The Psychology of Extreme Fandom | V by Viacom
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The Psychology of Extreme Fandom

You Are What You Love

In psychology, the notion of “experience-taking” means people who are really invested in a story or character tend to unknowingly adopt the very same thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. In layman’s terms, when it comes to extreme fandom, you are what you watch or read (which may explain why Google offers over 5 million results when you search for “Why am I so obsessed with a fictional character?”). As Patty Chung, Director of Trends & Insights at Viacom explains, “When it comes to fans and how they view the world and themselves, we need to have a deeper understanding of both the foundation of their identities and the building blocks behind it—what they’re passionate about and how they relate to those things.”

…when it comes to extreme fandom, you are what you watch or read.

And it’s not just the things we love that influence our behavior. It’s also the people that love the same things we do. Known as “social identity,” the idea of defining ourselves by the sum of the group’s parts helps to reinforce a positive feeling of commonality and togetherness. Look no further than the BeyHive, Beyoncé’s most dedicated fan base. If you accept that you share the same confidence, vivaciousness and creative qualities she and her fans have, then you’re also validating that these qualities are positive and have value.

Why Niche is the New Black

TV has the ability to reach a mass audience in a way that has yet to be replicated anywhere else. And while that was an important consideration when thinking about yesterday’s fandoms, today’s fans have vast social footprints that allow them to get so granular in their love or allegiance, they can go online and find someone in New Delhi at 2 AM who’s just as massively obsessed with the the number of times Kenny has died on South Park as they are.

For marketers and advertisers, this means rethinking the way strategies are built and executed. Rather than setting out to reach everyone that’s a fan, the focus should be on reaching the most dedicated and the most vocal. Combined with the goal of driving excitement through these interactions, brand’s have an opportunity to make a significant impact.

When a fan tweets that they spent their money on a celebrity’s cookbook instead of a blender and that celebrity responds in kind by sending them one, that’s surprise and delight. When a TV show arranges for a fan to cameo on an episode after his YouTube video goes viral, that’s surprise and delight.

These experiences are singular, but because of the nature of extreme fandom, the good will and positive intent behind them impacts everyone within that group, driving up book sales and viewership as a result.

This can manifest itself in a number of ways, but typically extreme fandoms look to integrate what they love into their personal and professional lives:

• When you’re so into a show you find a way to make it your job.
• When you take a normal social outing and adapt it to celebrate a pivotal scene on your favorite cable drama.
• When you see something on TV and feel inspired to live it in real life.
• When you get a tattoo with a powerful message from your favorite drag queen.

Extreme fandom has proven that the symbiotic relationship between fans loving a brand and brands loving them back is not only healthy, but necessary to succeed in changing the entertainment landscape. By putting fans first and empowering them, we all win.

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Published: Jun 21, 2016