Anatomy of Hype

Global insights on fan culture and how brands can get involved

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Introduction: The age of fandom

We live in an age of fandom. From the passionate following of K-pop groups, to snaking lines of sneakerheads eager to snag the latest drop, to millions tuning into competitive gaming livestreams – fandom is a defining cultural trend of our times.

In years past, mainstream pop culture often drove the fan experience, while niche fandoms often existed on the margins. Not anymore. Today, no matter what we’re enthusiastic about, we can find a community gathering around and celebrating that same passion. And if a community doesn’t yet exist, we have more tools than ever to create and cultivate one ourselves.

To understand what it means to be a fan today, Amazon Ads and Twitch Ads commissioned a global study exploring the state of fandom – including how brands can get involved – across five areas of focus: music, sci-fi and fantasy, sports, streetwear and sneakers and video games.

A man and a woman wearing headphones and dancing

We asked five questions:

  • How do consumers define fandom?
  • What are the key elements of fan culture in 2023?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of engaging with fandom?
  • How do different channels and services play a role in shaping the fan experience?
  • How can brands tap into fan communities to build brand love and loyalty?

Here’s what we found.

Key global insights on fan culture in 2023

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Chapter 1

Fans at large

  • 70% of fans say their fandom and its community are part of their everyday life
  • More than a third of fans (36%) say the No. 1 benefit of being a fan is that it makes them happier

Fans and identity

  • 64% of fans say their fandom is a defining part of their identity
  • 63% of fans say that they are proud to be a fan
  • The top reasons consumers engage with fandoms:
    • 78% say escapism
    • 72% say enjoyment
    • 46% say empowerment

Fans and brands

  • 63% of fans say that any brand can get involved with fandoms as long as they make an effort to understand the fandoms
  • 62% of fans feel positively towards brands that have been involved with their fandoms for extended periods of time
  • Over half of fans (55%) say they are more likely to consider a brand that sponsors content related to their fandom
  • 54% of fans say they can tell if a brand is being authentic

Fandom goes mainstream

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Chapter 2

In the past, fandom was a phenomenon that often existed outside of mainstream culture – with stereotypes of fans as nerdy eccentrics or obsessive fanboys and fangirls abounding. Today, however, fandom has become ubiquitous, touching virtually every part of culture. From communities dedicated to the world’s most notable intellectual property to micro-fandoms celebrating niche entities, fan communities are everywhere.

Individuals around the world are experiencing the positive effects of participating in fan culture, and are embracing the role fandom plays in their lives. Of the fans surveyed for this report, 70% say their fandom and fan community are part of their everyday life. Technology has helped fandoms become mainstream, enabling new and more frequent ways of fan engagement – such as finding like-minded fans and building fan communities using social media. The composition of fandom has also changed, allowing for participation regardless of age, gender identity, socio-economic status or other characteristics.

70%

Larger cultural shifts – everything from COVID-19 to political developments to economic uncertainty – have only deepened the role fandom plays in people’s lives, providing a sense of stability and way to affirm their identities. Six out of ten surveyed fans (64%) say their fandom is a defining part of their identity. Nearly half (48%) say their fandom helps them make sense of the world. And more than a third (36%) say the No. 1 benefit of being a fan is that it makes them happier.

“Being a fan is far more culturally acceptable and common,” said Aja Romano, a culture and web reporter at Vox. “The rise of enormous and visible mainstream fandoms, like those for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Game of Thrones, and the adjacent emergence of Comic-Con as a huge cultural event, have arguably forever changed the way fandoms at large are treated within pop culture – not as something shameful and hidden away, but as a completely normal, fun activity, just like any other personal hobby. We’re still trying to move past lots of the old associated stigmas, especially regarding how women and fans of colour get to participate in fandom. But overall, in terms of access and acceptance, there’s probably never been a better time to be a fan.”

The rise of the fluid fan

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Chapter 3

The ubiquity of fan culture and the growing number of ways to access fandoms have brought about a new type of fan: the fluid fan. Fluid fans are those who embrace multiple fandoms, claiming fan identity no matter how many topics, brands or intellectual properties (IP) they are passionate about. They represent the dominant group in fan culture today.

