Participatory Fan Marketing, Minus the Fans

Not necessarily about geeks, but it still seemed relevant: the Wall Street Journal has an article online about music fans getting irked that professionals are winning their favorite bands’ fan-made video competitions. (Link via The Morning News.)

Some fans bristle at contestants who don’t appear to love the artists as much as they do. Eric Perry said he wished more die-hard fans had won the Incubus contest. He said he spent about 30 hours editing his own “Dig” video. “Half of me wants to say, ‘Get out! You aren’t welcomed!’ The other half knows that this was a contest,” said the 21-year-old in Shelby, Mich., who has seen the band perform three times and has his cellphone ringtone set to the Incubus song “Favorite Things.”

I imagine this must present something of a complicated dilemma to the people behind these contests. On the one hand, you want to engage your fans, make them feel more connected to the artist; on the other hand, you want to make sure you don’t end up with a lousy video, and contests of this kind typically produce pretty lousy results unless your reward is great enough to lure in pros.

I would think that the best bet of the people running such contests would be to either disallow professional entries or to do their own video alongside the contest and avoid a single “winner,” giving smaller prizes to a more diverse pool of fans. That way you get around the issue of the promo being co-opted for something it never openly claimed to be: a pitch process for spec work, which some professional communities consider unethical for anything less than multimillion dollar contracts.

Of course, the problem with both of these options is that it’s quite possible that the people running the contests do want them to be a pitch process for spec work under the flimsy guise of fan community outreach. In this case, perhaps fans are quite justified in feeling irate, and may have better luck screening fan-made films on their own terms, as various geeky fan communities (Star Wars fan films, anime music videos, etc.) have been doing for a while.