Monday, December 08, 2008

We Are Sterling Cooper - Fans as stakeholders

You may have heard about the controversy about We Are Sterling Cooper earlier in the year, but if not, here is a summary:

- Fans of the TV show Mad Men started to set up twitter accounts purporting to be the characters, and started to interact with fans
- The show's producers/owners got very nervous, and persuaded twitter to remove the accounts
- Fans protested, and the accounts got re-instated
- One of the twitter users, Bud Cadell, set up the site We Are Sterling Cooper to collate all of the conversations around this, and discuss the issues

...& now Bud has released his report on what happened, and the implications for brands in the digital age. Many related what was happening to Fan Fiction, but Bud argues that it is more than that - it's about the whole relationship between fans and creators.

Bud makes the point that posting as a character on twitter is really no different than re-enacting favourite TV scenes in the office the day after, and that brands need to be aware that the audience also have a powerful stake.

As Bud concludes:

"Crowds will always congregate around a flame, but how long it burns and how it is carried into the rest of the world will rely on that relationship. Some writers already have different attitudes about their own creation. Michael Chabon, author of Kavalier & Clay, has said “I came to realize that everything I do is fan fiction. I think everything that we all do, all fiction, is fan fiction in that you are always inspired to write by things that you love. So much of writing for me is about finding a way to convey my own love of other writersʼ work.” If we begin to see all works as an extension of what has come before, we begin to appreciate something like Mad Men on Twitter for what it is, a story. It should be judged as a piece of entertainment and art; for how well it engages an audience and what it has to say about a changing world. We shouldnʼt threaten fans with legal notices and we shouldnʼt isolate them. We should cultivate the relationships weʼre either lucky or gifted to have and help them with their expression of their fandom. Brands should offer as much content in as many types to its audiences with the hope that they feel compelled to rearrange them and add novel elements to tell their own stories. We fight to insert ourselves in the conversations of real people, and that is exactly what happened with the Mad Men characters on Twitter. If we cling to this sense that we are the sole owner of creative work, weʼll continue to isolate that work from the actual world and the human beings we work to affect. In truth, we are all Sterling Cooper."

Head over to WASC to download it and read it.

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