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15 Aug, 2009 – leave a comment

becoming a mad man, revisited

In a bit of “holy shit that’s awesome” news, I see that my report, Becoming a Mad Man, is part of Henry Jenkin’s syllabus for the fall course he’s teaching on Transmedia Storytelling at USC. It’s sure to be poked, prodded, and maybe even dismissed, but I’m incredibly honored for its inclusion in the course.

By the way, season three of Mad Men starts today.

In the 8 months since I published the report, I’ve been rather obsessed with fan culture and have done my best to dive deep into Henry’s research (and the research of many other brilliant people). If you’d like to learn more yourself, here’s a quick roundup of my previous posts. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with a cable network to create a fan based strategy for their digital marketing team, a strategy based on the 30 years of fan research that came well before me. It was a blast, and I look forward to working with that team in the future to refine the model.

I’ve come to believe that the whole Mad Men on Twitter incident may have been small in the annals of fan expression, but it was a critical moment in time for digital marketers to take notice, be curious, and perhaps learn something. Some have learned, and some haven’t. When Paul Isakson gave up the @don_draper account to AMC, I had hoped that the network or its digital agency would have done something with it besides let it sit idle for 8 months. Instead of engaging fans during the off-season with the account, on a platform that is obviously ripe for tv fan expression, they’ve done absolutely nothing at all with it (an update: now you can help Paul man the account). But to be fair, I was happy to see the art of Dyna Moe used (she was much beloved by fans for her illustrations) in marketing this new season.

I’m excited for this new season. The writing and acting behind Mad Men never disappoints. Be sure to tune into AMC tonight at 10PM/9C.

Oh, and keep an eye on Bud Melman. I hear he’s got something up his sleeve.

02 Jun, 2009 – one comment

fans: read these blogs

If you’re interested (or obsessed as I am) in media fandom, I highly recommend the following blogs. My two criteria for making the cut: 1) a blog specifically focused on media and/or fandom and 2) recent updates. Please add anyone I might have missed in the comments.

Henry Jenkins

Nancy Baym

Grant McCracken

Jason Mittell

Joshua Green

Dr. TV

The Extratextuals

Craig Jacobsen

C3 Blog

04 May, 2009 – 3 comments

fans: fight for your survival, eat subway sandwiches

According to a study done by Initiative Media, the average network program was identified as a “favorite series” by only 6 percent of its viewers. But in some cases, as many as 50 or 60 percent of viewers may rank a program as their favorites. Early evidence suggests that these loyals have a higher rate of brand recall and are much less likely to be lured away from the networks toward competing cable content. Loyals are twice as likely to pay attention to advertisements and two to three times more likely to remember product categories than more casual viewers. And they are between 5 to 20 percent more likely to recall specific sponsors – not huge numbers, perhaps, but big enough that they can give a competitive edge to advertisers who consistently target shows with a high degree of viewer loyalty. Historically, networks ignored those fan bases in making decisions about renewing series, seeing fans as unrepresentative of the general public; but advertisers are increasingly realizing that they may be better advised investing their dollars behind shows that have high favorability than shows that have high ratings.

- Convergence Culture: where old and new media collide. HENRY JENKINS, 2006. (p 76)

A lot of tv shows are on the chopping block right now. But not all shows have the same kind of favorability, or fan communities willing to work to keep their shows on-air. And what’s more, these communities (and a star or two) seem to be taking a page out of Henry’s book (and the referenced study) to prove why their fandom is so critical to both the network and its advertisers.


Fans have rallied to prove their loyalty to Chuck. The owner and blogger at Give Me My Remote has called fans to action: to flood Facebook and Twitter during the show’s airing, to download images to use as their Twitter backgrounds, and even to print and send custom postcards directly to NBC. But these are all fairly routine actions taken by fan communities (see Friday Night Lights). What makes Chuck so interesting is what the star, Zach Levi, is doing to rally his community. Levi has asked fans of the show to eat Subway sandwiches. Specifically, Levi asked fans to show up at Subway on April 27th, buy a footlong, and leave a comment card letting Subway know that fans really do care about the show’s sponsor. Fans have even begun calling on Subway itself to finance the show’s renewal. From Levi, “Again…the intent is to let the network and their sponsor know that we’ve received their message. This is something a Nielson box can’t do…this is a translation of fan loyalty into real dollars that NBC & Subway can measure.” Read more about the campaign to save Chuck at Mashable.

