Fandom – An Engagement Strategy

Fangirling

Sometime around 2011 I became aware of Tavi Gevinson’s teenage blog ‘Rookie’. She spoke about something called ‘fandom’… and it turned out this was a concept I was already exploring in a kind of anthropological way, through making art and writing, but also as an observer of fan cultures. After graduating from uni in 2013 I spent a lot of the following summer making artwork about my favourite soap opera Home and Away! I was just relaxing really, making enjoyable art. I make a lot of fan art!

But soon I started to read more blog posts about ‘fandom’, and then to read theory books on Pop and Cult Culture and the notion of being a ‘fan’ of something. I started scrutinising what being a ‘fan’ meant, both as an individual and as part of a scene. I explored what it meant to be part of a reciprocal relationship that exists between the fans and the ‘thing’ they are fans of. That’s when I realised that awareness about certain topics could be spread through fandom, relying on peer-to-peer communications, and audience-generated content/conversation. So I set about working out how to make awareness-raising art that shared my concern for environmental health. I also started making art actually ABOUT being part of fandom, or fan culture, and how that meaningful feeling can be explored in its own right as a mode of awareness-raising/communication/empathy-inducing/community-building etc etc.

As a result I discovered one of my favourite podcasts ever: Pop Culture Salvage Expeditions by C4AA (Centre For Artistic Activism in New York).

I continue to explore fandom through my artwork. Recently I have been exploring the notion of fandom as something similar to the community action and practical conservation volunteering groups I am part of. I’ve also thought a lot about cinema/film as a way to create dialogue and community through a shared and epic viewing experience. Now I am wondering how to create fandom… because I have a new job starting soon.

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Some of my recent fan art that also explores fandom as a concept in itself.

How being aware of ‘fandom’ can help communications and marketing.

I am about to begin a new role, as Communications and Community Engagement Officer for a big umbrella project (with 38 sub-projects run with 32 different partners!) that seeks to engage a large local community in their culture, heritage and environment. There are no products to be sold, as such – engaging volunteers and locals in recreation is how one could loosely look at the purpose of my role!

In an old marketing job role of mine, a key task was identifying and working with ‘influencers’ to sell the company product. The brand was an aspirational brand, selling a product based on peoples’ moral/social/political allegiance (it wasn’t a basic consumerist product brand). This meant that our customers were VERY engaged in the scene in which the product existed; the sustainable fashion and textiles scene.

This notion of being engaged as an audience, with emotional/personal stakes, is what makes my new job closer to the notion fandom than to selling pointless products!

However, marketeers of course do use fandom to sell products. They call it ‘Influencer Marketing’. This article explores it a bit, and about how Nike called upon Cristiano Ronaldo to hype up his fan circles to get them to buy shoes just like his… Nike ones!

This reminded me of how and why I got really into buying and wearing double denim! I have also bought products because people I admire/my heroes wore or have them. However it’s worth pointing out that marketeers can never sway me away from my consumer ethics against buying slave-made, environmentally-destructive fast fashion, and such like. I have always bought second hand, for about the past 8 years. No amount of marketing can change that for me, because I am carrying out my own decision-making based on what i’ve learned and been engaged in about the environmental and social implications of accelerated material production and consumption on today’s sicko materialistic world. This observation about my own shopping and engagement habits is actually a useful one to have made – it’s learning and engagement that are making me feel empowered to make that different choice for myself. Learning…. choice…. empowerment: all things to build into an awareness of marketing strategy when pinpointing what your audience segments want and need from you, whether they know it or not. This is ESPECIALLY important when marketing to people without purchasing power!

But in summary, the point is that it’s fandom that helps get people on board: the influence of things people aspire to or identify with. I hope to use this to create rewarding, meaningful community engagement in my upcoming new job role. But it’s also not just being aware of WHAT people are fans of, but WHY.

My fangirl profile – what it’s led me to buy or do.

Also – here are a list of things I have done or bought (all second hand!), that has been in some way influenced by my being a fan of someone or something. All of my choices were made organically, without marketeers targeting me. My purchases were self-selected, not directed. I did and bought these things because I identified with influencers who offered me something in the form of inspiration or comfort – because I’m a fangirl!

  1. I bought an old Greek fisherman’s cap because Stacey Dooley has one like it.

2. I bought some stretchy pants for work because Grimes has some like that in her video for Flesh Without Blood/Life in The Vivid Dream, which incidentally happens to be a video FULL of characters that Grimes dreamed up due to her own fangirling/interesting various things such a Rococo style, Marie Antoinette, internet gaming, comic book characters and gothic humour.

3. I’ve made a LOT of skeleton-themed paraphernalia/clothing because skeletons appear in a lot of the music, videos and art I love. Such as in this video.

4. I bought a lot of denim because I identify with what it means in pop and cult culture history, and because I love Brian Fallon and Bruce Springsteen who both wear denim well, and because the album ‘Elsie‘ by Brian Fallon’s band The Horrible Crowes kept me alive.

5. I bought a shabby, old, oversized poet coat because Patti Smith talks about hers a lot in her beautiful book M Train. Said coat features in below drawing (in fact, fan paraphernalia features in lots of the drawings I do.)

Daytime TV (crop)

6. I spent the £1000 my Grandma left me when she died on going to New York alone just before Christmas, because i’d just read M Train and because Brian Fallon and Matthew Ryan were playing a gig in some suburban New Jersey cajun diner bar. (And also because I was a bag of emotions and I thought Grandma would also appreciate this trip!)

7. I didn’t mind having no money once I got to New York, because I just survived on carrots and coffee like Patti Smith did.

8. I bought a disgusting old men’s flannel shirt because it makes me feel like i’m a character in Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler.

9. I decided it WAS cool after all to be from the countryside and get re-involved with practical land skills and conservation, because I read Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler and it made me feel like the smalltown rural place I am from is just as interesting as any big city. So I unashamedly learned hedgelaying and hurdlemaking, some forestry skills, moved back to the countryside, got into gardening, joined the local orchard skills volunteer group, and started volunteering with other practical conservation projects.

10. I keep old bones and take photos of skulls and carcasses because Georgia O’Keeffe and her paintings make me feel safe.

11. I got a tattoo on my ribs because Tom Petty died and I miss him, and one of his songs reminds me of two key things: keep being a climate activist, and life aint so bad.

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12. I got two other tattoos, both linked to punk rock musicians with their own agenda.

13. I bought a bamboo tea tray because I’m reading ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ and it makes me feel like I live with the Japanese strawberry pickers in their beautiful home.

14. Also, I really vibe off working 2 days a week in an independent second-hand interiors shop on my local high street, not least because it really makes me feel like I live in inside Home and Away! My mum works in the shop opposite and my school art teacher works a few doors down from her, and a friend if mine lives above the next door shop… and so on!

So basically, if you want to market an experience or a product to me, make sure it relates to either the books, music or TV I like. But don’t just rely on that –  work out why I like those things: they offer escapist, cathartic punk rock or they offer a sense of community cohesion and smallness in a really overwhelming, disparate social world.

 

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