By Susan Kresnicka and Dan Pappalardo
In an April 2, 2016 guest column, Susan Kresnicka described Troika’s plans to embark on a year-long, comprehensive study of fans and fandom. In this follow-up, Susan, President of Kresnicka Research & Insights, and Dan Pappalardo, President of Troika, share some key insights from this work.
From March 2016 through February 2017, the Research and Insights team at Los Angeles-based brand experience agency, Troika, devoted itself to figuring out the basics of fandom. With a set of six research methods, 50 weeks of continuous fieldwork, and over 12,000 research participants, our team of eight social scientists tackled core questions: Why do some people become fans, but not others? What role does fandom play in people’s lives? How does fandom start? How does it change over time? What is fandom? And, most importantly, how can the entertainment industry use the answers to these questions to build stronger businesses?
We knew from the outset that the entertainment industry was beginning to see the potential in fandom. We had observed the change in language from “audiences” to “fans” across many of Troika’s entertainment clients. We saw priorities shifting from “breadth” to “depth” of engagement. Major entertainment brands had invested in our study to learn about the nuances of fandom.
After a year of comprehensive and systematic research, we can safely say fandom is a relationship — a love relationship between the self and an object of fandom, whether that object is a show, movie, book, sport, team, league, band, genre, product, brand, person, activity, or idea. We actually refer to fandom as “love,” differentiating it from “liking something” by the loyalty, devotion, depth of interest, willingness to invest, and desire for closeness that it engenders. While at face value fandom may look unidirectional, reciprocity is underway nonetheless.
From the moment we become fans of something, we are getting something back from the relationship, because fandom does some very important things for us: it helps us meet core human needs surrounding self-care, social connection, and identity. When we watch our favorite episode of “Friends” at the end of a stressful work day and feel soothed by the companionship and familiarity of that proxy social milieu, or when we clear our schedules and make time for ourselves to watch our favorite team play, fandom is providing self-care. When we wear our Clone Club T-shirt on the first day of class, subtly inviting other “Orphan Black” fans to initiate conversation, or when we stay close to our daughter during her difficult teen years through our shared love of “Supernatural,” fandom is providing social connection. When we better understand some facet of who we are through Jesse Custer or who we want to be through Hermione Granger, fandom is helping us explore and craft our identity.
Fandom is widespread and deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life. Fandom gives us something to look forward to day-in and day-out, in ways big (special events like concerts, conventions, and season premieres) and small (checking daily news, connecting with other fans online, or watching a weekly episode). Fandom shapes our physical environments though merchandise, collections, fan art, and other fandom-related objects. And fandom gives us something to talk about — whether we are furthering a conversation with existing fans or “efangelizing” to someone new.
What all of this means for the business of entertainment is that if a studio, network, or brand wants to reap the benefits of fandom — the loyalty, investment, advocacy, communal aggregation and mobilization — they need to be good partners in the relationship. Specifically:
Fandom raises the stakes of the business, elevating it beyond something trivial or “just” for entertainment. When fan-centric brands are built, they are entities that hold deep meaning for people and meet important human needs. Understanding that it is a mutually beneficial relationship and striving to be the best partners possible will help everyone navigate the dual demands of monetizing and maintaining fandom.
Originally published in Variety.