Modern Marketing Agency Culture Brand Strategy

How to turn fandom into ‘brandom’ by connecting with pop culture

By Kris Longo | CEO

November 11, 2022 | 8 min read

As pop culture continues to evolve, it’s incumbent upon brands to create meaningful experiences that reflect the passions and emotions of their audiences. Modern Fanatic’s chief executive Kris Longo discusses one such experience at New York Comic Con.

pop art

Longo elucidates what strategies brands can learn from immersive events like Comic Con / Credit: Adobe Stock

For the last 20 years, I’ve been immersed in a full-color, pop art-infused landscape that would be unfathomable to the mild-mannered teenage version of me.

From reading my first dogged-eared copy of Spidey Super Stories to graduating up to the cartoonish stylings of Mad Magazine, I remember always being a fan of genre fiction, comics and sci-fi. But even if I hopped in a Delorean, my younger self would have a hard time believing that Batman would become one of Warner Brothers’ crown jewels, that Star Wars would have two more trilogies and that it would finally be cool to admit that you played D&D. And it would be downright preposterous that d20s, Jedi and Justice Leaguers would combine to form the pop-culture Voltron that is New York Comic Con.

Fandom has always been a part of my life. Growing up during the marketing blitz of the first Star Wars trilogy and the first Batman film, even at a young age I saw the passion and emotion in people’s eyes as they saw a version of themselves play out on the silver screen. Kids like me gave movie studios hope that adventure films would always have an audience. Just as today’s fandoms aren’t just tied to cult movies, comic books or sci-fi pulps, today’s fans run the gamut. They are designers, authors, parents, grandparents, teachers and developers. They influence the box office, your favorite streaming shows and the music charts.

Have you ever rooted for your favorite football team? Worn a shirt from your favorite anime? Or memorized all of the lyrics to Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Cruel Angel Thesis? Whether it’s wearing a lucky ‘42’ jersey or crafting your own Harley Quinn costume, this is the heart of what fandom is all about. Sure, the demographics may differ, but the powerful emotions are quite similar. They all speak to a universal constant: there’s nothing more powerful than a fan.

Being a fan means giving yourself permission to feel like a kid again. Immersive experiences, like the aforementioned New York Comic Con, send us to a multiverse where we can push the pause button on our adulthood responsibilities.

Even as a slightly cynical industry veteran, commuting to this year’s show with the likes of Lex Luthor, Thanos and Optimus Prime brought a huge smile to my face. As the showroom opened, I watched a colorful cast of characters enter the massive Jacob K Javits Center by the thousands.

A blast from the past

Walking the showroom floor can often be like a stroll through memory lane. It can sometimes feel as if someone brought our childhood toys to life. And why shouldn’t it? After all, toys are our first touchstone with fandom. Whether it’s a Thunder Megazord, a giant stuffed Pikachu or a full collection of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, toys play a powerful part in how early fandoms can become lifelong ‘brandom.’ While some of our toys still hold a warm place in our hearts (and our bookcases), they are also our tether to a more innocent time.

As a kid, there was no better ambassador for toys than Geoffrey the Giraffe, the mascot of the beloved Toys R Us brand. For two decades, Geoffrey (and the catchy ‘I’m a Toys R Us kid’ jingle, co-written by best-selling novelist James Patterson) became synonymous with the kid inside all of us.

During the convention, I had the unique opportunity to escort Geoffrey through the convention’s showroom. I was awed by just how many people would stop us for pictures. Fans were emotionally overjoyed to see their childhood mascot towering over a room of cosplayers and Con-goers. His mere presence created a haven for people to cry and feel unburdened. From selfies to TikToks, watching Geoffrey create so many indelible moments with his fans was a powerful experience for me.

There’s no magic formula to capture this level of personal investment – after all, not everyone can show up to a comic convention with a giant giraffe – but there are a number of things brands can pay attention to that will help them transform casual fans into devoted fandom.

Thinking fan-forward

Fandom is not an act of blind consumption. In a world where people often feel like human capital – just a statistic pinged with superficial communication filtered by automated data collectors – fandoms are looking for something more. They want immersive experiences and authenticity that come from true human connection. They want to engage with brands that reflect their ideals, values and beliefs – and see themselves represented in the community.

It’s important for brands to look beyond conventional metrics when they’re trying to foster immersion and engagement among their audiences. Today’s fandom has taken social media by storm and uses it as its way to stay connected with the world. The biggest superpower is creating safe spaces for fans to interact with one another and share their passions. By capturing unique and different opinions, you can create new, diverse and immersive experiences that will have you looking like a superhero. That sort of engagement manifests as a fandom that actively feels like they’re emotionally invested in the fiction of your franchise – which has a quantifiable and powerful impact on your IP.

A lifelong fan

In our highly competitive commercial landscape, brands often struggle to distinguish themselves from increasingly cynical consumers. Building passionate fandoms can be your Infinity Gauntlet – allowing you to unlock new dimensions of storytelling, immersion and engagement.

From Marvel movies to The Sandman, there has never been a better time to be a fan of pop culture. And there has never been a better opportunity to create experiences for your fans that will last them a lifetime.

Kris Longo is the co-founder and chief executive of Modern Fanatic, which describes itself as a ”geek-centric” branding agency.

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