The Dark Side of Brand-Fan Relationships: Lessons From Twilight and Fifty Shades

The Dark Side of Brand-Fan Relationships: Lessons From Twilight and Fifty Shades

Margo Buchanan-Oliver (The University of Auckland, New Zealand), Hope Jensen Schau (University of Arizona, USA) and Alexander Schau (Filene Research Institute, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch021

Abstract

Global media brand Twilight and its fan-created brand extension, Fifty Shades, speak to female consumers who enter into fantastic and corporeal relationships with their market manifestations (books, films, soundtracks, merchandising, and consumption communities). Twilight's narrative encompasses the psychological power and socio-cultural allure of the ‘monstrous' vampire myth, enabling a spectrum of relational positions from devoted fans to addictive, compulsive, and transgressive behaviors. Fifty Shades as an iterative narrative embeds the plot and characters of Twilight into the ‘monstrous' context of the BDSM underworld. This chapter unpacks consumers' relational positions to Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. The authors discuss tensions and paradoxes which underpin female consumption of these powerful brands. The chapter demonstrates disturbing dimensions of consumer-brand relationships which impact not only the imaginative lives but the physical lives of fans.
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Introduction

Monstrous bodies are the remarkable presences that appear as signs of civic omen, or trauma, and which demand interpretation: they offer a bit of each, apocalypse as well as utopia. (Ingebretsen, 2001, p. 39).

Relationships are purposive, involving at their core the provision of meaning to the persons who engage them…Relationships are multiplex phenomena: they range across several dimensions and take many forms… in response to contextual change… [brand relationship is] a vibrant psycho-socio-cultural construal. (Fournier, 2009, pp. 5, 9, 15, 19)

Twilight is a global media brand chronically the experiences of human teenager, Bella Swan, and her 105-year-old vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen, as their epic love is challenged by parents, adolescent politics, mythical beasts, apocalyptic conflict and impending genocide. It is a bonafide market sensation with the notorious distinction of spawning its own fan-created brand extension, Fifty Shades of Grey. With the help of a commercial marketing behemoth this fan-authored and web disseminated Twilight homage, follows an unassuming college coed, Anastasia Steele, through her infatuation with handsome young billionaire entrepreneur, Christian Grey, and her initiation into the sexual subculture of BDSM (bondage/disciple sadistic/masochistic). Originally posted on a fan fiction website in installments, Fifty Shades, the published trilogy and film franchise, went on to build its own passionate fan base extending and morphing the Twilight appeal. These brands predominantly speak to female consumers who enter into both fantastic and corporeal relationships with their market manifestations (books, films, soundtracks, merchandising, and consumption communities).

Twilight’s brand narrative reifies the psychological power and socio-cultural allure of the ‘monstrous’ vampire myth. The historical familiarity and widespread diffusion of the vampire trope enables a range of behaviors to readily surface in Twilight consumers. This branded and culturally accessible narrative offers consumers a spectrum of relational positions from casual brand user to devoted Twilight fan, known in the brand universe as a Twi-hard, arousing addictive, obsessive, and transgressive behaviors. One particularly transgressive fan reimagined Twilight’s intersection of mythological and human beings in the ominously dreary context of the US Pacific Northwest as a mainstream foray into an underground sexual subculture of BDSM. This fan-created brand extension leveraged contingents of the Twilight fan community, forging a new, more mundane ‘monstrous’ global market phenomenon that further reveals a dark side of fandom with considerably more opportunities for fans to mirror the narrative.

The consumer’s relational position to these interrelated brands is the subject of this study. We discuss the tensions and paradoxes which underpin female consumption of these powerful brands. We demonstrate disturbing byproducts of consumer-brand relationships (Fournier 1998) which impact not only the imaginative but physical lives of Twilight and Fifty Shades fans. Ultimately, we extend current thinking on the spectrum of fan behaviors, and comment on antithetical, ideological dimensions of consumer-brand relationships (Fournier, 1998).

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