The Fandom Phenomenon: Winning Over Today's Super Fans

Jaime Netzer

Being a super fan used to be limited to collecting all the books in a series, repping your beloved teen idol on your locker, or wearing your concert t-shirt every day for an entire semester. These days, through online culture and particularly social media, being a fan means being a member of a fandom — a phenomenon that’s shaping our culture significantly.

Last Thursday, we learned about fandoms from MTV, Coca-Cola, and Tumblr in an Adweek webinar that’s now available on demand. Together, Spredfast (now Khoros) and these iconic brands took a deep look at how fandoms have reached new heights of involvement and influence, and how brands and media can look to engage with this new cultural force in their campaigns.

What is a fandom?

As Erin Liabo, Senior Director for Viacom Velocity Marketing (MTV), told us, “a fandom is a subculture of diehard super fans with a shared, deeply personal passion for a specific TV show, movie, celebrity, character, book series, band, genre, etc.” Think of the Potterheads (Harry Potter fans), Swifties (loyal to Ms. Taylor Swift), or Whovians (enamored with popular British series Dr. Who). Liabo pointed out that fandoms are now a qualified consumer target group, and one of the most engaged subcultures in the digital and social media space. She explained: "Social media has fueled the explosive growth and influence of fandoms, teaching marketers a new culture, and, in some cases a new language along with it."

Tumblr is the social media epicenter of fandom

Emilie Lara, Tumblr Media Strategist, broke down why Tumblr has become the home of so many fandoms. Tellingly, Tumblr is very strong with millennials — with 50% of its audience between the ages of 13 and 34, and a roughly 50/50 male-to-female split. The platform also offers tremendous freedom of expression. Tumblr’s seven different post types give users vast opportunities to create, remix, and recap things they’re most passionate about.

Lara emphasized the fact that 77% of Tumblr users do so via the mobile app, which they open an average of seven times per day. The platform optimizes all content for mobile automatically, offering a seamless experience wherever the user may be.

In marketing to a fandom, authenticity is everything

Adam LaHaie, Connections Planning Manager for Coca-Cola North America, emphasized that “within fandoms, fans are really the ones in the driver’s seat” — and they can spot a phony from miles away. Brands looking to engage with fan communities would be wise to remember this fact and find ways to resonate authentically with the fandom culture, rather than marketing to them (read our Social Media Pocket Guide for additional insight).

How do you build an authentic fandom campaign?

As part of MTV’s Fandom Awards, the Coca-Cola “’Ship of the Year” Award campaign was designed specifically for authentic Tumblr engagement. The campaign centered around a huge component of fandom culture known as “shipping,” which is all about emotional connection.

“Shipping,” as defined by KnowYourMeme, is “a fandom practice that involves imagining relationships between two fictional characters from a show, movie, or book series.” The initiative leveraged the sharing and togetherness theme of the “Share a Coke” campaign, along with the insider culture and friendly competition among fandoms, to achieve tremendous success. Throughout the campaign, Spredfast (now Khoros) helped MTV’s internal agency, Viacom Velocity, quantify and analyze the impact of fan virality. In the end, the Ship of The Year Award received more than 28 million votes!

For the full details of the MTV/Coke/Tumblr partnership, plus a wealth of additional insights into this new social and cultural phenomenon, check out the Adweek webinar, Fandom in the Social Age: Lessons in Millennial Engagement.

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