The original version of this article was published in Adweek. This is the deep dive with pics and charts because we all know I love me some charts.
D&D. MCU. Hall H. Naruto. LoL. If you know any of these terms, chances are you’re a nerd. If you don't know these terms, chances are you'll learn about them soon.
Nerd culture has gone mainstream, making it easier than ever for brands to take part in this trend. It has also flipped the conversation about nerds from the basement-dwelling, Steve Urkle glasses-wearing, introverted and awkward stereotype, to a badge of honor.
According to Imgur, 60% of millennials consider themselves a nerd, and they're proud of it.
So, what has contributed to the growth of nerd culture?
There are many factors, but a few that stand out are the rise in nerd movies, shows and games, celebrity involvement, and sites and conventions that have created online and IRL places to geek out with like-minded nerds.
These have spawned even more love for the category, which in turn brings more nerds into the fold—feeding on itself, growing bigger and stronger like the demogorgons do. Just look at these stats:
17 of the top 25 grossing movies fall into the fantasy or sci-fi genres, eleven of which were released in the past five years. Comic book sales hit an all-time high in 2018, reaching nearly $1.1B.
People streamed 560B minutes of Twitch last year and you can now major in esports. Fandom, a site solely dedicated to nerd culture, has a massive following of 200MM monthly unique visitors worldwide.
GP plays Pepper Potts, Kanye raps about anime and Karlie Kloss launched a coding camp for teen girls.
It's no surprise then that in a little over a decade, New York Comic-Con attendance has increased 7.5x, bringing in 250K+ fans to Javits in NYC. If anyone is going this weekend, plz send pics of your cosplay.
Stranger Things S3, which shattered Netflix’s records, not only catapulted nerd culture into the cool-sphere but also contributed to the growth of other nerd elements, like Dungeons & Dragons.
D&D is a game played by the kids throughout the show and I find it to be no coincidence that search interest for the game started to grow nearly the same time Season 1 launched in July 2016.
Why do nerds matter? Because they are your new whitespace.
Brands, especially non-nerd ones, should take a look under their data hood because they might be surprised to find nerd audiences cropping up in their fanbases. This could be a major untapped opportunity and a way to differentiate from your competitors.
You may think nerds are turned off by non-nerd brands engaging with them. However, according to Imgur, over half of them say they think highly of brands when they participate in their communities.
New Balance, famous for their “dad shoe,” is a great example of this. To connect with their nerd audience, they created an original manga for a new shoe drop, telling the valiant story of how it came to be.
Le Creuset, a premium French cookware brand, recently launched a collab with Star Wars. For everyone out there hankering for a Darth Vader dutch oven or Droid mini cocottes, today is your day.
Luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton just announced they are making a trophy case for the esports League of Legends (LoL) world championship, an honor typically reserved for traditional sports.
Nerds are passionate, but more importantly, they’re committed.
Their depth of commitment is shocking. For instance, during a focus group for Netflix and Marvel's The Defenders, one participant shared that although he hated Suicide Squad, he saw it four times (I REPEAT, FOUR TIMES!) to make sure he caught all of the Easter eggs.
Nerds are also your fast track to fame.
Move over, jocks. It’s cool to be a nerd now, and they wield major influence. Nerds live and breathe Reddit, Twitter and Imgur, making them a powerful force within meme and internet culture.
According to Fandom, three in four fans share content about their fandoms and two in three create their own fan content.
If you want the real scoop on a new game release, tech product or superhero movie, just ask the nerds—they’re Consumer Reports meets IMDb. If you can get into their inner circle, it can pay off in big ways.
How can brands leverage nerd culture? Know your nerd and their level of fandom.
Fandom is a great starting place to identify your nerd type, ranging from mass communities like MCU to niche ones like Naruto.
As nerd culture continues to grow, hardcore nerds will burrow deeper, creating more obscure subcultures to keep a sacred space for themselves. Not everyone wants to go unshowered for days to get into Hall H.
A word to the wise: The deeper the fan, the more authenticity matters. Don’t get the facts wrong or they’ll roundhouse kick you to the curb.
Nerds have an experiential expectation, which is your greatest opportunity.
The bad news? Two-thirds of nerds are blocking your ads. The good news? You are forced to ditch the boring banner and create an experience that connects with this group.
A brand that executed this flawlessly was Wendy’s grand-prix winning Fortnite food fight against freezers, racking up 1.5 million minutes of watch time and a 119% increase in mentions across all platforms.
Old Spice took a different approach by orchestrating the first-ever sponsored weightlifting Twitch stream. They put their deodorant to the test on fitness legend Bajheera, while his wife smelled for results. The outcome was a 29% purchase intent lift, one of the highest Old Spice has seen.
If the mass audience doesn’t get it, you’re doing it right.
Look no further than Arby’s Twitter. They spend hours crafting anime videos using their packaging, like the Thousand Sunny ship sailing on a sea of curly fries below from the anime One Piece, which took 30 hours to build and animate. Many people have no clue what they’re referencing, but that’s exactly the point.
Arby’s wooed nerds (and aliens) further with their promise of a special menu drop at Area 51, driving a Twitter engagement rate three times over benchmark and grabbing major headlines that led to over 1 million earned media impressions.
What does this all mean? To truly market to nerds, be a nerd. Love what they love and speak their language. Especially since this language is now spoken by upwards of 50 million people.