Imagine you are being on vacation and struggling with boredom. After cleaning up and searching for books that you are not likely to read, you still feel bored. Hoping to fix that, you turn on the TV looking for something fun to watch. Surfing the channels, you come across an audition program and put down the remote control. Hearing someone says 'National Producer, please pick me now!', you become lost in thought: Is it true that I can be a producer? Quickly, you pick your favorite trainee from the Internet site. Each day after that, you hope that your pick can make a debut. You watch the show daily, even if you are busy. The competition grows tougher, so you start to join a fan fund-raising for your pick and waste much of your saved rainy day money.
What is 'Fansumer'?
Nowadays, people who are described above in the imagined scenario are called as 'fansumer'. Fansumer is a coined expression that comes from the words 'fan' and 'consumer', and it was first introduced by Seoul National University's Consumer Trend Research Institute. Fansumers deviate from the typical one-sided consumption pattern whereby consumers make choices after assessing a set of alternatives. They are engaging in a two-way consumption pattern, where consumers present opinions and make purchase. They also invest directly in the development process of goods and services and participates willingly in the manufacturing process by expressing their opinions. In short, fansumers feel proud of the fact that they were involved in the development of the brand, product, or star. In the past, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) products were popular among Koreans because they were not only making a purchase, also sensing the pride while assembling the product. That DIY culture is the foundation of today's fansuming culture. Nowadays consumers are involved in broader areas. Fansumers are taking charge of consumption and supply, and are heavily involved with self-promotion as well. These fansumers are proud to call their effort and work 'by-me'. Over time, fansumers' movements will be explained using 'by consumer' not 'with consumer' as they increase.
The impact of fansumers has grown and has become more diversified. Crowd-funding is outstanding area in which fansumers are taking an active role. Released in 2019, the movie <KIM JI-YOUNG, BORN 1982> was the result of production and marketing fundraising on the signature online crowd-funding platform "Wadiz". Luckily, SMT could interview a person who was in the crowd-funding. The person, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she heard that anyone could participate in funding for some movies including <KIM JI-YOUNG, BORN 1982>. She added, "I was a fan of the original book, so I hoped the story of the book to be known for many people. That was the reason I joined in the funding. Through this funding, I felt like being a movie producer as well as an investor. It was great for me to support my favorite book and movie. If there is another good opportunity again, I want to participate in crowd-funding." It was a fond experience for her. As this example shows, fansumers are expanding their consumption influence by working in various fields.
When does a fan become a fansumer?
What has made a fansumer become ever increasingly more influential? The fansuming culture begins with 'consumption for self-belief'. In 2017, a research institution that examines the trends of people in their twenties, UNIVTOMORROW, presented 'consumption for self-belief' as a trend keyword. The phrase refers to consumption that occurs because a personal standard of judgment not because of any stereotype or by comparing to what others are doing. This pattern of consumption can be commonly viewed as ethical consumption. When one's own value is consistent with the company, consumption is supported, otherwise, a product or service will be boycotted. For instance, to help Japanese military sexual slavery victims, consumers buy goods from Heeum and Marymond. Mok Junga, Division of Business Administration '19, said, "I often buy Marymond products. I like the idea that others are helped by my purchases. Even though Marymond products are a little more expensive than other products, I’m willing to pay the extra cost because I know the money goes to help others." As if Mok does, many people are in the practice of 'consumption for self-belief'. According to UNIVTOMORROW, 86.5% of Koreans in their twenties are willing to pay extra for their ethical values.1) It shows consumers' choices are no longer cost-effective, but cost-value. Given that fansumers are voluntarily consuming a valued product, it may be said that 'consumption for self-belief' was the start of fansumer culture.
The second reason is that it has become easier to use the Internet. Unlike in the past when one-sided media such as television and radio were common, it is now natural to promote things through interactive media. Following the trend, companies have begun to focus their efforts on operating social media accounts. Coca-Cola Korea now actively operates a number of Twitter accounts. On Twitter, Coca-Cola regularly tweets about its upcoming events. Twitter users can participate in the events easily by simply replying with a designated hashtag. Event winners are presented a box of Coca-Cola products. On an event day, designated hashtags are released real-time on Twitter in Korea. This example shows how the promotion using social media is influential and makes consumers close to companies. Moreover, use of social media is important because it allows companies to receive real-time feedback. Fansumers respond immediately to posts from companies they have interest. If there are rude or inappropriate expressions in the posts, fansumers unite quickly and ask the company to reply. Last year, fansumers asked for a comment from the convenience store CU because some impolite words for a promotion were directed at a celebrity. Fans of the celebrity demanded the advertisement be revised. Harsh criticism coming from fansumers made CU immediately remove the expression and apologize to consumers on its website. This is one example of instant change thanks to fansumers.
