from there. Expectations were high for both Jackass 2 and Jackass 3D. As such, the outrageous bar was set a little higher.  From Running with the Bulls, to the Anaconda Ball Pit, to the Terror Taxi — the Jackass collection amassed to an impressive pool of piss your pants and squirm in your seat memories.

Today, Jackass is The Beatles of contemporary absurdity and harnessed debauchery, leaving Bam as the defacto Lennon, McCartney or Harrison (take your pick, but he sure as hell isn’t Ringo) of it all. Just like The Beatles, you probably love or hate Jackass. Sure, there’s probably a chunk of people that get down with Nitro Circus. But, let’s stop kidding around — it’s Nike versus Adidas.

Now, many domesticated desk monkeys function with a soggy nostalgia. Seemingly tame cortexes click and flash: angry bees in a limo, riot control tests, electrocution via stool. Jackass has its own Billboard 100 with countless hits.

Just like The Beatles, everyone has their favorite Jackass project. For me, I revert back to Bam, when he literally put his ass on the line for The Brand and a number one hit.

Branding. Do It For The Brand.

Simply put, The Brand is a scene in Jackass 2 where Johnny Knoxville and Ryan Dunn take a piping red hot cattle iron in the shape of a — well, there’s no beating around the bush here — penis, and literally brand Bam with it on his bare, pasty white butt cheeks. I’m not making this up.

If you’re wondering how it turned out, the answer is “mostly terrible.” You can probably find some clips floating around on the internet, but I’d recommend watching the movie in full via Netflix or ordering it On Demand. These guys freaking earned those royalties. Viewer discretion advised.

As I sit here and reflect on that particular intense scene, I think about how it might be the most perfect representation of what good branding is when looking for meaningful branding tips. Mainly because I’ve seen my fair share of bad branding over the years.

Many times, I’ve been faced with helping clients that get hung up on their brand. Logos, fonts, graphics, colors. I plead with people to not get too absorbed by those elements. They’re really only superficial, subjective, external liaisons of the true brand. They’re not the end-all-be-all. Sure, they’re necessary, and you need them to a certain degree, but ask yourself this: will they make you appealing and enduring? Appealing, yes. Enduring, no.

Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, and Islamic scholar, Rumi, once wrote: “The only lasting beauty, is the beauty of the heart.” This concept is further approached in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, where the preservation of physical beauty and art battle head-to-head.

If you asked a business owner to describe their brand, too many of them would describe their logo. A logo, as with every other brand component, is an evocative tool; it acts as a stand-in for the emotions and feelings the business desires the audience to experience when they think of their business. In short, it’s the heart behind the brand that makes the brand worth anything at all.

The Brand by Bam Margera follows this rule too. By no means is it pretty on the surface, but it’s complex in nature and humbled by an objective. The Brand encompasses individual sacrifice for the brand (Jackass), and that’s why it’s so memorable.

I don’t remember Jackass because of their logo, or the soundtracks, or the font that they used during credits. I remember Jackass because it left an impression on me during my formative years. I remember Jackass because of Bam, and the whole crew, doing everything they could to build the brand, even if they died trying.

And that’s damn good branding.