3498055358_b4663e71c6Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

In a recent E! online poll, fans voted Terminator the show most worth saving this season. So sci-fi blog io9 decided to help fans take action. They’ve started a Flickr group where fans can post photos of themselves with products advertised during the show. Like the photo here, fans attribute their purchase to the advertiser’s sponsorship of their favorite show. The pool is still pretty small (14 photos/75 members) so far, but it was only started on May 1st. I’ll be keeping an eye on the pool to see how or if it grows. And fans are certainly encouraging friend tune-in and increased activity within Twitter and Facebook.

All in all, both campaigns represent a significant shift in how fans lobby for their favorite programs. There seems to be a genuine change in how fans view the economies that their shows live and operate in. Research had shown that loyal fans are more likely to recall brand sponsorship; but this is proof that they’re willing to mobilize (with their wallets) in order to save a favorite program. If their efforts do prove successful, the next question will center around how fans interact with these brands that they patronized in order to save a show, after the show is back on-air. Henry and many others have long posited that there is an incentive for brands to sponsor shows with more well connected and fervent fan communities, rather than those simply with high ratings; and this could be further proof of that supposition.

If you care about either of these shows, or the power of fans, help spread this post, or the posts linked to from here. Long live fans.

24 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: piracy


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I’ve argued here that piracy often reflects market failures on the part of producers rather than moral failures on the part of consumers. It isn’t that people will turn to illegal downloads because they want the content for free. My bet is that many of them would pay for this content but it is not legally being offered to them. We can compare this to the global interest generated by Ken Jenning’s phenomenal run on Jeopardy: Jeopardy was already syndicated in markets around the world so when he generated buzz, he drew people back to the local broadcaster who was selling the content in their markets. They could tune in and see day by day whether he stayed in the game. Right now, everyone’s still acting as if Susan Boyle was only one video but they will wake up tomorrow or the next day and discover that lots of those people want to see what happens to her next.

- Henry Jenkins, How Sarah Spread and What It Means (2009)

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

22 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: lost control


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Mark Deuze has suggested at least two reasons why production companies get anxious around such [fan] activities: the creative department’s desire for creative control, the legal department’s concerns about controlling copyright. Here, we can add a third: the promotional department’s fears about losing control over their brand message. Of the three, the last is perhaps the most absurd, since in reality, these companies lost control a long time ago; the fans can do pretty much anything they want with these brands and with a high level of visibility and going after them is a bit like Brier Rabbit pummeling away at the tar baby. Yet, even pretty innovative companies are getting trapped in the internal politics around television production and promotion, incapable of forming meaningful partnerships with their most active and visible fans, and thus almost certain to start acting in ways that are going to leave them, to continue the metaphor, looking “stuck up”.

- Henry Jenkins (2009). Going “Mad”: Creating Fan Fiction 140 Characters at a Time

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

22 Apr, 2009 – 4 comments

fans: lead users


Eric von Hippel coined the term ‘lead user’ in 1986 while identifying sources of innovation. According to von Hippel, a lead user was a user that exhibited novel behaviors by being both an early adopter of technology and an early adapter of technology. These are people who are quick to join a new platform and adapt that platform and other existing technology in unforeseen ways. von Hippel asserts that these users are important to focus on because they may demonstrate adaptations that could spread to the wider population.

In Fanning the Audience’s Flame, (Ford, Jenkins, and others) the team writes that fans are often lead users for media properties and that “lead users are valuable to understand because their tastes anticipate untapped potentials within the marketplace.” (p 23) The team explains how fans and their efforts have helped science fiction programs like Lost which work on long and complex narrative threads sustain themselves when sci-fi was once entirely episodic:

“Today, writers such as Steven Johnson and C3 faculty advisor Jason Mittell argue that American television has reached an unprecedented level of narrative complexity and that some of the most successful shows on television – Lost (ABC, 2003-present), for example – are structured more like cult series than like mainstream hits of the past decade. The success of these series suggest that narrative complexity is no longer a niche interest, one which rewards fan mastery, but is now something all consumers demand of popular entertainment.”

