In this age of cultural obsession, entertainment marketers are in a rare, enviable position. They operate in a vertical where genuinely passionate television fandoms form unbelievably quickly, sometimes in a matter of weeks. By understanding the TV fandom phenomenon, the importance of investing in this group, and how doing so can empower fans to feel like part of something bigger, marketers can drive evangelism, and ultimately tune-in.
The TV Fandom
Fandom has always been about curating and expressing a very personal sense of self-identity. Today early adopters of shows often end up being zealous evangelists. These viewers begin the initial snowball effect of cultural cachet, and help fuel FOMO (“fear of missing out”) among those that don’t watch the show, often leading to larger tune-in.
HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” for example, picked up strong viewership early, sparking high levels of conversation from its Season 1 launch, by captivating fans of the book through the show’s attention to detail. Now it is HBO’s most popular and most watched series. The show’s rise as a cultural phenomenon comes from the depth of storytelling and the network’s ability to harness the fanaticism of its most loyal fans.
Growing cultural cachet requires momentum plus adoption, and is not necessarily the same as critical acclaim. Shows with cultural cachet don’t always take home coveted awards, but do have legions of evangelical fans who help turn them into can’t-miss hits.
Entertainment fandoms can emerge overnight or over a series of seasons, as fans take actions around a shared cultural affinity. Grand gestures and micro-pledges are all part of the currency, and followings, comments and Likes are all open to analysis online – providing myriad data points to power how entertainment brands can form meaningful connections with audiences.
When to Invest in Fandom
TV networks should invest in amplifying online buzz by enlisting the help of fans. The right level of investment will lead to authentic, powerful endorsements that cut through the clutter and feed a growing perception of cultural cachet.
The right time for fandom-focused activations isn’t always the traditional lead-in time to a premiere. Because it’s about self-identity, strong reactions can be rekindled at any time, as fans will talk about the shows they love year round. For certain shows, strategic decisions around non-traditional campaign timing can result in a greater snowball effect of buzz and excitement.
Harnessing the Power of Fandom
The first thing entertainment marketers should do when looking to harness the power of fandoms is to understand what makes them tick. Consider:
1. What audience-need state does the show satisfy?
2. What benefits does it bring?
3. Why does the show resonate deeply with fans?
4. What does being an advocate say about its fans?
5. Why will fans wear the show as a badge?
Go beyond the obvious appeal of a TV show – the characters, plot lines and themes – and dig into the details and nuances such as vernacular, recurring motifs and magical moments that empower fans and make them feel like part of something bigger.
An entertainment marketer’s goal should be to develop a thorough understanding of what buzz from fans really means and where it comes from, and then put this intelligence at the heart of new campaigns. The campaign then must keep fans central to the effort and include a truly participatory experience that taps into the powerful emotional forces that drive fandoms to express themselves and participate. In doing so, networks will transition from marketing good entertainment to harnessing powerful culture.
With the current influx of high-quality entertainment, and the dynamics of fandom around shows constantly evolving, it will be important for marketers to rethink how they market the shows that have the potential to become cultural hits. Hit shows need strategic nurturing, and online buzz generated with the help of a passionate fandom can help transform them into must-see entertainment franchises.