Being a fan can be a powerful way for individuals define themselves. Sixty-three per cent of fans surveyed said they are proud to be a fan, and 71% agreed that being a fan is cool. Mirroring cultural trends among millennial and Gen Z adults of voicing greater acceptance for multi-faceted identities, fans today feel free to participate in many fandoms. They aren’t just sports fans or just music lovers – they are fans of sports and music and even more.

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Fluid fandom isn’t just surface-level, either. Fans are constantly exploring the variety that lies within each of their passions, and they consider their fandoms to be more than simple hobbies and ways to pass time. Fluid fans find comfort in autonomy and their ability to discover and engage with new content that brings them joy. In short, they believe that there is not just one way to be a fan. As such, they have fewer expectations when it comes to how other fans express their passion.

How fandom serves our fundamental needs

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Chapter 4

For many, fandom is about emotional fulfilment. Beyond entertainment, fandom helps address innate human needs for safety, belonging and esteem. There are many motivating factors that lead individuals to become fans. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed identify escapism (e.g. relaxation, mental health, nostalgia) as a key emotional benefit of fandom, while 46% cite empowerment (e.g. building confidence, finding inspiration), 42% cite identity (e.g. authenticity, reconnection with childhood), and 40% cite community (e.g. strengthening relationships, belonging, making friends).

78%

Different fandoms motivate individuals in different ways. While fluidity in fan culture means individuals can be fans of multiple things at once, it doesn’t mean they find meaning in distinct fandoms in the same way. For example, participating in a video game fandom can better fulfill inward needs, whereas participating in the streetwear and sneaker fandom can better serve external needs.

  • Music is about escape, enjoyment, empowerment and identity. Fans surveyed emphasize emotional motivators such as improving mental health, nostalgia, relaxation/stress relief and sense of purpose.
  • Sci-fi and fantasy are about escape, enjoyment, identity and empowerment. Fans emphasize escaping from the real world, reconnecting with their childhood selves, learning something new and being entertained.
  • Sports are about image, community and empowerment. Fans emphasize bonding with family and friends, being a leader, feeling like they are part of something bigger, and making friends.
  • Streetwear and sneakers are about identity and image. Fans emphasize being perceived well by others, gaining confidence and expressing themselves authentically.
  • Video games are about escape, enjoyment, identity and community. Fans emphasize escaping from the real world, reconnecting with their childhood selves, relaxation/stress relief and making friends.

The rewards of fandom

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Chapter 5

In the same way that different fandoms have distinct motivators, different fandoms also deliver unique benefits to those who participate in them. Surveyed fans said that participating in fandoms has helped them increase their happiness, learn something new, find new content to enjoy, build confidence, and make new friends on- and offline.

“When it comes to the benefits of participating in fan culture and fan communities, it’s not one-size-fits-all,” said Allison McDuffee, head of insights and measurement, Americas, at Twitch. “While being a fan delivers certain general rewards related to identity and belonging, different categories of fandom emphasize different emotional and social benefits, based on the nature of the content or product at the center of the fandom and the unique ways in which fans engage with it. For instance, music can provide greater benefits for self-esteem, while sports could offer its fans a greater sense of community.”

  • Music delivers increased self-esteem and connection, as well as content creation and discovery. Music fans emphasize rewards such as experiencing joy, feeling more confident, and discovering new content to enjoy.
  • Sci-fi and fantasy offer content creation and discovery, connection, and community. Fans emphasize discovering new content to enjoy, joining a fan community, and finding an audience for their original content.
  • Sports provide community, opportunities for entrepreneurship, and knowledge building. Fans emphasize making new friends offline, starting a related business and strengthening existing relationships.
  • Streetwear and sneakers deliver confidence and opportunities for monetization. Fans emphasize feeling more confident and making money (e.g. through sale of merchandise).
  • Video games provide skill development, the ability to forge relationships and opportunities for monetization. Fans emphasize learning new skills, making new friends online and discovering new content to enjoy.

