Comic Con: How Your Agency's Nerds Can Tap Into Pop Culture Like Superheroes
You're prepping a group vacation. The nerd in your text circle picks the hotel, theme park, restaurant (minding everyone's dietary restrictions) and film festival that tourists usually wouldn't know about.
Have you ever said "thank you" to that nerd?
By definition, a nerd is anyone who is extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about a particular subject, especially one of niche interest. And this week's New York Comic Con highlights mainstream nerd culture. Given 140 million active Twitch users and 300K+ attendees across the annual NYC and San Diego cons, agency chiefs must consider: Do brands tap into that culture correctly?
You recall your childhood classrooms: popular kids at the front, nerds in back. Well, those nerds grew into today's change makers. Sadly, they're also the talent you may overlook when selling cultural insights to clients.
In adland, one of the biggest consistent questions we face is: "What consumer problem will our product or service solve?" In reality, most teams can only provide third-person perspective based on a quick data analysis. Deriving insights from outside sources allows for the development of campaigns, but lacks important context informed by a subculture.
This limited thinking influences how we operate and engage with our nerdy peers as creatives, stifling the chance to make work from first-person insights. A first-person lens into the creative process comes from submersion in the subgroup you're addressing. Lived experience = vital context.
More often than not, marketers don't scratch the surface of true audience immersion and haven't empowered nerdy team members for cultural deep dives. Instead, we assign them to projects disconnected from their passions. This counts as a missed opportunity, when overlooked nerd talent could become a true catalyst of innovation.
Once the creative industry learns the importance of cultural immersion from nerds, it can evolve from third-person to richer first-person storytelling. The impact will be undeniable, as our strategic output will bear cultural nuance derived from genuine experiences.
Amplify the nerds within your network to level up in key business areas...
Nerds always embrace immersion, which is why events like Comic Con—where they can dress up as favorite characters—enjoy huge success. They appreciate personalization, which informs their decision-making at these events. A custom Funko Pop creates a feeling of exclusivity and generates such high-level value that attendees are willing to exchange personal information for a 1:1 exchange. 72 percent of Americans use at least two different channels for news and information and this community is no different. They embody "omnichannel" experience, tapping into online forums, social platforms and dedicated blogs/apps to engage their interests.
Bring your nerds into projects aligned with these immersive pastimes. Curate environments for them to fully lean in while optimizing consumer touchpoints based on lived experiences. It's easier than we may think to create alignments. Collect this information via employee surveys. Managers should also inquire about the interests of their direct reports and set recurring 1:1 meetings versus yearly reviews.
Nerds build valued online and offline communities based on shared interests. They tapped DEI as a mind-state long before it was trending, with intentional phrases like "Blerd" and "Girl Geek." These connections showcase how micro-communities experience shifts over time, with 48 percent of all gamers in the U.S. identifying as female and 29 percent identifying as BIPOC. In addition to intentionality backing representation, they focus on connective experiences, because a fan is more powerful within a fanbase.
Your nerds' understanding of community allows them to create work with a succinct perspective on longer-term engagement strategies. Bring them into the process for audience segmentation discussions. Brainstorm with them to devise CTAs that rally groups. Invite them to product shoots to ensure the staging feels culturally nuanced for a specific community.
Spaces like Comic Con curate a passion-driven experience by sharing the pen with their fans. This manifests through the curation of panels, products available onsite and the freedom to cosplay. To a community that has habitually been excluded for their passions, it's important to solve problems with their devotion at the table. This community understands what it takes to convert someone into a brand evangelist and their emotional intelligence supersedes many hard skills.
Nerds are the original superfans. Their insights can improve the pitch process, where a deep dive is often required with limited time and resources. Bringing nerds into focus groups is a start. But as you ideate around ways to activate your audience and drive brand love, let nerds serve as the true experts. Let them shape the engagement strategy for prospective clients.
Remember: nerds have lived as strategists. They took the lemons life offered and traded them for something of abiding personal value. Let them do the same for your brand. This seems paramount in a world where nerds continually redefine every type of culture.