Michael Patent
Aug 18, 2020

The fandoms marketers need to know about

Mixing empathy with entertainment is key to driving purpose and social engagement in the post-Covid era as these groups show us, says the head of an Asian-based cultural marketing firm.

Youtubers celebrating personal and inclusive beauty; Clockwise (L to R): Shalom Blac, Bretman Rock, Patrick Starr
Youtubers celebrating personal and inclusive beauty; Clockwise (L to R): Shalom Blac, Bretman Rock, Patrick Starr

We are currently undergoing the world’s largest behavioral transformation, where people's daily lives and emotional needs are being reshaped. Yet, even amidst these difficult times, we’ve seen consumers, in particular Gen Z, pursue a purpose and express their passions.

From standing behind #BlackLivesMatter to openly talking about mental health, diversity and inclusion to voicing political opinions through literature, the pandemic has only emboldened digital natives to express themselves and take action. Global in nature and united through causes, they have everything they need to make informed decisions and they are not afraid to act.

Fandoms have a thing or two to teach us about what motivates action and drives social engagement in Asia and across the globe. We have identified three fandoms that are thriving in the ‘new normal’. We call them the 'Stans'.1

K-Pop Stans

Fans of Korean pop idol groups such as BTS, Blackpink, Tewice, and EXO have long been stereotyped by the uninformed for being superficial. Nothing could be further from the truth as their beliefs run deep. Major K-pop fans, a diverse, often misunderstood fan group, came together to flex the power of purpose-based marketing. They have inspired digital natives to act in support of what they believe in.

For instance, ahead of the song, Sour Candy’s launch, Blackpink fan club led a coordinated effort, encouraging people to not use the song’s hashtag and instead support #BlackLivesMatter. In June, K-Pop fans took over #WhiteoutWednesday and #WhiteLivesMatter hashtags to drown out white-supremacist messaging. They even sabotaged Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally by reserving stadium tickets and intentionally not showing up.

Another example is BTS ARMY (BTS' dedicated group of fans). Their fandom has become the economic backbone of the band’s humanitarian efforts since becoming UNICEF ambassadors, with fan efforts leading to more than US$2.1 million in BTS x UNICEF affiliated donations.

Now more than ever, K-pop 'Stans' deserve attention from brands seeking to win the youth audience.

Watt’s Up

When they’re not busy voicing their opinions online and offline, Southeast Asia’s Gen Z women are consuming literature at a blistering pace. The app that is keeping them engaged is ‘Wattpad’—a global literary platform and community of over 80 million readers and writers.

A text-based app in a video rich world, Wattpad isn’t just an app for writing and reading fan fiction, it celebrates literature that transcends gender, race, and socio-economic standing, while embracing pop-culture - from K-pop to anime and fan fiction. It has become a destination for free entertainment, and a doorway to escapism for teens in countries where freedom of expression may be repressed.

Some of the biggest hits on Netflix and the big screen like 'The Kissing Booth' and 'After' originated from Wattpad’s user generated stories. As the platform continues to discover stories destined for Hollywood, it’s worth noting that Indonesia and the Philippines are two of its largest global markets.

We <3 makeup junkies

One of the biggest industries impacted by COVID-19 is beauty and wellness. The pandemic has completely changed daily habits, disrupting both the supply and demand sides of the industry worth US$532 billion.

For women all over the world, makeup has always been a part of their daily routine. But, with the pandemic, makeup has now become a new form of empowerment. Well before COVID-19, brands and influencers have been advocating self-love, inclusivity, diversity, and positive messages.

These troubled times inspired YouTubers like Patrick Simondac (Patrick Starrr), Bretman Sacayanan (Bretman Rock), Nikkie de Jager (NikkieTutorials), Patricia Otegwu (Patricia Bright), Em Ford (MyPaleSkin), Michelle Phan, and Shalom Nchom (Shalom Blac) to reach out to their viewers with positive content focused on embracing personal beauty rather than subscribing to traditions and standards. The majority of these influencers are members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as other marginalised groups, which are often the most difficult groups to reach effectively.

Their viewers are evolving with them, becoming highly engaged in conversations about mental health and overall wellbeing. Makeup and beauty junkies will continue to find depth and meaning in their routines and shopping patterns despite not being able to go out.

So, why should these fandoms matter to brands?

For culture-driven digital natives, purpose matters. To them, fandom is no longer just about following popular culture; it is about building on passions and being a part of a shared purpose. Covid has drastically changed their view of the world. The ‘woke generation’ may be spending less but they will remember those brands that are helping communities during the pandemic. They may be missing the human touch but are staying connected through virtual sleepovers, quarantine diaries and seeking digital fulfillment. The era of uncertainty has also created a new era of brands and fans.

It is time for brands to embrace the power of culture to drive meaningful outcomes.

1Based on the idea of obsessed fans, originating from Eminem's song 'Stan'

Michael Patent is founder and president of marketing firm Culture Group, which has offices in Singapore and Shanghai. 

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