How fans participate in fandoms

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Chapter 6

At a fundamental level, fandom is about connection. Nearly 4 in 5 fans surveyed (79%) discovered their passion through others, such as family, friends, celebrities or public figures. Surveyed fans also reported growth in their fandoms in terms of perceived popularity, the ways in which they can connect with others, and the volume of fan-created content for their enjoyment. With more ways to connect – as well as more individuals to connect with – fan culture is thriving.

79%

Note the terminology there. The idea of fan “culture” has taken on greater importance vs. fan “communities”. For today’s fluid fans, fan culture is more flexible and broader than community, which can be seen as more defined or rigid. While community is a boon for many fans, fan culture allows the individual to decide how they experience that community. In other words, fluid fans interact with fan communities in their own ways, on their own time, and they find enjoyment and fulfillment by seeing participation in fandoms as participation in a shared culture.

Fans use a variety of channels to engage with fandoms. Surveyed fans frequently turn to digital services to be entertained (89%), to learn (85%), to follow their favourite celebrities and content creators (83%), to socialize with other members of their communities (77%), to discover and purchase products related to their interests (64%) and to create content (60%). Naturally, they report different channels and formats cater to different needs.

  • Long-form video: fandom-related entertainment
  • Short-form video: learning about a fandom
  • Livestreaming video: connecting with influencers and experts in the space
  • Social media and discussion forums: socializing with other fans
  • Audio: learning about a fandom and fandom-related entertainment

Why brands should get involved

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Chapter 7

Fandom can last a lifetime. Of surveyed fans, many have been participating in fandoms for a decade or longer. For example, the average self-identified music fan has been engaging with music for nearly 17 years. That means countless hours that could include streaming music, attending concerts and festivals, and discussing new albums and songs with friends on- and offline.

Average length of fan engagement:

  • Music fans: 16.6 years
  • Sci-fi and fantasy fans: 11.2 years
  • Sports fans: 12.4 years
  • Streetwear and sneaker fans: 8.7 years
  • Video game fans: 12.4 years

The extended duration of fandom generates countless opportunities for brands to be present in and contribute to lifelong passions. Fans value that participation from brands: Nearly two-thirds of surveyed fans (62%) feel positively toward brands that have been involved with their fandoms for extended periods of time.

However, brands must engage with empathy and intelligence. Discerning lifelong fans cherish their spaces and can often sniff out ulterior motives. Fifty-four percent of fans surveyed said they can tell when brands advertising in their fandoms are being authentic. When advertisers show up inauthentically, it can interfere with the benefits of fandom for fans – which can result in negative perceptions of the brand.

62%

Rules of engagement for brands

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Chapter 8

Fan culture today is defined by its openness – and this attitude extends to brands. Fans welcome brands that bring value to their passions. In fact, 61% of surveyed fans enjoy seeing brands sponsor or create content related to their fandoms. That includes brands that may not be directly related to a fan category. However, fans expect the brands that participate to display integrity, authenticity, and relevance. Sixty-three per cent of fans surveyed say that any brand can get involved with their fandom as long as they make an effort to understand it. There are three levels of the supporting roles brands can play to help elevate the fan experience:

61%
  • Engage casually. Learn about fandoms and what makes them unique. Gain a better understanding of what aspects of a fandom excite its fans the most, how casual fans participate, what the latest trends in the fandom are and how much fans are willing to spend on their passions. Examples of this engagement level include: exploring different channels and services where fans connect, experimenting with different forms of media to communicate messaging, and collaborating with related content to foster organic reach.
  • Engage actively. Determine the right way for your brand to participate in a fandom. Get involved by thoughtfully creating relevant, unique moments. Examples include sponsoring events, offering exclusive opportunities to fan communities, helping fans meet their favourite icons, sponsoring fan-created content and organizing meetups.
  • Engage creatively. Provide fans with outlets to share their imaginative ideas and help nurture community around user-generated content. Examples include: creating original content, producing fan merchandise and providing resources to help fans create their own content.

Reach fans across Amazon Ads channels

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Chapter 9

With only 4% of surveyed fans saying they would prefer not to see brands get involved with their fandom, there has never been a better time for brands to engage with fan culture. Amazon Ads provides a wide variety of channels, content and devices that can enable brands to creatively participate in fan culture.

