Understanding Branding with Cobra Kai

Warning! Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the Karate Kid movies or the sequel Netflix series, Cobra Kai, don’t read this article.

If you have, keep on reading!

The Karate Kid, 1984. Image by Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/youtube-the-karate-kid-tv-series-sequel-2017-8?r=MX&IR=T

Don’t we all remember this epic fight at the end of The Karate Kid (1984)? Johnny Lawrence, from the Cobra Kai dojo, and Daniel Larusso, with the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi, facing each other and ready to fight for the last point that will determine which one of them will win the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament.

Daniel stands in one foot, as his other leg is injured, trying to keep his balance. He’s ready to defeat his Cobra Kai opponent.

Johnny moves forward, so confident and already smelling his victory; he’s ready to strike first, to strike hard… to show NO MERCY.

Johnny doesn’t see this coming. The audience doesn’t see it coming either. We are not prepared to see how a young man, with his injured leg, will win this battle. But he does… he switches his legs in a single and quick movement, and buuuum!!! He kicks Johnny right into the face! Epic! Amazing! Daniel Larusso wins! Johnny Lawrence fails.

Yes, we all remember that amazing scene. We were all on the edge of our seats watching, frame by frame, how the story unfolds into this unexpected ending.

Fast forward 34 years later. Johnny Lawrence, a once hot and popular boy who enjoyed bullying Daniel, becomes a bitter middle aged man who can’t seem to let go of the past. He just lost his job and he wants to start his own business; he wants to bring Cobra Kai dojo back.

Photo by svklimkin on Unsplash

And this is where branding comes into the picture.

What does branding have to do with this story, you might be wondering? The fact is that it has to do with pretty much the whole narrative of Cobra Kai, but I’ll get to that. First and foremost, we need to understand a few relevant things about branding.

  1. Branding is a strategic approach that helps you shape your business. It maps out its purpose, why it exists, to whom it exists for (your target audience), what your values are, and why all of it makes you different.
  2. This approach also helps you determine what’s your personality and tone of voice, so you can lead your audience into a better understanding of the core values that align with them, as well as the solution you provide.
  3. Branding also helps you regulate your values within your workplace culture. You need to have your goals set out and clear, so that the people that work with you will help you accomplish them without damaging your brand.

So, how does Johnny Lawrence learn all of these things (the hard way)?

It would seem, at first sight, that Cobra Kai 2018 is the exact replica of Cobra Kai 1984. But as we come to understand Johnny’s real desire to change his ways, make emends with his past, start over and really make a difference in his community, we realize that Cobra Kai is not even remotely close as its 1984 version.

The main difference between Cobra Kai 1984 and Cobra Kai 2018 is the reason of its existence and whom it exists for. While the old one basically trained bullies, the new one takes a radical turn. Johnny’s purpose to encourage bullied kids to stand up for themselves becomes his new goal. So Cobra Kai is reborn with a new set of values: strength, confidence and safety.

We also perceive the brand’s personality and tone of voice through Johnny. By being a bully himself, he shows aggression and rudeness, but by keeping up with this attitude, he helps his students toughen up and realize they need to overcome their fears and grow their confidence.

Johnny prides his teaching methods, but, after a while, some problems start to arise. When he decides to bring Cobra Kai back, he keeps its original tagline: strike first, strike hard, no mercy. He soon realizes that something’s not quite right. After the first tournament, where his top student actually wins by being less than honorable and by showing no mercy, Johnny recognizes that his brand messaging is confusing. He doesn’t want his bullied students to become bullies; those where the 1984 ways. He wants them to win fair and square and accomplish their goals without being pricks.

When his brand feels compromised this way, he also decides to give his old sensei, John Kreese, a second chance to prove himself to him. Kreese’s values are not only unaligned with Johnny’s and the new version of Cobra Kai, but they also end up hurting the brand. Kreese takes advantage of Johnny’s opportunity and he reinstates Cobra Kai’s original hurtful values and methodologies. Remember when I told you to regulate your values within your workplace culture? Well, Johnny just didn’t listen!

As good as Johnny’s intention was with Cobra Kai, he looses it and Kreese takes over once again. But, don’t worry, this isn’t the end of it!

Johnny decides not to fail his students. So, instead of giving up on them, he brings his purpose and values back (with another brand name, but in the end we all know it’s Cobra Kai), By teaming up with his once enemy, Daniel Larusso, they both realize that the reason they exist (help their bullied students) and their values aren’t that different. So, as they resolve their personal conflicts, they merge their brands, and like a phoenix bird, they’re reborn stronger than ever, and they’re ready to kick back with all their strength!

The end… or is it?

What will happen next season of Cobra Kai? We can’t know yet. But, one thing’s for sure. The fact that Johnny and Daniel teamed up, will sure as hell give us an epic season hopefully very soon!

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Final thoughts

So, to wrap this up, here are some important lessons we can take from branding and Cobra Kai, that you can sure apply to your own business.

  1. Have a clear purpose. Why do you exist, who are you helping, what are your values and what do you do differently? Bullied kids in that school kept on being bullied from 1984 until present day. Nobody did anything for them, nobody listened to them, except Johnny. Yes, his approach might not have been the best one, but he listened to them, he helped them overcome their fears and encouraged them to become a better version of themselves. Nobody helped them like he did; not Kreese, not even Daniel. Are you going to be the Johnny of your audience and help them out?
  2. Do you have a unique personality and tone of voice? Johnny’s rude, he makes evil jokes and he shows an aggressive approach to emphasize his point of view. The result: kids that actually worked around the bullying and learned how to defend themselves. So, how to you approach your audience? How to they perceive you?
  3. Finally, never ever bring someone that will hurt your brand. It doesn’t matter if he or she is your best friend, someone in your family or a close acquaintance. Protect your brand and its credibility, don’t loose it to someone that will damage it to the point of you actually loosing it.

I really hope you enjoyed this perspective on branding and I hope you can implement some of these lessons into your own brand.

Graphic Designer | Brand Strategist | Helping solopreneurs reinvent their brand | Connect with me: https://linktr.ee/singulariidesign

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