In the context of a so-called content glut, carving out a fandom and converting fickle audiences into loyal fans has never been so crucial in keeping up engagement, boosting views, and beating out the competition. But the first step in creating and connecting with fans is understanding today’s youngest generation of fans and why they love what they love.
For anyone in the kids business looking to create content for fans, attract, or even more importantly, maintain fans, here we take a look at who or what is earning children’s dedication, the qualities that inspire fandom, and fan practices that children engage in.
For the last edition of Playground Buzz, UK research agency Childwise asked 1,684 UK children ages seven to 17 a series of questions on fandom. The study reveals that the majority of children (65%) across the age range self-identify as a fan of something or someone, but what are the objects of their fandom?
Inspiring kids’ fandom
“Inspiring” is one of the qualities children most frequently mention when describing their fan object. Ariana Grande fans (tween girls) are inspired by her strength and resilience following the Manchester attack in 2017. Fans of PewDiePie (tween boys) are inspired because he’s “self-made” and came from nothing, while Billie Eilish fans (teen girls) say she’s inspirational because she came from humble beginnings and found international success at just 16.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s fanbase (boys ages seven to 17) admit they’re fans of him because he’s the “best in the world” and therefore deserving of their fandom. Unsurprisingly, the concept of “being the best” also comes up in relation to football clubs such as Liverpool FC which appears in children’s top ten fan objects.
Squads, tribes, and fan armies
In recent years, fanbase nicknames have become ubiquitous, with tribe names created even for niche acts with small fanbases or emerging talent that have barely had the chance to develop one. These branded, factionalized fan identities play a key role in creating and supporting the sense of community young fans treasure, helping to foster a sense of belonging through a group identity. Membership in squads is most common among teen girls, with claims of being an Arianator (Ariana Grande fan) or being in the BTS (pictured above) ARMY. Even without an official moniker, fans still find belonging and community—some Marvel fans revel in their shared identity as self-proclaimed “nerds.”
I liked that before it was cool
For kids today, some of the biggest franchises in the world are older than they are, so when they say they’ve loved them “since forever,” it’s actually possible they have. Fans of both Harry Potter and Marvel claim they’ve loved them since they were tiny, with their fandom becoming an intrinsic part of their identity and childhood. Among football fans, a large proportion claim they were born into the fandom, inheriting the team they support from a parent or grandparent by way of a family tradition. Meanwhile, fans of Little Mix, Ariana Grande, and Billie Eilish claim they were “there from the start,” positioning themselves as original fans who discovered them before the mainstream caught on – a common claim in fan communities which works to stratify and rank fans.
Values and principles
In accounting for their fandom, fans of both Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish refer to “what they stand for”—the values and principles of their favorite star. While Grande is openly supportive of LGBTQ rights, Eilish has condemned the glamorization of drugs, and both women are vegans and have spoken out about their mental health difficulties. In particular, Eilish fans appreciate her “be yourself” attitude, finding that it encourages them to do the same and worry less about what other people think about them.
Fans as consumers
Fans across the whole spectrum of interests, from music, to sport, to YouTube refer to the merchandise they own in their explanations of why they’re a fan. While the act of consumption functions as an important activity through which fans interact with and perform their dedication to their fan object, wearing branded merchandise such as a Liverpool football kit, a Morgz hoodie, or an Ariana perfume publicly identifies one as a fan. Claims of watching all the Marvel movies, knowing all the lyrics to Little Mix songs, or watching everything involving BTS function similarly in terms of signalling a fan identity.
Fans have always mattered, but industry recognition of fans’ value and importance has only gathered pace in the last few years. Using the language of fandom and catering to fan interests is a good starting point, but if you want to tap into the power of fandom and create a fan-centric brand, truly understanding fan culture and building a reciprocal relationship with the fanbase will make for the strongest foundation.
Helena Dare-Edwards holds a PhD in Fan Studies and is Senior Research Manager at Childwise, a leading specialist in research with children and young people. Playground Buzz is a termly tracking report based on a sample of around 1,500 children and young people aged 7-17 surveyed individually in schools. For more information, visit Childwise.co.uk