Wendy A. F. G. Stengel

Synergy and Smut:

The Brand in Official and Unofficial

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Communities of Interest

(1) Tee-shirts. Posters. Teen magazines. Soundtrack CDs. The television marketer’s saddlebag is full of cross-promotional consumables, all aimed at building loyalty to the brand of the show. This is hardly a new phenomenon; children in the 1950s wore Davy Crockett coonskin caps and carried Howdy Doody lunchboxes. Indeed, in Hollywood Planet: Global Media and the Competitive Advantage of Narrative Transparency, Scott R. Olsen writes that the features in a media product which lead to cross-promotion—or synergy—are required to ensure competitive advantage in the global market place.

(2) Copyright holders are notoriously protective of their intellectual property.[1] With the growth of the Internet, it is not surprising that shows are trying to use website chat, email lists, and the like for cross-promotional, brand-building opportunities. If fans want a place to discuss the brand, who better to provide a community space than the brand owner? With that logic in mind, many shows have provided threaded discussion lists (either via email or web bulletin board) and chat capabilities on their official websites. The official communities of interest provide frequent hosted chats with actors and writers from the shows, post a wealth of photographs and plot summaries, and have legitimacy on their side.

(3) What is surprising, however, is how non-affiliated persons are using the same Internet technologies to participate in unofficial—yet still branded—communities of interest. This phenomenon is revealed by examining two communities of interest for the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, one official, The Bronze, once found at http://www.buffy.com [Editors’ note: buffy.com officially closed in July 2001 with the move of Buffy from the WB to UPN], and one unofficial, The Codex, found at http://www.planetx.com/buffy/. Comparing the methods of discourse employed at each site, the topics discussed, and the apparent norms of each community shows how each community strengthens the competitive advantage of the show, even when the discussion seems subversive and dangerous to family-oriented—or, at least, advertiser-driven—producers.

(4) Comparing communities of interest is tricky business. Though one can make generalized guesses about the participants, it is difficult without a survey device to determine solid demographic information. Appearances are all one has to rely on. The Bronze participants appear to be younger, use more “net speak,