Today’s converging entertainment industries create transmedial brand worlds in which consumers are expected to become deeply immersed. Integrated marketing campaigns connected to these worlds invite consumers to act as ‘co-producers’. While such an altered consumer identity has been taken as evidence of enhanced consumer agency, it has also been recognized as a source of consumer exploitation.
The conference presentation was based on findings from the author's thesis, More than meets the eye: Transmedial entertainment as a site of pleasure resistance and exploitation (2012), which analyzes the increasingly ambivalent power relationships that exist between agents in the contemporary entertainment industry and their most dedicated customers – the fans. The study employs a multiperspectival theoretical framework, in that cultural studies theory is combined with perspectives from political economy. Existing theory on transmedial textuality, branding, and fandom is applied to one particular franchise, Hasbro’s Transformers. This world, home of both industrial and fan-based creativity, is studied through analyses of official and unofficial content as well as through interviews with professionals and fans.
The case study shows that companies and fans contribute to the building and promotion of the Transformers brand world – in collaboration and in conflict. While fan productivity occasionally takes place without direct encouragement from the companies involved, it is also largely anticipated and desired by marketers. The findings suggest that consumer enjoyment potentially translates into industrial benefits, including free brand promotion. Ultimately, the study acknowledges transmedial brand worlds as, simultaneously, sites of pleasure, resistance, and exploitation.
Producers and Audiences: International conference, Media and communication research, Lund University, March 20, 2014