Fandom and happiness…What We’ve Been Reading This Week At Brand Genetics…

This week sees the debut of probably the biggest film ever. Avengers Endgame is released on April 25th and the expectation is that it will break box-office records right, left and centre. But this is not going to be a piece on the intricacies of the MCU (sorry to disappoint) or on how Marvel has built the biggest film franchise in history. No, this is a blog about fandom.

Every franchise needs fans. From James Bond to Star Trek, Manchester United to the New York Nicks — without fans to buy the tickets, merchandise and other assorted paraphernalia, a franchise wouldn’t be possible.

Of course, fans have existed for centuries — there is evidence that Roman Gladiators had fans that would buy souvenirs to mark their victories. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that the fans of today are more fanatical than in previous generations. Whether that is true or not is debatable. What certainly is true, is that there are more ways for people to express their fandom than ever before. Whether that is joining online forums to discuss the latest news or opting for cosplay and attending a convention as your favourite character.

One superb example is Secret Cinema where, for one night, people immerse themselves in the world of a specific film. Launched in 2007 by Fabien Riggall, Secret Cinema has taken the world of immersive experiences by storm. by creating 360-degree participatory worlds where the boundaries between performer and audience, set and reality are constantly shifting.

But why do people do this?

Some interesting explanations can be found by the application of self-determination theory. This is a theory of human motivation — the bottom-line of which is that people strive for happiness. Of particular interest is the so-called ARC of happiness model, which states that happiness is determined by the levels of Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence we feel. The higher the levels of each, the happier we are.

So how does this apply to fandom?

Autonomy — Being a fan of something or someone is very much an individual choice. No one can make you a fan of anything. Whilst there are certainly influencing factors these might have positive or negative impacts. A family might support Everton through and through, but that doesn’t mean the rebellious teenager won’t end up supporting Liverpool. Being a fan is a personal choice and comes with a high level of autonomy and self-expression.

Relatedness — Hopefully, this speaks for itself. There is something powerful about dressing up in a distinctive and recognisable way and sharing that experience with hundreds, sometimes thousands of other people who have the exact same passion as you do. Secret Cinema, ComicCon or the Kop End at Anfield are all examples of fan relatedness in action. This is a powerful connection to a wider community with the same shared interest.

Competence — If you are a true fan, then the chances are that you will be more knowledgeable than the average person about your specialist subject. Whether that is being able to order food in Klingon (tera’ngan Soj lujab’a’?) or knowing when Watford last graced an FA Cup final (1984), having this special knowledge sets you apart from the crowd and demonstrates your expertise.

So, when all is said and done, whether you are talking about films, comics or sport — being a fan is really about the pursuit of happiness. This makes sense and explains the lengths and expense that people are sometimes prepared to go to, to show their fan credentials. It also starts to explain the sense of sadness (and occasionally betrayal) when expectations are not met. We’ve seen this in the teary faces of the fans of relegated teams as well as in the extreme reactions to the most recent Star Wars film, where some long-term fans expressed their anger (and arguably, immaturity) on social media when the film didn’t meet their expectations.

The HX (Human Experience) Take-Outs

Fandom is an important part of being human, appealing to our most basic motivations as human beings. It is an expression of individuality, that often comprises special knowledge and which is designed to be shared with similar people and experienced in a communal way. We may not always know why we are followers of a particular team or franchise but watching those movies, wearing those colours and memorising those stats are really just small steps towards making ourselves happy.

Now, where did I put my home-made Infinity Gauntlet?

Marc Edwards is a director at Brand Genetics, an insight and innovation agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With nearly 20 years of agency and client-side experience, Marc is an insight and innovation specialist, with and a track record of driving value in brand and products through strategic planning and creative ideation.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics

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