The last reason is because of deep-rooted fandom culture. Fandom culture involves collecting items or enthusiastically rooting for a company or a celebrity. In the past, Koreans who were solely interested in one area were disdainfully treated and called Otaku, but today this prejudice has almost disappeared. Based on this fandom culture, fansumers are often seen gathering in groups after getting familiar on a social media. As a group they have a great influence that cannot be ignored. Fansumers are strong stakeholders in fandom culture and work together with others with a strong sense of solidarity. For example, fandom culture leads to the success of films featuring a female narrative; they have become movie box-office successes. The fandom tries to hold group-watching events or book front row seats that people usually don't sit on. Especially, the concept of fandom is also the strongly viewed in Korean cheering culture, for idols, musical stage performers, and movie or TV actors. Fandom is often criticized as their blind love and support, for instance, fans will spend much money on gift preparation, however, meaningful spending is on the rise these days. This new fansumer direction involves giving or doing something in the name of the celebrity. One idol group fan, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, "After watching my favorite singer donate to a worthy cause, I started to make donations, too. I am proud of my effort. Last year, I donated to victims of Gangneung forest fires and Japanese military sexual slavery." This person and other like her are continually expanding fandom culture, which has made it become mainstream and as it increases so does the influence of the fansumer.
Big change by fansumers
With the growth in 'consumption for self-belief', active use of the Internet, and establishment of fandom culture, fansumers have been multiplied. As a result, fansuming is more common than ever but a variety of changes have occurred. Unlike ordinary consumers, fansumers actively give feedback to companies on products. One of the most remarkable roles fansumers played was connected with the idol audition program <PRODUCE 101>. This program is made of 4 series which 101 idol trainees of each serise debut as a group of 11 members. On the show, fansumers are referred to as ‘national producers’ and play a huge role in deciding whether a trainee goes on to the next level to become an idol group member or is eliminated. Fansumers do this through online and text voting. Fansumers voluntarily promote and attract the attention of others for their favorite trainee. These types of show make fansumers feel they are also the part of the process of deciding who becomes the next most popular Korean idol. Fansumers are also playing active roles in the food industry. Bibimmen is an instant noodle brand, that are mixed with a spicy seasoning without broth. One netizen wrote on the internet, "One Bibimmen is not enough, but I get stuffed when I eat two. Why don't they make a 1.5 portion size?" The comment received a lot of interest and sympathy. Consumers started to call out for the company to launch a larger size. In response to the demand, the company officially launched the 'One and a Half Pack' in 2017.2) In other words, fansumers are actively involved in the success of various products and making positive changes.
On the other hand, however, there has been criticism towards the participation of fansumers as it encourages excessive fandom culture. Through <PRODUCE 101>, four idol groups were made which names were I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ*ONE, and X1. Fansumers had to pay 100 won for each text message vote. They also advertised their favorite trainee on the subway and bus, hoping that the trainee would make a debut. However, this cheering culture has resulted in excessive consumption. According to Seoul Metro, the number of subway idol advertisements has nearly doubled to 1,038 in 2017 from only 542 in 2016. This occurred during the second season of <PRODUCE 101>. Subway LED advertisements cost between 800,000 won to 7,000,000 won. <PRODUCE 101> is a competition TV show, so if one fansumer buys an advert for their trainee, another fansumer will buy an advertisement for their favorite trainee, too. This behavior consequently leads to excessive consumption by fansumers.
Fansumers have also caused a number of negative effects along with the positive effects. Fansumers, though, are trying their best to self-purify those negative effects. Recently, <PRODUCE 101> series was revealed that it was changing its candidate ranking policy by adjusting the number of texting votes. Suspicion was raised among fansumers claiming that votes for trainees in the top 20 would be multiples of 7,494.442. Ranking manipulation is considered unethical by all consumers, so the TV show should not ignore the legitimate outcome of paid votes. Therefore, fansumers organized called for a 'PRODUCE X Truth Investigation Commission' to find out the real truth behind the change. This action by fansumers forced police to investigate Mnet, which broadcasts <PRODUCE 101>. Mnet had to publicly admit its attempt to manipulate votes and offered the public a formal apology. This example shows that fansumers are more highly sensitive to wrongdoings than in the past and will work hard to resolve any concerns they have. Fansumers have also campaigned for the proper consumption of copyright items. EBS character Pengsoo, which is loved by millennials, was mass produced and purchased voluntarily by fansumers. However, Pengsoo's popularity lead to the creation and selling of products which is not authorized by EBS. Instead of consuming these illegal products, fansumers made an effort to engage in ethical consumption by notifying the authorities about the illegal Pengsoo products. Fansumers are making voluntary efforts to ensure proper consumption of brand products by participating directly in the production cycle.
Yes, you can be a fansumer
Fansumers are not unique. They are ordinary consumers who wish to actively participate in the process of production by giving constructive feedback. Therefore, anyone can become a fansumer. Fansumers are having a huge impact on supply as well as consumption, which has resulted in a two-way pattern of consumption-supply. This phenomenon breaks the boundaries between consumers and suppliers, creating a new pattern of consumption in which anyone can become a creator and a consumer. When fansumers practice caution and do not excessively fansume by practicing ethical consumption, they will create the new consumer fit for today’s rapidly changing modern society.
1) Research Institutes for People in Their Twenties in UNIVTOMORROW, <Survey of Twenty-Year-Old's Value Consumption Trends in 2015>
2) Cha Jinhwan, "Listen to the Evolving Consumer Culture of 'Fansumer'" Daily GOOD NEWS, December 3, 2019
Kim Lee Hyunmin / Editor-in-Chief
Ahn Ha Yura / Culture Section Editor