Ford, Jenkins, and the team go on to recommend that fan communities should be studied closely to monitor for emerging trends, behaviors, and ways to treat media content that will quickly spread from niche culture into the mainstream.

As a witness to fans crafting fan fiction for the AMC drama Mad Men using Twitter, I’ve seen fans as lead users firsthand. Now Twitter is full of fictional characters for everything from media properties, famous novels, and even :30 spots. Fans from the Mad Men escapade have even started their own agency to provide similar efforts for other properties.

When I urge clients to look more closely at niche fan communities, I’m urging them to study the actions and social norms within these groups in order to identify any lead user behaviors that could go mainstream. Fans are creating unanticipated connections between technology, social groups, and media that will reward our attention. And the pace of the web demands we stay focused on centers of innovation, and more often, fan communities represent the undersea chimneys which give life to the next evolution of species.

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

21 Apr, 2009 – 2 comments

fans: will they go along for the ride?


Chances are, on a long enough timeline, every corporate marketing brainstorm hits the same grand idea: we should get our consumers to get their friends to buy our products. Without fail, we all go there eventually. Then we typically pad the idea with a lot of other things we want to ask people to do; like remix a song, vote on something, or make their own ad (woof). The do’ers in the room run off figuring out how to superimpose your head on a cartoon body while the thinkers in the room pat themselves on the back. We want fans to engage and participate; we just don’t put a lot of thought in why the hell they’d want to.

In their paper, The Moral Economy of Web 2.0, Josh Green and Henry Jenkins assert that users participate as much as they want to, depending on their skill, time, desire, interest, and knowledge. They participate as much as they want to, not as much as we want them to.

So, before you ask people to do something, think about just who you’re asking. Does this consumer/participator have the skills required? What do they need to know beforehand and have we made that clear? Are they available? Does it present a significant time sink to a hurried group?

Beyond expertise requirements, desire and interest raise important social concerns. Activity, or more traditionally consumption, is a much more social thing these days, especially on the web. As a user, you’d have to ask yourself if your friends were watching, and could be impacted by your choice, would you still commit to a public action on behalf of a particular brand?

The mantra of web 2.0 has always been, “ask not what your users can do for you, ask what you can do for your users.” Mike Arauz, a fellow Strategist at Undercurrent, likes to say, “if I choose to tell my friend about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friend.” So the mantra of our brave new world might be, “ask not what people can do for you, ask what you can do for their friends.”

Ultimately, fans are the ones that not only buy our products and consume our media, they proselytize; but not purely on our behalf. They share what they love with their social graph to engender respect, admiration and love. Only until we embed ourselves within the motivations and needs of our fans will we ever experience the kind of pass along we dream about.

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

21 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: the new consumers


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If old consumers were assumed to be passive, then new consumers are active. If old consumers were predictable and stayed where you told them, then new consumers are migratory, showing a declining loyalty to networks or media. If old consumers were isolated individuals, then new consumers are more socially connected. If the work of media consumers was once silent and invisible, then new consumers are now noisy and public

- Jenkins, Henry (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

21 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: josh green


Josh Green is a postdoctoral researcher at the Comparative Media Studies Program and formerly Research Manager of the Convergence Culture Consortium with Henry Jenkins. (and Josh, if I butchered your credentials yet again, I apologize) Most of the really interesting quotes/factoids I’m publishing this week were gleaned from a stack of papers Josh recommended I read. (and some were from the man himself) You should follow Josh. Nay, you should stalk Josh, or dangle him upside down until his thoughts on the future of the web and entertainment fall out. He’s a brilliant chap and worthy of your time and attention.

Also, Josh is Australian, and I usually don’t trust Australians. So that should say it all right there.

Find Josh across the web:

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

21 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: media consumption


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Patterns of media consumption have been profoundly altered by new media technologies that enable us to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content. An increasingly more digitally enabled and media literate population has taken tools once the reserve of professional media producers and made reworking photographs, video, and music a routine practice. The “remixability” of media content, shared platforms for the distribution of grassroots media, and the social networks that have grown up around media properties are reshaping audience expectations about the entertainment experience.

- Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins, The Moral Economy of Web 2.0:
Audience Research and Convergence Culture

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.