From household names which have been established for centuries to their lesser known counterparts, brands are now a part of our everyday life. From the moment we wake up in the morning (or, in some cases the afternoon) to the trilling alarm of our latest smart phone, we are inundated with branding. It influences our life choices in an almost innumerable ways from deciding to drink one particular type of coffee rather than another to the style of clothing we prefer to wear and the sort of events or places we choose to hang out with our friends at. With advances in technology and globalisation, branding is arguably becoming more important than ever as we are increasingly exposed to a greater range of choice in many of our leisurely pursuits.
Branding is sometimes perceived to be something negative, indeed there is a certain element of criticism to be directed at the prospect of choosing a particular product, whether it be food, technology or a service, simply because of the name rather than on the merits of the actual product itself. However, I would argue that branding can serve a number of useful purposes and that these can equally apply within the realms of fandom. Oh yes, my dear Wanderers, make no mistake about it, brands are just as important and as relevant in fandom as they are in the supermarket, the high street or the workplace.
First, a brand can be used to denote a particular kind of reputation in terms of content, quality or philosophy. Knowing the brand and what it stands for, or in some cases what it doesn’t stand for, enables you to make a quick evaluation of their product and whether it is something you are likely to enjoy. A very basic example would be Disney’s Pixar: the chances are if you are going to watch one of their films, it isn’t going to be a horror story with lots of blood and torture. Equally, if you pick up a Stephen King book, you should prepare yourself for some amazing writing but also a plot line that may have you hiding under the duvet. Another way in which branding can help you make a choice as to whether to purchase that particular book or watch that television series is the reputation of the people involved. One of my friends is a massive Tom Hanks fan and firmly believes that his very involvement in a project is a near guarantee that the film is one not to miss.
Which leads us rather nicely into my second point. Branding does not necessarily have to be about confining or restricting your choices. In fact, building upon the idea of certain brands as ‘quality’ or ‘trustworthy’, they can actually act as a gateway into different genres, styles and opportunities. If you are a big fan of a particular author, you may be more inclined to read their latest book even if it is not a genre you would usually like. Or, perhaps through attending that theatre performance by your favourite actor, you find yourself becoming more interested in theatre generally or in the works of a less well-known playwright because of their performance. I have absolutely no shame in admitting that one of the reasons I first watched New Who was because I was curious about Billie Piper’s acting skills – (absolutely brilliant if you were wondering.)
Thirdly and finally, given that fandom is not exactly passive, it would be a mistake to assume that all this branding is a one way street. Yes, those working in the entertainment industry whether it is in publishing, film or music, want to generate a particular image or reputation for their product but fandom has always been interactive and increasingly so with the growth of social media. Fans are not mere consumers, they are creators in their own right. They world build for the Marvel films. They write fan-fiction about Harry Potter. They create wonderful pieces of fan-art for Doctor Who. They contribute to the branding process in their own right and not simply through feedback. Indeed, it is interesting to observe how fans themselves are generating their own brands of identity within fandom. Some of these brands are generalist covering the entire fandom for a television show (Whovians) whilst others prefer to align themselves more closely with a particular ship in the fandom (Johnlock) or even a real person such as an actor (Hiddlestoner).
Building on these ideas, this series aims to explore the various ways in which branding can play a role in creating and sustaining fandom. First, we are going to have a look at some of the bigger, perhaps most well-known brands in fandom such as Disney, Marvel and DC Comics to see how they have established themselves amongst fans and how they continue to evolve. We will also consider gaps in the market and how they have led to the growth of alternative names and choices. Secondly, the series will delve into how fandoms may name, group and perceive themselves to have particular characteristics or qualities and why responsible fandom has a role to play in keeping those brands untarnished. Finally, bringing it right down to an individual level, we will discuss how some fans, particularly the BNFs have created their own distinctive brand within fan communities. And if you are interested we might just offer some useful tips on how to successfully build up your own brand. So, it looks like I’ve got some serious work to be getting on with…
Red Hamilton (thinks that checking out Star Trek Into Darkness totally counts as research.)