An interesting thing happened at the intersection of social media and pop culture the other day. I had heard that Denny’s was doing really well on social media, one of the mainstream brands that has really managed to tap into the humor and power of the ever desirable demographic of “young people with enough money to have smart phones”–or at least fairly regular internet access.
On Friday I saw this cleverness in action, when a fan tweeted this to the corporate account:
hey @DennysDiner here's your mascot pic.twitter.com/GKmEDMV5PM
— ｗｅｅｐｙ ！！ (@weepysweetmonty) August 15, 2013
In case you don’t know, that character is from the extremely popular anime currently airing called Attack on Titan. She’s also known as “Potato Girl” and is associated with, obviously, potatoes. That’s why it was so amusing when Denny’s responded back with:
— Denny's (@DennysDiner) August 15, 2013
It’s clever to the point of brilliant. This simple juxtaposition of Potato Girl with a plate of hashbrowns is funny, while also showing their understanding of and thus participation in this insider culture of a reasonably niche market. While anyone who doesn’t watch the show or know the character is unlikely to understand or care, those that do will likely react strongly simply by nature of feeling included and “in on the joke”.
It’s clear how strong the reaction has been, with over 2,000 retweets at the time of this post. Denny’s generally has strong fan engagement, as mentioned above, but most of their twitter photos seem to have 5-20 retweets. 100 times that is really knocking it out of the park!
Of course, there is some question about the grey area of legality in this case. After all, Japanese companies are known for very aggressively protecting their intellectual property rights, something that I learned about first hand during my tenure as president of Otakorp Inc., the company that puts on Otakon, an annual convention focusing on Japanese popular culture. (I’m sure that our IP lawyer might have an interesting opinion on this particular event!)
Discussions broke out on twitter, and a number of interesting points were brought up.
First off, let me say that I think that fanart is a powerfully important cultural force that has been in action for hundreds and even thousands of years (I love the argument that many art classics are essentially “fanart” of the Bible.)
I also think that it is one of the best promotional tools that you can have–if someone cares about your story enough to create something themselves? And then share it with their friends? That’s powerful. There are a number of movies, shows or series that I’ve engaged with as a result of seeing interesting fanart popping up from artists I follow.
Of course, this isn’t quite fanart, as it’s unlikely that the person behind the twitter wheel at Denny’s drew that likeness of the character. Especially since this has pretty clear commercial implications, there’s a real question as to whether or not this falls under Fair Use–perhaps as satire? Here‘s a handy little primer on some copyright considerations in this area.
One interesting aspect of this whole thing was that during the conversation that came up on twitter, a number of people jumped in, aggressively defending Denny’s and saying to just “Relax,” “chill,” and even some surprisingly personal attacks. While that sort of thing is never unexpected on the internet, it really spoke to just how strong Denny’s fan engagement actually is, if people are willing to jump in and be so defensive on their behalf, unprompted.
Overall, I think it was a very savvy social media move, and really showed how well Denny’s interacts with their fans on a number of levels. It was funny, it was timely, and it was simple but nicely done. I’m quite impressed with Denny’s, and I’m sure they gained a number of new fans after this. I do have to wonder if they’ll be receiving a Cease & Desist letter from Japan, but then again, maybe this won’t even get on various rights holders’ radars. What do you think, cool move, or crossing the boundaries of copyright?
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