Mad Men : fan-fiction on Twitter
by Ana Vasile, published on 8.03.2011
Matthew Weiner spoke at “Forum des images” in Paris about the conception of Mad Men, in front of about a hundred of French fans. The film writer admitted it took him five years just to write the first episode. A few years later, the series becomes a phenomenon with an international fan’s community that keeps creating content starting from the Mad Men universe. But did the series producers know how to handle their fan’s creativity?
The series writing style is still classic and linear. The creator and the producer (AMC a small American network) seem not to be interested in the extremely rich transmedia potential of Mad Men universe. We have already debated the « Sterling’s Gold » book here and the deception it caused amongst the fan’s community.
If the transmedia Grail is the fans’ engagement, extending on the web the life of fictional characters can be a solution to increase the viewers’ implication. For instance, CBS is extending « How I Met You’re Mother » with Barney’s blog and account, CWTV is mixing reality and fiction through the « Gossip Girl » blog. In France, TF1 launched in 2010 the first « connected » fiction by using the social Medias to keep a constant contact between the fans and the star character of the series, we explained the mechanism here.
The Mad Men controversy on Twitter
Soon after the second season of Mad Men is aired, some fans created Twitter accounts for each of their favorite Mad Men characters and kept on tweeting under their identity for months. Most of their followers simply assumed that AMC was behind this operation. Thousands of fans followed the everyday life of @Peggy_Olson or @BettyDraper. In the end, these twitter account creators (that were actually just fans) never made any interpretation mistake and followed religiously the series’ story. Even more, they communicated with each other in order to give a better sense of authenticity to their practice.
AMC asked then Twitter to reveal the identity of these mysterious people managing the accounts, admitting that the accounts were not the producer’s initiative and that the company had no control on this extension of the characters. Even more, this accounts’ creation was interpreted as a Copyright violation of the Mad Men brand owned by AMC.
Under the protection of the American digital Copyright law () the tweets were considered as unauthorized fan-fiction and qualified as Copyright violation. Henry Jenkins described as well the Mad Men Twitter choir as but he emphasized the beneficial aspect of increasing the fans’ engagement.
From that point on, the Mad Men Twitter accounts are being suspended, an actions that brings up the bloggers’ and thousands of followers’ indignation. That obvious deception is heard through and different . AMC decided to follow the advice of their web marketing agency, Deep Focus, and cancels the suspension demand for the « fake twitter », the fan-creators come back with a manifesto: We are Sterling Cooper and keep on playing the characters they have chosen, created and developed.
As an example of AMC’s bad management of this phenomenon, Michael Bissell, expert in Internet marketing and @Roger_Sterling on Twitter, confessed here that he was never contacted by the series’ creators and that all his efforts to bring to life Sterling’s character are driven by his pure adoration for the series.
The creator of @Peggy_Olson account wins in 2009 the Twitter Shorty Award for the best content producer, in only 140 characters. It’s quite astonishing to see that she won the advertising award even though, she started the account as a fan and she never had an official contract signed with AMC. It seems that AMC missed out on this opportunity to meet the fans, and they ignored how to make the best out of their fan’s content producing.
After studying this « Twitter-drama » I can’t stop myself from asking: do the producers have to allow fans to create and manage fictional characters’ accounts on social media? Is this a danger for the narrative universe or is just an opportunity to increase the audience’s engagement?