What does the “Jesse Ventura” brand represent? It proves, even by the celebrity’s own admission, that his brand is all about his reputation, and since it is a personal brand, about Jesse Ventura – the person.
Jesse Ventura just won almost $2 million in court in a defamation suit. He is quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying that if he lost the case he would have “permanently moved to Mexico.” In the ex-governor’s words, “If you can’t win in court with the truth, there’s nothing left.” If this is not the Jesse Ventura brand, I don’t know what is.
Ventura’s career has showed how with the right mix of personal appeal and personal branding, a Navy SEAL turned professional wrestler, can become governor. He’s hardly the first celebrity to succeed in politics. But his brand, more than almost any other, keeps being reinvented.
The national media looked at his candidacy as a joke when he ran for governor of the State of Minnesota in 1998. But when he won the election, he won a lot of fans in the process. The image of a Navy SEAL may play well in any political race. The image of a pro wrestler? Probably not so much.
Since his time in the Minnesota State Capitol, he has been a media celebrity doing all the celebrity things that are customary in today’s media. The defamation story accuser (attributing to Ventura anti-American, anti-military sentiments) hit at the center of the Ventura brand. It is like saying Ronald McDonald is actually a pitchman for Taco Bell (oh, wait). But really, our politicians chase after name recognition. Votes are largely about trust. People feel they trust names that they have heard of, and are far less likely to endorse names they don’t recognize. The “Jesse Ventura” trademark has a very long tail, and with the proper care and feeding, names like this can sustain a long career.
Like with a product, the name must generally have something to back it. Take away his enormous size (six-foot four, 255 pounds) and WWF history, and you are still left with a glossy reputation for brash outspokenness. Love it or hate it, there is a message to “Ventura,” – a brand. His name got him attention, even if only as a sort of “shock value” which gets people to pay attention to him. But then, like the brand, he must deliver.
This lawsuit would have been different, and in fact likely would not have existed, if Ventura were a relative unknown. Commentators today are marveling at how a man who was such a high-profile athlete/politician/celebrity/entertainer, and who therefore was a legitimate target for all sorts of public accusations, could win this case. Jesse fought to restore his brand, which is what he called his good name, and won. No need to move to Mexico (spoiler alert: the newspaper report did note that he already has a house there, and spends the long Minnesota winters in the Baja sunshine). The Ventura brand can stay All-American.
This Post Originally Appeared on Forbes