Three ways brands are tapping into the fan psyche to cultivate connection

Mukta Chowdhary, vp cultural insights, WarnerMedia

Recently published research, Welcome to the Age of Intentionalism, reinforced what brands already know: 2020 was not without its challenges, but the industry also witnessed a birth of intentionality by consumers — they formed new habits, renounced old ones and gained clarity on what mattered most to them. As consumers become more intentional with their time, the fan experience is also transforming into a more mindful journey than ever before. 

The new WarnerMedia research shows that 55% of consumer respondents agree: “I’m selective of which fandoms I participate in.” As consumers thoughtfully redirect their energy, they are gravitating toward passionate tribes and communities of like-minded fanatics that inspire, recharge and lift them up.

To be a fan no longer requires exorbitant amounts of time and energy — the barrier to entry has crumbled. Fans are not required to write pages of fan fiction or recite movie lines by heart. Rather, the only requirement to belong to a fandom is the love for the original source — whether that’s a show, movie, artist or album. 

To understand the evolution of fandom further, the new research study explores how fandoms are morphing in real-time as a result of consumers’ evolving needs — specifically when it comes to their streaming and entertainment experience — and how brands can immerse themselves and bring fans along with them into those worlds. Brands need to understand these ever-changing dynamics to deeply understand what moves audiences’ hearts, minds and decisions. 

Custom curations are meeting fan demands for full immersion experiences 

Consumers are plunging into their entertainment obsessions. They are watching, shopping, sharing and living inside the shows and films they love, with 57% agreeing “I love being able to immerse myself in a show through multiple touchpoints.” 

Further, consumers are more intentional about their immersion, carefully curating their own fan experiences. For example, to empower this intentionality for fans, DC FanDome allowed fans to come closer to the DC entertainment and icons they love. Fans had access to over 100 hours of exclusive footage, insider info, star-studded panels and behind-the-scenes content, putting them at the center of their beloved narratives and universe. 

Consumers want to immerse themselves in the fan experience, and brands are answering that call with custom curations.

Colliding fandoms are creating new opportunities for brands

Consumers are remixing their favorite fandoms and cross-pollinating interests, leading to the rise of new, passion-filled microcosms. In fact, 83% of Gen Z and millennials agree, “I love fandoms that combine two or more of my passions.” 

For example, fans who love Harry Potter and fashion can check out the @Gryffindior account where fashionista Potterheads are weaving together their love for couture and the magic of Harry Potter to put a Hogwarts twist on the latest runway trends. These types of accounts are a manifestation of the creativity that exists within fandoms and the emerging subcultures that can transport fans of one genre or fan base into another. 

Consumers are turning to fandoms to express themselves and process emotions

Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have turned to their favorite shows and characters to help them express themselves. In fact, 63% of Gen Z and millennials have used memes from a show or movie they love to express their current mood, feelings or whatever is on their mind. This fan-language made up of memes, climatic show scenes, character quotes, wacky gifs, zoom backgrounds and more, lets consumers process the intense ups and downs of everyday life in real time. 

This lingo is no longer used solely to talk about the fandom realm, but rather used to make sense of the real world. This summer, ‘Adult Swim’ fans made headlines by putting their own spin on the network’s iconic late-night promo spots. In the same spirit of irreverence, this viral TikTok trend was sparked by a fan unbeknownst to the network. The thousands of fan recreations that followed ranged from simple to elaborate stunts, and covered hot topics such as student debt, toxic positivity, remote work and more. 

Brands who find shared loves are building deeper relationships with consumers

Fandoms give consumers a deeply personal experience while keeping them hyper-connected to digital and real-world communities. These fandoms can be built up through storytelling to create opportunities for brands to emotionally connect with their fans and measure the impact of those collaborations. To build deeper relationships, marketers must get closer to what their consumer base loves — and when done right, the result is electric. 

This summer, for instance, Wendy’s immersed itself into the world of ‘Rick and Morty.’ Ahead of the fifth season of the series, Wendy’s opened a pop-up store, Morty’s, where fans drove for miles to immerse themselves in the ‘Rick and Morty’ experience and order from a character-themed menu that included the limited edition Pickle Rick Pickle Frosty. The collaboration created a new portal of engagement for fans to be part of Rick and Morty’s intergalactic journeys. 

To authentically show up in consumers’ lives, marketers must be fans first and identify a shared love they have with their consumer base — whether that’s hip hop, skateboarding or connections to beloved entertainment like ‘The Flight Attendant’ or ‘And Just Like That…’

The next generation of relevancy requires brands to get closer to the content that their consumers love, to be fluent in fan-language and to build new avenues of immersion that let consumers remix, repurpose and even redefine their favorite content.

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