Successful intellectual properties have a pint-sized army of marketers touting their content and products from coast to coast. We call them Superfans.
Because Superfans enjoy these IPs so much, they can't keep their enthusiasm to themselves. Our research shows that 69% of Superfans talk to friends or family members about their fandom at least once a week.
So how do you turn a casual fan into a Superfan? Give kids what they need developmentally. Our survey of 2,000 kids revealed that kids become Superfans of the IPs that help them with their most important task—the work of growing up. Within that, fandom does a particularly good job of helping kids grow as individuals.
Spark Their Imagination
Good content makes play better. It gives kids characters to emulate, scenarios to act out, and a fun and fantastical world to immerse themselves in.
The richer the world is, the more immersed your Superfans can get. And even beyond that, you can plant nuggets for Superfans to find. Those nuggets will let Superfans engage even more deeply with your IP across platforms.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn't just gross $145 million in the US on its opening weekend. It also thrilled fans with Easter Eggs from '80s pop culture and the Marvel universe. David Hasselhoff briefly appears in the film and sings a song on the soundtrack. Howard the Duck is seen eating at a bar. Stan Lee does his cameo, which is a constant in all Marvel films. These Easter Eggs, which are now being shared and discussed online, keep fans talking about the movie long after they've seen it.
Brands like Disney and Pixar also include Easter Eggs that serve as callbacks to the movies filmgoers loved as kids.
Uncover Things They're Interested In
Kids are explorers. They experiment with different skills, and IPs can be there to help them do it. Inspirations for exploration can be active (martial arts from Kung Fu Panda, skateboarding from Jagger Eaton’s Mega Life), or more intellectual and creative (sleuthing from Sherlock, vlogging from iCarly).
The best way for brands to help kids uncover interests? Have the characters that kids admire and relate to engage in an activity with passion. IPs should depict characters' activity in a layered way, and include both the activity's challenges and its triumphs. This depiction will help kids get a feel for something that was previously unfamiliar, and that feel will help kids decide whether the activity is something they’d like to try out.
Give Them Ideas for What They Can Do in the Future
All kids are looking for role models. And media can provide fleshed out examples of being a bigger kid or a grown up, including the rewards and struggles that come with those roles.
For younger kids, who are still learning the difference between reality and fantasy, the attributes that kids latch onto can be either achievable or other-worldly. They may imagine themselves becoming a police officer or Captain America. So, if you're creating a character for a younger kid, feel free to throw some superpowers into the mix. You may just inspire a little one to dream of invincibility.
Older kids love superheroes too, but more for entertainment than inspiration. Instead of fictional characters, older kids seek role models that give them real-world guidance. They'll be inspired by characters who reach important goals—fame, fortune, the respect of their peers—through ingenuity and perseverance. Yes, Serena Williams and LeBron James have extraordinary talent, but they also demonstrate the more achievable asset of intense dedication.
The Harry Potter franchise combines elements of fantasy and reality, and appeals to a broad age range. Younger kids incorporate the wizarding spells into their play. Older kids admire a group of fearless kids who work together to achieve something important.
Help Them Get Better at Doing Something
Kids build confidence by mastering skills, especially if their new skill impresses others. IPs can show kids not only what they can learn, but how they can learn it.
Kids can learn hairstyling by watching a YouTuber make a triple-bun hairstyle like Rey in Star Wars. They can learn crafting by watching a video about how to make Moana's necklace. Molly Richardson, 13, a cast member of the national tour of Broadway’s Matilda the Musical, credits “Dance Moms” for teaching her many of her dance skills.
So don’t be afraid of complexity, as long as you scaffold kids’ learning. Show kids something new they can learn, and the steps they need to master to get there. And if you want to leverage your IP to help kids discover new skills, start with a YouTube channel. Our research shows that, after friends and family, kids discover IPs through YouTube more than any other source.
Help Them Be Their True Self
As they get older, kids start to think about their place in the world. What do they care about? What are they good at? What is their sense of style?
Your IP can help kids find their way. Model a world where characters with quirky personalities, difficult family situations, or unique talents somehow all fit in.
So many of the kids we talk to—across geographic and economic groups—love The Big Bang Theory. They acknowledge, accept, and identify with the unique backgrounds that the show's creators gave each character:
- Leonard, who’s lactose-intolerant and loves Dungeons & Dragons
- Sheldon, who was raised by a devout Christian and started college at age 11
- Penny, a struggling actress who's constantly short of money
- Howard, a toy fanatic who goes into training to become an astronaut
- Raj, an immigrant from India who suffers from social anxiety, especially around women
- Amy, a Little House on the Prairie fan with a Ph.D. in neurobiology
Do the characters in your property have unique personality traits that can help kids feel like who they are is more than okay?
Boost Their Confidence
The people in our lives who make us believe in ourselves, like parents, coaches, and teachers, are the ones we think back on with immense gratitude decades later. IPs can have the same impact. So it's no wonder IP can turn kids into Superfans—sometimes for life.
Content that boosts a kid's confidence usually relates to the above benefits. It might:
- Show them a new area to explore that they turn out to be talented in
- Let them master the nuances and rules of the story-world they enjoy, so they feel like experts
- Help them find a friend group or cohort to validate their interests and tastes
- Demonstrate that different is cool
The Ultimate Goal
These aspects of personal growth will give kids a strong foundation for the next layer of their personal development by building their social selves. IPs that build their Superfan base won't just enjoy incredible popularity. They'll also have the opportunity to help today's kids become confident, successful adults.