Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Monetizing My Fandom: The Represent Campaigns

Back in 2014 Stephen Amell did something interesting with his fans. He created a Represent t-shirt campaign where the proceeds would benefit F**k Cancer. Amell is a different type of celebrity, interacting with his fans a lot (himself) on Facebook, occasionally on Twitter, and from I can gather, genuinely interacting. This Represent campaign, where students would buy a t-shirt from Amell to support the cause, seemed a great way for celebrities to put their status to good use. Fans would buy the shirt because they were fans, and it's a great cause.

Amell has raised a butt load of money. He crowdsourced the design. He (and his family and friends) wore every variation of the shirt. He posted updates on Facebook. He not only monetized his fandom he galvanized them. And I can say as someone who participated, it felt good to participate in this way.

But this campaign led to others.

All of a sudden EVERYONE had a Represent campaign.
All for good causes- animal rights, depression, suicide prevention. And all of these actors took to social media to sell their product. Every single one of the campaigns went above and beyond their stated goals.
And that's great. It's a great way to raise awareness, make fans feel like they're personally working with the actor towards something, and being able to wear your activism is a great approach.

Am while I participated in a lot of these, because I like the idea ("Hello Boys" given my #DevilDiss is my favorite, and the softest t-shirt I've ever owned) something started to bother me.
The first was that all these campaigns after Amell's first one didn't read as genuine to me as Amell's first one. There was no informing through social media about the cause, the importance. There was no interaction between the star and fans. It was usually just a simple presentation of "here's my shirt, buy it." While Twitter and Facebook and Instagram was used to spread these messages, there was little interaction, it was strictly a one way street.
Now this doesn't make the causes less worthy, or the participation less valid.

But I continued to be bothered.

I think what was bothering me started to coalesce with the Supernatural campaigns. And that's mainly because of Supernatural's relationship with fandom which alternates between acknowledging that fans are the reason they are there, and making fun (often pointedly) of their fans. A lot of the time they're not very nice about it. And Jensen Ackles does it more than Jared Padalecki. It happens in interviews, at con panels. It's sometimes snide, often condescending. So I thought it odd that Ackles would suddenly do a 180 and expect fans to pay money for a shirt with his face on it. But Supernatural fans are loyal, despite their treatment, and once again Represent campaign made goal, and spurred several other Supernatural campaigns, although these shifted in light of Padalecki's disclosure about his and his friends' fights with depression.

I appreciate the honestly with which Padalecki has spoken about his experiences. And I recognize that his campaign with his target demographic of fans, will probably have a large effect. But it bothered me that a show, and an actor, who had continuously, and consistently, made fun of his fan base, would then turn around and take advantage of this. Granted it's for a cause, not him personally, but it bothered me. It seem disingenuous.

There was something else though that continued to bug me. But I couldn't figure it out.

There have been other t-shirt campaigns that are not Represent.
Eddie McClintock creates Warehouse 13 t-shirts that DO NOT have his face on them but instead make references to the show.

But McClintock found himself in hot water with some fans the other week when he was designing a new t-shirt and used some fan art as mock ups. While he quickly cleared the misunderstanding up on Twitter fans online jumped all over him within seconds.
And the main criticism of the fans was that McClintock was taking advantage of his fans, making money off of some fan's art without their permission- he was monetizing his fandom.
To my knowledge, McClintock's campaigns are not charity based, the proceeds actually DO go to cover the cost of the shirts, then the profit to him. And there's nothing wrong with that. They're cool designs, and the latest one (above) sums up the show perfectly and I'll probably save my pennies to get one.
But it's another piece in the monetizing fandom puzzle.
There's a lot of scholarly, and aca-fan, and fan writings about monetizing fandom. 

Which I guess is part of what has stuck in my craw about these Represent campaigns. Because it IS monetizing fandom, but for some reason no one is paying attention to that aspect. Or the complicated relationship some of these actors have WITH their fandom. There are some problematic issues with these campaigns. And while I dabble in fan studies, I think it's something that someone who actually specializes in this should pay attention to. I think there's a lot to be said about monetizing fandom, creating the illusion of a relationship, using social media to purposely create that false sense, and how this is a reflection of new trends. 

But something new came up last week, something that solidified for me a lot of the issues I couldn't quite put my finger on with all this.

Last week Felicia Day announced her Represent campaign that focused on cyber bullying.
Notice anything?
I did.
And finally it hit me what had bothered me so much about the other campaigns.
Every single one of them centers around the actor's face large as life on the t-shirt. While some of them make some reference to the cause, most of these references are vague rather than specific, and are not the main focus of the t-shirt.
It's narcissistic. And that fed into my feeling about these campaigns.
Day on the other hand just made a cool t-shirt. She used social media to spread her message. In many ways her campaign is the same as the others. But it focused on the cause.
Now I don't know if this is different because Day is a woman, or if she's just not a narcissist. But THIS campaign I whole-heartedly support. It reminded me of Amell's first campaign, the genuine nature of it.

Like I said, I think it's great that celebrities are galvanizing the fanbase to learn about causes, support them, wear their activism. But I think there's a better way to do it.
And I certainly think that there's a treasure trove him for scholars to look at.

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