With the continued success of superhero movies and the resurgence of SciFi/Fantasy on TV, geek culture is more visible today than it has been in years. This, of course, makes fandoms a hot commodity for marketers and brands. In theory, marketing to geeks seems like an easy enough task, but in practice it is significantly harder.
As an avid member of this target audience, I can safely say that when geeks love something we looooooove it. You won’t find a more dedicated fan base! But if we feel we’re being pandered to or capitalized on, pity the brand. It will never hear the end of it on social (yes, there is bad press), and will be fast on its way to becoming an infamous Tumblr meme.
Marketing to fandoms for fandoms is a nuanced art, and best done with a member of the target audience on your team. No geeks in the house? No worries...here are some pointers:
Generally speaking, members of a fandom pride themselves on how much they know about a particular show, game, character, super power, etc. So much so, that there’s a thing called “gatekeepers” - people whose sole reason for being is to prove you don’t know enough about the fandom and intimidate you out of being a part of it. If a brand moves into their space without proper knowledge, they will notice, they will call them out on it, and it won't be pretty.
Now don’t get me wrong, fandom members love when a respected brand gets them. Jo-Ann Fabrics does a good job with this. They recognized that the cosplay community was growing, so they partnered up with a famous cosplayer, Yaya Han, to create fabric specifically for cosplay. Smart. Real. Savvy. Check it out here.
If authenticity is the cake, passion is the icing on top. Fandom culture is all about a fervent dedication to something so a brand needs to place itself alongside the audience to earn their trust. So rule of thumb, don’t use a Wonder Woman reference because it’s popular and will get lots of impressions, use it because you love Wonder Woman.
A great example of this would be Denny’s. They’re known for having an infamously weird Tumblr account with tons of followers. Why? Because Denny’s took the time to understand Tumblr culture and joined in. They show an incredible understanding of the way the platform walks and talks, and their love for Tumblr’s absurdist humor is evident in every post. They also regularly respond to fan messages with witty commentary. I recommend taking a quick scroll through their Tumblr, but you can see a few selected posts here:
Tumblr is known for its strange humor, and often delights in puns. The Illuminati is also generally considered a cultural inside joke on the platform.
Following the theme of Tumblr’s humor, the brand responded to one of their sillier fan messages by playing along.
Again, this utilizes the strange, pun-filled absurdist humor that Tumblr is known for.
While the “sell” is inevitable and inherent, when it comes to fandom a more subtle
touch will most likely perform better. Oftentimes, just having the post come from the brand’s handle is enough. A light allusion to the product may work, but generally speaking it’s best to avoid any hard sells when speaking to this audience.
Arby’s does a great job of this. Recently, they started embracing fandom on their social media pages. They’ll create posts around the latest news, memes, and jokes happening in geek culture. They cover movies, anime, and video games. I highly recommend checking out their Facebook as the posts are incredibly well-received by fandoms. Here are a few of my favs:
This post was about E3, a massive gaming convention. It also references Dragon Ball Z, a popular anime known for dragging story arcs out across several episodes.
This celebrates Star Trek: Bridge Crew, a VR game released for the Playstation 4 on the date this was posted.
This post references The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the most highly anticipated games in the popular franchise. It references a common scene found in the massively successful game.