Adventure Time's "Flippin' Awesome" Recognition of Crossover Fandom

Curator's Note

Fandom culture has always been somewhat of an odd periphery in the television consumption experience. Social TV to this point has led to the acknowledgment that there is value to fan activities, but social media is a veritable wasteland of fragmented and isolated fandom. It is difficult to find meaning or momentum beyond empty statistics like "tweets per second." This fragmentation is not only disappointing for fans but also for networks who can’t convert any of this buzz into ratings. The exhibited Cartoon Network promo for Adventure Time is a rare example of a network comprehensively addressing a show’s fandom, and engaging at a deeper level than a hashtag on the screen.

Pendleton Ward’s quirky setting and dynamic writing quickly attracted a particularly excitable following outside Adventure Time’s target demographic, but what became apparent is that both the show and its audience were not trading in the currency of "conventional" buzz (though it’s hard to imagine any show outside of primetime getting ‘buzzy’). By establishing an Adventure Time fan art Tumblr early on (well, months before the pilot aired, and more than a year before the first episode of the series aired), Ward created a unified home for the lean-forward creative fans that the show would go on to attract. The blog now has over 200,000 followers, which is a sizable portion of the show’s average two million viewers for an episode premiere.

Cartoon Network’s promo for Adventure Time demonstrates the network’s goal to utilize the show’s creative crossover audience, by featuring fan art submitted to the show’s Tumblr, cosplayers at comic conventions, and a song remixed from clips of Adventure Time episodes. Both the fan art and the cosplay can be attributed primarily to the older crossover fans (and you could estimate their average age given the footage of cosplayers in the promo). The remixed song is also an unmistakable indication of high-tech, media-literate fandom. The result is not just recognition, but celebration through explicit appreciation (at 1:50, three characters and the voiceover say "thank you"), the reward of being on TV, but most importantly, the exposure to the legion of kindred fans. Pendleton Ward’s home for, and Cartoon Network’s feature of Adventure Time’s seemingly out-of-place crossover fans was a highly effective way to encourage fans to continue sharing, and of course watching, the show, regardless of its intended demographic.

Comments

Tumblr fandoms are incredibly interesting to me.

I’ve followed my fandoms of choice as they’ve moved over the years from decentralized mailing lists to USENET to Livejournal and now on to Tumblr, and what’s most interesting to me is how democratized content production has become.  Fifteen years ago, the only way to share your fan creations with the internet was if you were lucky enough to have access to a scanner or digital camera, plus some kind of hosting.  These days, though, you can directly upload from your cell phone, edit a fan-video with a $300 netbook, download cosplay patterns, etc and it’s all very much second-nature. 

I wonder if things like this Adventure Time promo aren’t the future of advertising - reach out to your target audience, hook them, and then, on some level, praise them for being smart enough/cool enough/fixated enough to be a fan of the product.  "Look how great and cool the people who love this product are!  The product loves you back!  So keep buying it!"

Or maybe I’m just cynical that way.

 

Andrew Seroff's picture

Fan Service and Empowerment

Thanks for your comment, Cenate. I think there’s nothing more exciting than the idea of fandom being the feedback loop to TV, and we are fortunate enough to get to see that develop, as networks have taken notice of the fan activity on the internet that would otherwise have manifested in a much less significant, tangible way. There are dozens of showrunners that will admit that the vision of their show has morphed to recognize the fandom’s likes and dislikes, and so long as we continue to empower audiences to respond to shows, we’ll see more and more service to them. Am I saying all showrunners spend their time on Tumblr? No. But the fandom that has developed on Tumblr is proof of concept, and a step towards bigger and better things.

I’ve often wondered if product placement will return to prevalence (to combat time-shiftedness), which could look like the fandom-targeted ad you described. If you know how your audience feels during a show, you’re armed for effective manipulation. Hopefully it’s only a minor downside.

I think we've already seen some of that product-placement...

I’m thinking specifically about Chuck and the very intentional integration of Subway sandwiches into the later seasons (and on another level, about Community’s kind of snide take on it.

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