Tuesday, March 16, 2010


When it comes to entertainment media, there are several levels of interest. Regardless of its presence in the mainstream or the number of people in its own unique culture, all media inevitability rests its influence on three basic groups. First, the largest group worldwide is made up of those who know nothing about a given project, but may nonetheless be indirectly influenced by its effects. Second, those who consider themselves to be fans. Third, those who go beyond a simple appreciation to become überfans.

From the German word for "super," "über-" means "denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing." As I see it, there are also two kinds of überfans: enthusiastic and crazy! While regular fans enjoy the value intrinsic to the media they choose, they are unreliable consumers. They may purchase a copy of a movie, album, or book that they particularly liked, but they may well not shell out the money for a TV series on DVD, and they likely would not own the entire discography of any one band—accept one they might be überfans of. Regular fans pick and choose, and are valuable in indicating weak spots, which they forgo.

Überfans, on the other hand are characterized by their thoroughness. They pride themselves in owning the entire discography, including imports, B-sides, and rarities. Today's staggered release of digital media means they may end up purchasing TV shows and movies for iPod before their formal DVD releases, then again for the hard copy and additional special features. They are likely to collect action figures of movies and TV series, as well as being part of available fan clubs. The advantage to these fans is their loyalty, even though "crazier" fans might go overboard.

Speaking of fan clubs, many überfans have the desire to be part of the "cause"—an element which in itself might create überfans. They want to be involved in any way they can be, because they see some value in a given work or artist that others do not. It is debatable what exactly motivates überfans, but one thing is certain: they want others to feel the same way. Aside from the financial stability they create through their support, they are invaluable for two other reasons. First, they are the most enthusiastic promoters of whatever they support, and do top-notch promoting without compensation. Second, their enthusiasm is contagious, because they know like-minded people and speak their language. So they are the most well-equipped to find new überfans.

There are three ways I see to create überfans. The first is basically: "if you build it, they will come." In other words, any project worth two hoots will naturally speak to a hand full of fans who are just in the looking zone. This is a bonus, and should not be counted upon. The second is through superficial hype. Make the piece noticeable, glitzy, fun, and unavoidable. Make it the "cool thing," and sell a lot of related merchandise to help with viral marketing. This is standard practice for mainstream entertainment media, but it does not develop sincere überfans and its market block therefore collapses whenever something better comes along. The third method is depth of story. If the story speaks to the greatest number of people in a meaningful and even life-changing way—it is "moving" in some way—then it will spawn überfans by the busload. This is the ideal, but most difficult method. This is art.
"Firing the customers you can't possibly please gives you the bandwidth and resources to coddle the ones that truly deserve your attention and repay you with referrals, applause and loyalty." -Seth Godin, author Linchpin
Art may be a challenge, but it is a worthy one. Creating depth may, at first, seem expensive, but it pays off exponentially. The creators of media need to understand these fans, and have a relationship with them. That is what they want, and they are far more valuable than fair-weather fans. If what you create has enough value to attract a community of überfans, then their collective voice will keep you on track and improve your art—if you're listening. My suggestion to creators of collaborative media is to find new and innovative ways to involve these fans in the creation of new projects. Many of us are aspiring artists ourselves.

Are you listening?
Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season - New Zealand's fourth most popular folk parody duo! Season one is a hilarious, truthful portrayal of two naïve "kiwis" trying to succeed as a band in New York City. Their random gigs are in an assortment of odd venues, though every one is attended by their crazy überfan, Mel—their only fan.
Mallrats - A hilarious commentary on mall culture, "the 90s youth market," and reality TV gone horribly wrong. Two slackers: T.S., who just got dumped by the love of his life, and Brodie, who is a Marvel comics überfan, crash a reality dating-show in support of T.S.'s love life.

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