It’s all about hooking the buyer

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on January 12, 2018

Title: Superfandom: How Our Obsessions are Changing What We Buy and Who We Are; Authors: Zoe Fraade-Blanar & Aaron Glazer. Publisher: Profile BooksPrice: ₹499

A book looks at how brands go about perpetuating their existence in admiring hearts and minds

Engaging customers is one of the biggest concerns in marketing practice today. How can a brand become a part of consumers’ lives without being an intrusion is a question marketers grapple with. All the more so at a time when various surveys reveal that brand loyalty is dying. The one constant — well, almost, may be a community of diehard fans, and this is a situation marketers would do well to cultivate.

Super Fandom: How Our Obsessions are Changing What We Buy and Who We Are by Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron M Glazer digs into the phenomenon of fandom that not merely props up and enlarges brands but creates and transforms them through various manifestations of devotion — sales, co-creation, fan fiction.

Would some of the biggest brands that occupy popular imagination, such as Apple, Harry Potter, Harley Davidson, exist without their fans? This is one of the thoughts this book provokes as it discusses how brands go about perpetuating their existence in admiring hearts and minds.

Building fans

Each chapter deals with various aspects of fandom — the forms it has taken down the ages, its impact on brands, and on fans themselves. Did you know the Bible had its own fan fiction dating back to the 15th century, attributed to Margery Kempe who could neither read nor write? Or that fans of a short-lived drink called Surge, made by Coca-Cola, crowdfunded a billboard outside the Atlanta-based manufacturer’s headquarters urging them to bring it back?

The book brims with such fascinating examples. Its insights are many. Distinguishing between consumers and fans, for instance: Consumers give a brand their money, fans their time and energy. Buying a product does not a fan make; consuming it in several other forms, maybe some of which the fan has helped create, does.

Testimony to this is the DeLorean, the car-turned-time machine in the Back to the Future series — only a few thousands exist, the company is bankrupt, but the fan community is vibrant, keeping message boards buzzing and flocking to DeLorean car shows.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that exists between brands and fans. Brands need them to spread their glory, and in fans, these entities – “fan objects” — fulfil needs that run the gamut from happiness and belonging to identity and exclusivity, and often, a refuge for marginalised communities from a less understanding society.

Then there’s fandom as a rite of passage, the various passions marking periods of growth and change in one’s life. It can even be a form of self-help, say the authors, pointing to James Bond. Bond arrived in war-ravaged Great Britain in the 1950s, representing another narrative of British power.

To a country in disquiet, he was balm, salvaging its reputation by being a thrilling master spy, obliterating the ignominy of having to have been brought out of the woods by the US, once its colony. A fan object fulfils a deep-seated need in a fan’s life, and Bond, suave, courageous, powerful and smooth, is testament to that theory.

What they can do

Among the many things fans can achieve are influence policy, keep dead brands alive in their community’s collective consciousness, preserve a label’s myth and legend, and render the fantastic and the fake authentic, as is evident in the following brands such as Polaroid and WWE command.

It is also why dead detectives such as Sherlock Holmes come back to life. This is the power wielded by superfans, a word that does not crop up in the book till past the halfway mark. Superfans are opinionated and vocal and can reshape a conversation.

Fans can even bully brands into doing or desisting, never mind that they are a minority, the book suggests. Marketers will have to be aware that if they change something about the brand, it can cause a violent backlash, but may not really cater to the larger consumer base where monetary advantage lies. This is not to say the criticism is not important, but a careful balance has to be struck.

For their part, brands that have tried to intimidate acolytes for donning the superfan mantle have often ended up with egg on their faces. Again, balance — and discernment — is important. How does one differentiate between IP infringement and genuine reverence? The path is fraught with hits and misses.

Theory made easy

As a marketer, it’s important to ensure that asking a fan to say, stop writing a blog dedicated to your brand because of trademark concerns, will not insult true-blue fan feeling. World Nutella Day was the creation of superfan Sara Rosso, but Ferrero sent her a cease-and-desist order asking her to stop using the brand’s name, logo or likeness.

It boomeranged, threatening to plunge the brand into a PR disaster had not better sense prevailed. There is a difference between people trying to make a quick buck and fans’ expression of ardour.

Super Fandom is chock-a-block with case studies that present a compelling read. Narrative, anecdotal, and often humorous, the writing is absorbing and draws the reader in. The weight of theory is lightened by the examples, of which there are many delicious ones.

The many facets and forms of fandom are discussed in detail. Just as the reader begins to wonder if a point previously made is being repeated, it moves on to establish another. The chapter on Disney, though, came across as simply too long — the temptation to abandon it had to be quelled with a willpower one did not know they possessed. All in all, though, this is a must-read for marketers.


Zoe Fraade-Blanar teaches at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program and the Studio 20 program at the NYU Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute. She is co-founder and Chief Design Officer of the crowdsourced toy company Squishable. Aaron M. Glazer is the co-founder and CEO of Squishable

Published on June 04, 2017

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