Things fans will do with animals, YouTube and myspace

The fur has been flying all week long. On line wars, that is, going back and forth between Bears fans and Colts fans. But this bit of silliness really takes the cake:

The perpitrator is a guys named Ryan Hupfer, who works for Media Sauce here in Indianapolis.

Aside from being slightly bent, which he’s proud of by the way, he’s a bit of a Myspace guru. Ryan has journied cross country to meet (and make documentary video) of the people he is meeting through Myspace. He’s also got a book, “Myspace for Dummies.”

Ryan is a Colts fan, and while this video / voting campaign is very silly, I wonder if there is a method to his madness? While he (seemingly innocently) dances around the fringe of absurdity, Ryan is learning a lot about what people like. Notice that over 3,000 votes were cast in this contest in just the first few days.

For whatever reason, SOME people find this exercise in zaniness engaging. They’re playing along and Ryan is soaking in the clicks and the data. This experience could prove valuable as he looks to commercialize his endeavors. I hope he makes lots of money from the book and other things he’s doing…after all, he’s gonna have a big dry cleaning bill when that Colt gets done with that silly bear!

On a related note: There’s nothing like a Super Bowl between two teams with animal mascots to bring out the local creativity. This week I received a call from Endangered Species Chocolate, another Indy based company, who wanted to do a blue and white Colts themed bar for the Super Bowl. (Apparently, they said, that BEARS are an endangered species, so they need to raise money to help!

Each of these “campaigns”, while obviously trying to capitalize on the Colts run to the Super Bowl, are good examples of an important phenomenon which Don Tapscott (Wikinomics) describes as “prosuming”. Our customers (Colts fans) are “consuming” our product (i.e. they’re experiencing our games) AND they’re “producing” entertainment (er, promotion) based on our product. Combine consumer + produce and you get “prosume”.

Prosumers are very messy. They mess with your brand. They mess with your trademarks, and according to Tapscott, they can’t be stopped. Entire industries (e.g. music, movies, TV) are being reshaped by people who grab digital content, mix it up and post it back to the Web in new forms. It’s messy. It’s mostly illegal, but people love doing it.

So what do we do when people start messing with our brands for their own personal enjoyment? Do we call out the lawyers and run up legal bills (i.e. put our fingers in the dike)? Or do we embrace the creative stuff happening around the fringes and watch carefully to see where it leads? Perhaps our customers are telling us something. Perhaps there’s a way we can work WITH our customers / fans to evolve our brands and keep them relevant – and profitable – both despite and because of this new “mashup” phenomenon.

It’s very difficult the get the lawyers to see this stuff as “good”, but we are making strides. Our widget efforts and our social networking platform are steps in the right direction.

Zack is not an employee of the Colts, but he has become a great partner. He was doing these videos anyway, and he’s very sensitive to the fact that we cannot allow real game footage on our site, so he makes his videos “team friendly” and posts them to his Myspace / YouTube pages AND he shares them with us so we can post them on Colts . In the process he’s gained considerable media coverage for himself, and placed the team in a good light with the digerati. We’re not quite sure how close we can or should let our fans into our marketing mix, but Zack is allowing us (forcing us) to think pretty hard about the possibilities.

Next step, get bigger sponsors to see what these guerilla brands already see. Get, Coca Cola, for example, to integrate its brand into our Web platform in engaging ways. Mashup our brands to give Coke the opportunity to connect with Colts fans at the most basic levels. Do “prosumption” on purpose – and FOR PROFIT!