On Apple Fans and Fri13

Over at Geek Studies, Jason Tocci picks up on the earlier discussion on this blog about the line between brand loyalty and fandom to critique a MacUser post about what makes Mac users so loyal. Interesting analysis and discussion ensue.

And on another note, I have to chuckle to see that today, Friday the 13th, I’ve seen a huge jump in hits to my interview with Brenna O’Brien who runs the Friday the 13th fan site. Took a few minutes to figure out why that was suddenly so popular again :)

Book Fans Get A Widget of Their Own

Here’s an interesting effort to make books — you know those things with covers and pages inside and no bits or bytes included? — sexy to social networking kids. HarperCollins had announced:

an innovative campaign to promote titles online through its digital warehouse. The Browse Inside widget enables fans and authors to embed sample pages of their favorite books directly onto social networking sites and blogs, marking the first time a syndicated reader for books has been available online.

“The Browse Inside widget is the most recent marketing tool we have developed using the capabilities of our digital warehouse to market our titles to the MySpace generation online,” said Brian Murray, Group President, HarperCollins. “We are extending our reach beyond the HarperCollins site to where many potential book buyers visit – on social communities, blogs or author sites.”

The widget provides simple code that can be copied and placed on a profile or blog. Currently, the standard browsable sample pages that are available include the covers, front matter, back matter and first three pages of chapters one and two.

“The Browse Inside widget – when spread through online communities – is today’s equivalent of picking up a book off of a friend’s coffee table and glancing through it,” said Josh Kilmer-Purcell, New York Times bestselling author of I Am Not Myself These Days (Harper Perennial). “It’s my electronic calling card to online communities.”

To harken back to the Robinson study about time use I mentioned the other day, it does seem that internet users in general do read more than people who don’t use the internet, but whether the “MySpace generation” is yearning for a book widget, I don’t know, but I bet enough are to make it at least interesting. With the HUGE exception of fans writing fan fiction based on books (Harry Who?), and the odd blogger blogging books, it has always seemed to me that print publishing has not made good inroads into the online communities of internet users. The basic principles of going where the buyers are rather than waiting for them to come to you and giving the people already into what you do the tools to tell others about it in engaging ways is certainly right on, but whether this will be the viral electronic calling card they hope for or just a cute gizmo for a few die-hards remains to be seen.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!

FanBoy Culture

Mark Cuban has a fun post up about “FanBoy Culture.” He’s not talking about the sports fans, he talking about the product fans:

I’m a child of an era when teenagers distrusted anything from government or business and I still harbor some of the same viewpoints from then. So imagine my surprise when in writing about Google, Youtube, Apple and other corporate entities or their products, I got flooded by emails and comments disparaging me for my positions. [...] I got typical teenage feedback “You Suck, Google Rocks”. “Youtube is the new Internet, you are old school Internet”, “BitTorrent is amazing and you are not a geek” and things a lot more personal. Such was my introduction to today’s fanboy.

Whatever happened to Counterculture being a positive attribute ? In today’s fanboy culture, kids are obsessively supporting products. They aren’t “fighting the man”, they “are the man”.

The marketing implications of all of this are fascinating. [...] All marketers dream of having a fanboy base for their products. What is more textbook wonderful than passionate customers ? But like trying to create a video that takes off and becomes viral via Word of Mouth, fanboys happen in spite of marketers, not because of them. The challenge for marketers everywhere is to determine the depth of any fanboy following, how to support it and what the implications are if you don’t match their expectations. Gaming companies have Fanboy advisory groups, I don’t know of any companies outside the gaming world, and certainly not outside the technology world that do.

He goes on to talk about the necessity for all corporations of knowing their fanboys. Obviously, I couldn’t agree more with that assertion. And I love the line “they aren’t fighting the man, they are the man.” Although, if they are the man, what’s up with the turning on them when they don’t match expectations?

The comments on the post are well worth reading and show people really trying to make sense of the fanboy phenomenon — are they just bullies? big brothers teasing little brothers? Or is this the new substitute for religion in a secular society? Is there really a significant difference between being a jerk about your favorite operating system and being a jerk about your favorite basketball team?

One person points out fangirls (what? there are girls on the internet?).

The whole “fanboy” phenomenon throws another twist into online fandom that I don’t think most cultural observers have really picked up on yet. We’re not talking here about creative user-generated content, we’re not talking about building communities, we’re not talking about nuanced engagement with a pop culture product — all things that scholars and critics have been looking at for a while now. We’re talking about knee-jerk promotional activity. What are the motivations here? What are the implications? And what are the dangers of collapsing the ‘fanboy’ activity of spamming blog comments with “You Suck, Google Rocks” with the kind of fan activity that gets into lengthy intelligent debates about the details of whatever google’s done this time. And what are the dangers for corporations of building advisory groups that don’t make that distinction?

It’s not just about knowing your fans and knowing what they say about you, it’s about understanding the different kinds of fans you’ve got, their different ways of engaging what you do, their different needs, their different spheres and levels of influence, and where to concentrate your own energies in making the most of what these very different people do.

Branding MySelf

Publicons.de has a long click list so that you, yes you, can create a little gizmo to put on your profiles and websites so that everyone can see how you brand yourself. Or rather, how you define yourself through brands. Here’s what I’d look like if I went wild:


I know it’s all in fun (kinda) but these things really bug me. For one, they’re not clickable, so that if I see that last.fm icon I can’t click it and get to your last.fm page, I can’t click the flickr to get to flickr. More than that, though, it’s a weird hodgepodge way to define yourself as the combination of products you don’t get a say in creating.

To say nothing of all the things that aren’t there at all. In music, for instance, I can brand myself as a fan of the Libertines or U2, but that’s about it on my genre, and neither of them are in my top 50. I can mark myself as having a Fujifilm camera, but not an Olympus even though that’s a nicer camera. I can choose Johnny Depp as a favorite actor, but I don’t get any actresses to choose from at all. I get Pepsi, but no Diet Pepsi. Baileys but no Glenfiddich.

But the fact that the site’s there at all, with its long strange lists of almost-random (and obvious Deutsch-o-centric) choices for which icons you want to associate yourself with, and the fact that these things are popping up all over the net, shows once again how people are more and more eager and willing to identify themselves in terms of taste and brands.

What bothers me most of all is that it shows that it’s not enough to merely USE the products now, we need to advertise for them as well. Ok, need is overstated, but I just don’t get the hunger to mark myself as a Mac using, Toyota driving, apple and orange juice drinking, chocolate and licorice eating, Solitaire playing Pisces where e’re my internet travels take me. But then, I identified with William Gibson’s Cayce in Pattern Recognition who never wore anything with logos and obsessively sanded the buttons of her jeans until the brand name was gone. I loved the scene where she hyperventilated in the Tommy Hilfiger section of the department store.  I’m not so clinical, but I figure if I’ve paid for a product already, they ought to pay ME to advertise it for them.