Whether they’re crashing fanfic sites or flooding TikTok with Billie Eilish paintings, fans on the internet never cease to amaze me. Here are all these creators investing so much talent and energy into artwork to be shared with other members of the community. It makes you wonder: how can we as marketers leverage all this fan activity in our marketing?
Today, we’ll dive into some of the biggest trends in fan culture and explore how brands can successfully engage with fan communities.
One of the internet’s oldest traditions, fan art has made a big comeback after years of relative disinterest. In 2021, image searches for the term approached all-time highs, rebounding from the early 2010s when searches were way down, according to Google Trends analytics.
While the words “fan art” once called to mind Pokemon origami and snapshots of Wonder Woman at Comic-Con, social video sharing sites have given fans new forms of self expression. The #fanart hashtag has 14B views on TikTok and contains everything from pencil lead carvings to art lessons on how to draw spiky-headed, anime characters. Another fascinating TikTok trend has creators going into their laptop screens to rendezvous with their anime crushes.
Likewise, the subject matter has diversified. By some definitions, TikTok creator Emily Zugay’s ironic redesigns of the Starbucks and Adobe emblems qualify. There’s even celebrity fan art. In January, The Weeknd changed his profile pic to a portrait sent to him by a fan, and fans of the K-pop band BTS have posted over 3.9M pieces of tribute art on Instagram.
Recently, brands have been coming around to the idea of collaborating with internet fandoms. ViacomCBS, the parent company of Paramount Plus, will soon begin mining data from the fan fiction platform Wattpad in search of ideas for shows that appeal to Gen Z.
Meanwhile, StockX, Chipotle, AllSaints, and Jack in the Box have all made appearances on Discord this year. Why? To strike a chord with fan communities. With 190K gaming communities, 150K anime communities, crypto communities, and more, Discord has overtaken Tumblr and Reddit as the platform where fans go to connect.
When asked why Chipotle was doing Discord events, brand representative Mike Miller told Modern Retail, “You have to go where the energy is.” Fandoms bring the energy.
One way brands can engage with fandoms is by partnering with fan artists. Our recent work with Fandom—a brand that hosts many popular fan lore encyclopedias like Wookieepedia and the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki—illustrates how these campaigns can operate.
To help spread the word about Fandom’s recent rebrand, we sourced artistic talent to create one-of-a-kind fan art. One of the artists we worked with was the upcycler Gabriel Dishaw, known for crafting intricate “luxury” sci-fi masks from discarded Louis Vuitton bags.
Another was artist Steve Casino, who makes kitschy pop culture artifacts from peanuts, Tic Tac breath mints, and other curious objects. In addition to #ad posts, the artwork was used for prizes in a hashtag giveaway.
While brands typically give lifestyle influencers the bulk of the attention, fan art campaigns present an opportunity to reach gaming and youth demographics from an alternate angle.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some trending fan art communities.
For insight into the next big fandom trends, keep an eye on the Netflix release schedule. From Squid Game to The Queen’s Gambit, hit shows on the streaming service routinely inspire a tremendous amount of fan activity. The latest Netflix production to rally a fanbase is Arcane, a fairly faithful adaptation of the esport League of Legends.
Since the show launched in November, #arcane has accumulated 240K unique pieces of fan art on Instagram, including notebook sketches, costume design, tattoo art, and makeup. On TikTok, the hashtag is already at 1.8B views, fueled by avid digital art and cosplay communities on the platform. Look for season two of The Witcher to rekindle some of the same excitement.
One thing people tend to miss about the NFT craze is that it’s entirely fan-driven. NFT fans congregate in large numbers on Discord servers like MekaVerse and Rarible where everyone is obsessing over a singular subject: how to get NFT collectibles. People talk about NFT collectibles, create NFT collectibles, and trade NFT collectibles, occasionally for solid sums of money.
With all the buzz around NFT artists like Grimes and Beeple, and NFT artwork selling for tens of millions of dollars at Christie’s, brands are eager to reach NFT fanatics. McDonalds and Pepsi, for instance, have been creating their own NFT collectibles and giving them away to lucky winners.
Meanwhile, the hotel brand Marriott has thrown their hat into the ring by teaming up with digital artists to create NFT branded content. As the NFT train rolls on, look for more brands to collaborate with NFT creators.
Over the past decade, no game has spawned more fan content than Minecraft. One of the biggest trends going is “Minecraft Animation.” With roots in the machinima scene of the 2000s, Minecraft animations are short films, feature-length films, and multi-season series created by the fan community.
And they are huge, generating over 4.9B views on YouTube in 2021 alone. The most successful, like those by Black Plasma Studios, accumulate hundreds of millions of views. Yet few brands pays attention to them, opting to work with gaming streamers. Brands like Toyota who have activated on Minecraft in the past with modest results would be wise to heed this trend.
The internet is home to so many thriving fan art creators who are ripe for collaborations and partnerships. If you’re interested in working with fan artists for your next campaign, or want to learn more about any of the fan communities we mentioned, shoot us an email at email@example.com We’re always down to collaborate.