We already discussed how NBC’s Hannibal has its finger on the pulse of fandom, especially regarding how to use fandom to generate buzz while keeping everyone happy. But now the Hannibal social media team has gone and outclassed all other TV social media teams (except maybe ours, on East Los High—and that’s not quite the same demographic) once again, this time with their #Hannibal Did This Tumblr art contest. (The contest name refers to Dr. Lecter’s tendency to do all of the bad things, especially to the show’s hapless protagonist, Will Graham.)
Hannibal has always been fan-aware, and in a sense it has to be: fan campaigning probably helped get the show renewed and certainly established it as a cult hit. But there’s acknowledging fandom, there’s encouraging fandom, and then there’s legitimizing fandom, which is what #Hannibal Did This did, an elegantly timed two weeks before the show returned to the small screen.
#Hannibal Did This invited fanartists to create Hannibal season 2 posters, offering the standard fabulous prize for winners—a free season 1 DVD. If this were any other show, that would be the only thing up for grabs. But this is Hannibal, so the thirteen winners of the #Hannibal Did This art contest (they were selected prior to the show’s season premiere) will each be assigned to create a single piece of art for one of Hannibal season 2’s episodes. This art might be featured on the show or at Comic Con, will certainly be displayed online, and the artists will receive framed, printed posters of their work.
It’s such an exciting and brilliant move that it’s almost difficult to break it down into the component pieces that make it exciting and brilliant. The main one, of course, is that the contest sanctioned and recognized the works of fan creators as having artistic merit in their own right, worthy of official praise. Hannibal essentially said, “Hey, we know you talented folks love to give back to us—why don’t we give something back to you?” And the something was a perfect cocktail of somethings, even though no money changes hands: physical rewards (DVDs, printed copies of art) and exposure for the artists, all while they do something they might well have done anyway for a show they’re so passionate about.
The art contest not only reinforced the notion that the powers-that-be are aware of and totally down with “fannibals” creating derivative works for their show, but also served as a skillful promotional tool since it got everyone to draw Hannibal art again just before the show returned from the hiatus it had been on since June. No doubt, this reminder that the Hannibal Tumblr both sees and likes fanart will only encourage fan creators to produce more of it.
Contrast this contest with Teen Wolf’s attempt at energizing its fandom after season 3A’s finale. Teen Wolf has run walk-on role contests before with no issue, and the Die On Teen Wolf contest, which offered fans an opportunity to die onscreen, shouldn’t have been any different. However, a fandom dissatisfied with 3A watched the contest’s accompanying “In Memoriam” video, which paid tribute to all of the characters that had died on the show, and only saw the internally inconsistent timelines and unnecessary deaths of women and people of color. In other words, the contest tie-in reminded fans of everything they hadn’t liked in season 3A. Hannibal’s call for art, on the other hand, only reminded fans of one of the most praised aspects of the show: its unique visual aesthetic.
A social media team is only as good as its show’s content (see the Teen Wolf example), and it remains to be seen whether Hannibal will retain its edge. Even if it doesn’t, though, anyone interested in promoting a show on Tumblr should follow the example Hannibal is currently setting. Give to fans, and they will give back—Hannibal’s premiere pulled in more viewers than the last five episodes of its previous season, even though NBC moved it to Friday nights. And that is a real result.
“#Hannibal Did This… and So Should Everyone Else,” ©storyalchemy, originally posted March, 2014
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