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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fan Armies in Action: Take THAT Bill, Baby!

Tbi2_2Ah, the age of empowerment. Empower your fans to market for you and then...slap them with a $9,000 suit? What's a fan army to do? Tally up the hours of unpaid marketing expenses and slap 'em back with a $1,900,000 bill, baby!

Newsdvdserenitynew Here's the gist: The 2005 movie Serenity was built on the Sci-Fi series called Firefly, a show created by famed director Joss Whedon. Problem is, the movie had budget issues so the studio (Universal) relied on the fans to do most of the marketing. Fans indeed spread the word...but to other fans...who were already amped-up to see the movie. Universal needed to reach other demos for this movie to turn a profit, so it needed some mainstream marketing efforts (but didn't have the budget).

And the thing is, the movie was quite good. While a fan of Joss Whedon's brilliant work, I never watched Firefly but the movie got newcomers right up to speed. You didn't have to be a fan of the TV show or a Sci-Fi fanatic to enjoy the action and connect with the characters.

Now Universal is threatening legal action against fans for utilizing the Serenity brand without a license. The irony here being that many of these fans were using the brand to create Serenity-inspired goods to... perform viral marketing. In response, the fans--who label themselves "The Browncoats" as a takeoff from the movie's heroes--are submitting an invoice for their time to Universal.

Here's the bill: While fans are still submitting their timesheets, man hours at the time of publishing this post were 25,908.

Fees: $1,943,100 (psst: take it from someone in the biz: at $75/hourly, you guys aren't charging nearly enough for your time.;-).

Here's an excerpt from the bill: "Rather than responding in a manner which might antagonize Universal, we thought that asking fans to tally those hours and publishing the totals for all to see would be a gentler way to make both the specific point about Browncoat marketing for Serenity and the more general point about the relationship between producers of entertainment and their increasing (and knowing) reliance in the 21st century on fanbases to help promote that entertainment."

Not a bill, but a POINT: The site goes on to say that it's not an actual bill, but "We simply believe that issues are raised in this area when a company knowingly has accepted the promotional work of fans...we just believe that there is a point to be made."

Here's the takeaway: Studios need to protect their brands. They also need to care for their fans (without your fans your brand is worthless). There is a better way--and a lesson to be learned.

  • To the Browncoats: Point taken and dually noted. Bravo for playing the bill-me game.
  • To Universal: Work with your fans and budget accordingly. Is a $9,000 lawsuit worth losing the support of this fiercely loyal, highly cosumptive audience? I understand you need to protect your brand's licensed assets but there exists a better way. No fans = no brand. And you need your fans more than ever since you need to recoup your losses through DVD sales.
  • To marketers: Take note of how savvy these fan bases are--yes, I've said this before, but I call 'em "fan armies" because they're strong and organized. These are armies you want to empower, not infuriate. If you listen and respect them? They'll teach you some of the best marketing lessons to be had, and they'll do it for free. If you don't? Well then you best be on the lookout for the bill .

Shout out: Thanks to cathode tan for the heads-up on this priceless post.


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Great article, CK ... Emily from Conformist Unite told us about this last Friday. She is putting it into a presentation this week ... an awesome demonstration of the power of user generated content and the strength of communities.

Thanks Gavin, yep it is a great example...apparently, Universal has backed off the lawsuits. Go Browncoats!

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