Want to win over fans? Be a fan

When capitalising on IPs and ideas that are already widely popular with audiences, marketers must tread carefully

Steven Parsons

Senior Creative DRUM


As a fan, waiting for the adaptation of something you hold dear to come out can be agonising. There’s nothing worse than someone taking something that’s spoken to you on a personal level - and then trashed it. Terrible video game cash-ins have been the bane of gamers since a studio decided Bob Hoskins might make a good (Super) Mario back in 1993.  

Thankfully, it finally seems to have dawned on producers that gaming franchises can be brought to life and in a faithful way that won’t leave the fans despairing. The success of shows like Halo and now The Last of Us demonstrate developing game IPs for discerning, adult audiences can be a big success both critically and commercially. 

This will no-doubt have caught the attention of brands.  

After all, gaming is having a 'moment' right now and there are a slew of gaming properties making the transition to film and TV. Given the size of the video game audience it’s little surprise that brands will be falling over themselves to get involved. However, given the strength of feeling relating to many IPs they should proceed with caution. Fandom can be, well, a dangerous game. 

So, how can brands confidently engage with franchises that certain audiences feel fiercely protective of in a way that works for both casual and hard-core fans? HBO’s The Last of Us offers a masterclass in how to successfully adapt a much-loved game and keep both sets on-side. 

Content needs to play to the strengths of the format and sometimes it pays not to be too slavish to the original text.

Steven Parsons, Senior Creative at DRUM

Whilst shows like Game Of Thrones deviated quite significantly from the source material, The Last Of Us hasn’t been afraid to recreate scenes like-for-like, or lift dialogue direct from the game. This goes beyond dropping in 'Easter Eggs' for the hardcore fans per the Marvel or Star Wars model, it's a mark of respect at just how good the game’s writing was. 

We should bear in mind this won't always work, The Last of Us games had already garnered plaudits for the quality of their narrative and scripts. By comparison, bringing something like Minecraft to the big screen will be significantly more challenging. Content needs to play to the strengths of the format and sometimes it pays not to be too slavish to the original text.

It will certainly be interesting to see how fans react to the future direction the Witcher series will take. The former lead Henry Cavill counted himself as a superfan of the books and reportedly left the show following battles with the writers over planned deviations from the source material. It remains to be seen if the series’ more casual fans will react quite so strongly.

Clearly, there is a subset of fandom that takes what it loves very seriously, so the many upcoming gaming IPs heading to film and TV have a tightrope to walk - as do any brands that want to ride the wave. The trick The Last Of Us successfully pulled so successfully was to keep the most invested gamers on-side, while telling a story that would equally appeal to complete noobs (to use the gaming term!)

The producers clearly ‘got’ the game and doubtless many of those involved in the project were already fans themselves. But this good work could easily have been undone with poorly considered or clumsily implemented brand tie-ins. 

Let’s consider Papa John's partnership with last year’s Uncharted movie, based of course on a popular gaming franchise, which featured the restaurant within the film as the setting for one of the scenes. Alignment wise it makes sense given the audience overlap, but what about going beyond the onscreen integration and playing with the culture of the IP to extend the partnership into the real world? For example, The Uncharted games are known for their devious puzzles, so something like co-branded, puzzle-based takeaway packaging could have extended the narrative (and the reach of the integration) into customers' daily lives by giving them the opportunity to solve clues in exchange for cinema tickets, free product and more.

A strategy of this kind works on two levels, the branding itself works for the uninitiated, while the insider nod to the conventions of the IP demonstrates you understand it as part of the community. 

So, before embarking on any partnership, the brand should carefully consider what it is about the IP that appeals most strongly to fans and if there’s a clear fit with its own audience and brand values? 

Hoping to piggyback on the popularity of another IP is all-too transparent and the fans will likely question it. Unless the association enhances the audience's experience of the IP in question, the brand opens itself up to risk of fan backlash. Dungeons & Dragons saw a spike in popularity given it made sense within the narrative and mise-en-scene of Stranger Things - and the tie-in sets are now highly sought after collectors items, gaining additional fandom points. Similar product placement within the fantasy world context of the upcoming D&D film would be considerably more challenging! 

Gamers and marketers alike stand at the brink of an exciting new dawn in which TV and film finally starts treating gaming IP with the respect it deserves. Opening up franchises like Warhammer and God of War to even bigger audiences could show the mainstream what they’ve been missing all these years and open up a host of new multi- and transmedia storytelling opportunities for brand owners. 

So, rules to live by are ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and remember your brand equity cannot take precedence over that of the game’s IP. Success is contingent on finding a balance between attracting new fans and satisfying the old guard. Neither one can take precedence and caring about the fans means being part of that community - and the one thing fans don’t like is change. Or at least change for the sake of it. 

Even a reboot needs to respect the tone, atmosphere - or pretty much anything else to do with the original. Brands need to respect that messing with a character (for instance) because it doesn’t fit their values, will absolutely not go down well with the fan community… and particularly Henry Cavill.

Guest Author

Steven Parsons

Senior Creative DRUM


Steven is a gamer through and through. When he’s not producing ideas or being a dad; he’s gaming until the early hours. His passion lies between his personal and professional passions – where gaming and ideas live together to create impact. Having worked on a wealth of gaming and technology-led campaigns, Steven has also won top industry awards including a Cannes Lion.

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