Here’s how brands can reach specific fandoms across Amazon:

  • Music fans over-index on their appreciation of deeper artist interaction, physical-world experiences like concerts, and behind-the-scenes access from brands. Audio ads help tell a brand’s story to listeners across exclusive first-party and premium third-party audio content, including Amazon Music’s ad-supported tier. Amazon Music Live gives fans new ways to experience live music and provides brands with innovative ways to show up in those experiences.
  • Sci-fi and fantasy fans over-index on their appreciation of fan-created original content, sponsored fan-created content, and experiential escape. Streaming TV ads can scale brand messages to fans of TV and movies with Amazon Freevee sponsorships aligned to genre and cultural themes, and ad placements in premium third-party streaming TV apps through Amazon Publisher Direct.
  • Sports fans over-index on their appreciation of organized fan meetups, game commentary and fan-athlete interactions. Thursday Night Football, available exclusively on Prime Video, lets fans experience the game how they want with alternative streams offering custom commentary and access to live stats, advanced replays, fan polls and more.
  • Streetwear and sneaker fans over-index on their appreciation of private consultations; insider access; and reviews, tips and tricks from experts. Sponsored Brands ads can help customers discover a brand and its products with creative ads that appear in relevant Amazon shopping results. Amazon Live can inspire and educate audiences in real time through influencer-hosted shoppable livestreams.
  • Video game fans over-index on their appreciation of community, interacting with new technology, and social media with gaming integrations from brands. On Twitch, viewers can see their passions come to life in real time. They can watch vibrant personalities role-play in their favourite digital world or witness skilled e-sports athletes accomplish feats in the most popular competitive games. Working with Twitch’s Brand Partnership Studio, advertisers have access to expert guidance and bespoke integrations to help level up the viewer experience for gamers of all skill levels.
Conclusion

Each day, individuals around the world connect with inspiring artists who fuel their creativity, enjoy captivating content that they can’t put down, and immerse themselves in empowering stories that offer them a sense of community. For many, fandom has become a crucial building block for establishing their identity.

The new era of fandom has lowered barriers of entry and increased access. Embracing fluidity, fans have the freedom to explore as many fandoms as they wish and do so in ways that fulfill their unique needs.

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With an overwhelming majority of fans open to seeing brands getting involved in their fandom, advertisers have an opportunity to join the hype and bring value to fandoms. What should brands remember as they dive into the world of fandom?

  • Demonstrate understanding. Each fandom has its own rules of engagement. Learn how fans interact with their fandoms and how they interact with other members of their fan communities. You don’t need to be an expert, but fans must see some that a brand learned and prepared before entering a new fan space.
  • Show your passion. Fans get excited about the things they love and value authenticity. They want to see genuine passion from brands that enter their spaces.
  • Enhance the experience. Fans are often looking for ways to deepen their engagement with their passions. Surprise and delight fans by giving them creative ways to experience their fandoms, both as individuals and as members of fan communities. Offer fans something they’ve never seen before.

Each fandom is unique, and the approaches brands take as they enter sacred fan spaces should be just as unique. If brands demonstrate authenticity, they can make new fans of their own.

About the research

Amazon Ads and Twitch Ads worked with cultural insights and brand strategy consultancy Crowd DNA to conduct a qualitative and quantitative research study. We employed a robust, multi-pronged approach, gaining an in-depth overview of fan culture in 2023 and the best way for brands to meaningfully – and credibly – engage with fans across music, sci-fi and fantasy, sports, streetwear and sneakers and video game fandoms.

This research was fielded in 12 countries across North America (Canada, U.S.), Latin America (Brazil, Mexico), Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, U.K.), and Asia and the Pacific (Australia, Japan, South Korea). The research methodology included expert interviews, fan focus groups, and a quantitative survey of 12,000 respondents.

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Amazon Ads custom research with Crowd DNA. Anatomy of Hype. Fielded Sep 2022 to Feb 2023. Data reflects AU, BR, CA, DE, ES, FR, IT, JP, MX, SK, UK, and US aggregated. Total n=12,000. Per country n=1,000.