“Unveil Vietnamese Fandom”: Hakuhodo Vietnam Group reveals its latest research

Jun. 1, 2023
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Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living ASEAN (HILL ASEAN)’s Vietnam Group recently presented its latest research project, “Unveil Vietnamese Fandom—Why this new emerging culture matters to brands,” revealing deep insights on Vietnam’s growing interest in fandoms. HILL is a think tank specializing in sei-katsu-sha* research. The first institute was established in Tokyo in 1981, followed by HILL Shanghai in China in 2012 and HILL ASEAN in Bangkok, Thailand in 2014.

Fandoms have been on the rise in Vietnam, developing and expanding in exciting new ways. So what exactly is a fandom, and why are Vietnamese people so passionate about them? Two members of the Hakuhodo Vietnam Group—Nguyen Do Thanh, Strategic Planning Director, and Kanto Inada, Communication Designer—share key findings from the research, as well as how this knowledge can help brands.

Some people may think that a “fandom” refers to the collective fans of, for instance, a certain star or a movie franchise. How has the concept evolved?

THANH: The basic definition of a fandom that we’re talking about here is “a group of people who want to share and bond through a common passion or admiration that can influence lifestyles and life values.” We say they are “new,” but actually they are “newly discovered” rather than “newly occurring.”

Could you explain the difference between communities and fandoms?

KANTO: Communities and fandoms are essentially on the same continuum, and we consider a fandom to be an evolution of a community. However, there is a distinction between the two, and the clearest criterion is whether or not belonging to them can be part of a person’s identity.

Please tell us more about this identity aspect.

KANTO: As part of our research, we asked participants to select photos that represent their life, and we observed clear differences between those who belong to fandoms and those who do not. Those in fandoms often chose their fandom activity as the representation of their life, suggesting there are aspects of their identities that cannot be captured by demographics.

The rise of fandoms in Vietnam

How have fandoms been changing in Vietnam specifically?

THANH: Fandoms started during the social media boom as small, fragmented hobby groups, which made it easier for Vietnamese people to express themselves and to connect with like-minded people. Then during the pandemic, people had more down time, and felt bored and isolated, so they began spending more time on their personal aspirations and trying to connect to people with similar interests. That set the foundation for fandoms to expand after the pandemic.

What are some other underlying factors for why fandoms are becoming a new consumption trend?

THANH: Some of the key factors include: More disposable income brings opportunity for an aspirational lifestyle; people’s realization since the pandemic of their need for personal holistic growth beyond their family and career; a collectivist culture in Vietnam that favors connection; and finally, people seeking a space to escape the stresses of modern life.

Would you say this is unique to Vietnam due to its young population?

THANH: Based on our observations, the emergence of fandoms is not related to age. Vietnam is a collectivist country where people love to support each other, and the act of supporting is the basis for building relationships. So, I would say that an altruistic spirit is deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture, giving fandoms the ideal environment in which to flourish.

Living your best life—in a fandom

Do fandom activities have to be virtual, or can they take place in person?

THANH: Actually, it’s both! We could say that virtual platforms enable people to join in and have discussions, while in-person meet ups, at big events or smaller regular ones, are where people bond and grow together on a deeper level. Just as one example, consider people in a car adventure fandom group. They have weekly coffee sessions where they engage with each other as friends, and monthly trips together to explore new places recommended by a member. And they even hang out at garages to fix or tune up their cars together.

How does someone’s alternative life in a fandom differ from their ordinary daily life?

THANH: There are three main differences and benefits to fandom life:

  • Firstly, in their ordinary life, people have to fulfill certain responsibilities, and may not be able to talk and act how they really want to without judgment. In their “alternative life” in their fandom, however, they’re responsible only for their personal goals.
  • Next, a common scenario in Vietnam is that, aside from old friends and family, people tend to hang out mostly with those who work in the same field. But in their fandom, they can meet up with those who walk an entirely different path in life—and people love it!
  • And thirdly, in a fandom, people have friend-like relationships and they bond through their common interest in their fandom life. In ordinary life, people are bound together through what we call an “exchange of benefits.” That is, you do something for me and I do something for you in return. But in a fandom, it’s purely about enjoying something together because you are both passionate about it.

Marketing implication—what brands can learn from fandoms

What do the HILL Vietnam findings on fandoms mean for brands?

KANTO: We learned that fandoms thrive on providing unexpected intangible benefits to their members. We conclude that Vietnamese fandoms can be defined as “unexpected self-establishment opportunity providers.” The unexpected opportunities for growth that come from participating in fandoms and lead to self-establishment are crucial. We see this virtuous circle as the essence of fandoms. We believe that brands can learn from this and create similar unexpected growth opportunities for their fans and users.

What recommendations do you have for brands?

KANTO: Fandoms thrive on what we call “planned unexpectancy.” People join fandoms with a passion for their interest and to enrich their lives. They then gain unexpected experiences and knowledge inside their fandom, and have opportunities for personal growth. Fandoms eventually help people establish themselves through such ongoing self-improvement. Those who have had these experiences, whether consciously or not, become more deeply engaged with their fandom and help to expand its community.

To help brands create this planned unexpectancy, we suggest that brands:

  • Create a sense of co-ownership of the brand, fostering an environment where individuals perceive themselves as esteemed participants who actively contribute to the brand’s development.
  • Establish a shared purpose with people by fostering a mutual understanding of objectives and values between individuals and the brand.
  • Create a sense of bonding that motivates people to invite others in by establishing both short-term and long-term goals for growth.

There are many ways to create planned unexpectancy, so if you’re interested in using this approach to promote the continued growth of your brand, we invite you to contact the Hakuhodo Vietnam Group.

Nguyen Do Thanh
Strategic Planning Director, Hakuhodo Vietnam Group
Nguyen Do Thanh has a decade of experience in marketing and communications on both the brand and agency side. In recent years he has been leading the Strategic Planning Department at Hakuhodo & Saigon Advertising Co., Ltd., bringing sei-katsu-sha insight to business, marketing and communications solutions for clients across a diverse range of sectors, including FMCG, automobiles, motorcycles, personal care and pharmaceuticals.
Kanto Inada
Communication Designer, Hakuhodo Vietnam Group
After building his career with global creative agencies, Kanto Inada in 2020 joined Hakuhodo Vietnam Group, where he currently leads the client service teams for several key clients within the Group. In addition to dealing with clients in person, he is also involved in overall communication development, including strategic planning, IMC planning, art direction and copywriting. He has experience in a wide range of client industries, including food service chains, automobiles, FMCG and game apps.

* “Sei-katsu-sha” is a term we use to describe people not simply as consumers, but as fully rounded individuals with their own lifestyles, aspirations and dreams.

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