YouTube fandom names in channel communities and branding

Emily Tarvin

University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The YouTube channels Good Mythical Morning, grav3yardgirl, and the Vlogbrothers are analyzed to understand the function of fandom names on the platform. The selected YouTubers explain that their named fandoms create a sense of community on their channels. However, YouTube celebrities attempt to assert control over the narrative of their fan groups and encourage viewers to perceive them in a particular way. This control often relates to how content creators use the names to brand their channels and sell merchandise. Names of fan groups emphasize communal relationships but also perform a prominent business function. Understanding how the demonyms try to balance these different motivations reveals that the commercialization of fandom is embedded in everyday social media practices and the relationship between online celebrities and fans.

[0.2] Keywords—Fans; Influencer; Merchandise; Social media

Tarvin, Emily. 2021. "YouTube Fandom Names in Channel Communities and Branding." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

1. Introduction

[1.1] YouTube is a popular social media platform that many people use to connect with others while also finding entertainment. Through repeated use of the website, viewers can easily build social networks, and regular participation by content creators and viewers forms a unique YouTube community. According to Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, these loyal users make up YouTube's "social core" comprising those "who spend time on the website contributing content, referring to, building on and critiquing each other's videos, as well as collaborating (and arguing) with one another," and these different practices allow for "the co-creation of a particular version of YouTube's emergent culture" (2009, 24). Burgess and Green's description demonstrates that "the purposes and meanings of YouTube as a cultural system are also collectively co-created by users" (25). However, the dynamics of the platform have changed over time, and the cocreation of YouTube culture currently consists of unequal power dynamics. While there is still a form of collaboration between viewers and uploaders, the relationship between audiences and content creators with millions of subscribers is clear: popular YouTubers are celebrities and loyal audience members are fans, exemplifying the significance that fame and commercialization have on social media platforms. One way to better understand the dynamic between YouTube celebrities and their fans is through analyzing fandom names.

[1.2] YouTube fan demonyms both name specific communities based on individual channels on the platform and identify users who are in those communities. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "demonym" as "a personal name derived from the name of a place from which a person comes" or "a proper name by which a native or resident of a specific place is known." Following this definition, fandom demonyms denote those who make up a certain fandom and have communal ties to others in the fandom. On social media apps and websites, the platform act as the specific place associated with the demonym, so YouTube becomes the main location of the platform's fandoms. For example, users who regularly watch Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal's channel Good Mythical Morning can call themselves "mythical beasts" to demonstrate their fandom of these YouTubers. Bunny Meyer, also known as grav3yardgirl, has her "swamp family" fans, and Hank and John Green, who are the Vlogbrothers, have their community of "Nerdfighters." While fandoms of other types of media also commonly have unique names, YouTube fan demonyms function as a conversation between celebrity content creators and their fans and as a way for users to find a sense of community online. According to Lise Dilling-Hansen, when celebrities interact with the fan communities built around them, the back-and-forth exchange allows fans to have a more "personal experience" and "mutual emotional engagement in their fandom" (2015, ¶ 3.5). Therefore, intimate interactions between online celebrities and their fans not only support the collaboration that Burgess and Green (2009) describe about YouTube's social core but also combat isolation from struggling to find a community in the vastness of the internet.

[1.3] However, fandom names also provide content creators with various marketing opportunities. Jennifer L. Stoner, Ashley Stadler Blank, and Barbara Loken (2017) found that when consumers give a name to a product, they favor it more and are more likely to purchase the item. While YouTube fans do not always choose the fandom name, many fans use demonyms as a form of ownership of the fandom. YouTube celebrities utilize this connection between fans and the fandom name for their channel branding, and YouTubers often use fan demonyms to encourage those in their fan communities to buy merchandise. All three of the cases I examined sell merchandise that directly incorporates the community name into the branding. I argue that fan demonyms act as a marketing tactic for YouTubers to sell products to their fans while still appearing to not favor economic gain over caring for their fan communities. According to Janet Finch (2008), names are a "part of the fabric of daily life which both shapes and reflects family relationships" (721). Finch's observation demonstrates the importance of understanding YouTube fan demonyms. Since fandom names emphasize communal relationships but also have a prominent business function, understanding how YouTube fan demonyms rhetorically maneuver community and branding reveals that the commercialization of fandom is embedded in everyday social media practices and in the relationship between online celebrities and fans.

[1.4] To examine the function of fan demonyms, I selected the channels Good Mythical Morning, grav3yardgirl, and the Vlogbrothers using theoretical sampling. Each of these channels clearly defines what makes a viewer part of their respective communities, has millions of followers, and has been on the platform for several years, making them valuable examples of how fandom names create both a sense of community and marketing opportunities. To examine how these channels use their fan demonyms, I analyzed four videos from each. I first selected an early video from each channel in which the YouTubers define and describe the communities that developed around their content. Next, I analyzed two videos from the channels that demonstrate current uses of the fandom names and how YouTubers use these names to casually incorporate branding and merchandise into their content. The last video I examined from each channel showcases how content creators specifically describe the merchandise they sell and explain how it relates to their named fandoms. I also collected the comments on each selected video using the Video and Comments Module from the Digital Methods Initiative's YouTube Data Tools (Bernhard 2015), and I used the Orange software's concordance feature (Demšar et al. 2013) to analyze and contextualize how fandom names appeared in the comments section on each video. All spelling and grammar of the comments quoted below have been preserved as written, but the usernames are not cited. Annemarie Navar-Gill and Mel Stanfill explain that quoting tweets makes those comments searchable online, but by not providing users' names or links to the tweets, the authors give "a level of protection to avoid exposing individual tweeters to scrutiny they may not have anticipated" (2018, 88). Since academics were not the intended audience of these YouTube comments, I choose to follow Navar-Gill and Stanfill's example and not provide the names of the commenters.

[1.5] By analyzing the use of fandom names in videos, the comments sections, and merchandise, I explore how fan demonyms function as a rhetorical strategy to balance maintaining the fan community and building a channel's brand identity. To begin, I introduce each of the channels in my sample and explain how the YouTubers describe and define their fandoms. Both the YouTubers' narratives and fan comments reveal that fan demonyms help maintain positive and supportive online communities. However, fandom names also demonstrate tensions between YouTube celebrities and their fans. YouTubers regularly use fan community names to shape their channel's brand image and create official narratives about their channels, but fans do not always agree with the YouTubers' marketing choices. Fandom names act as a way to balance the authorized narratives of the fandom with fan criticisms of a YouTuber's channel. The last section analyzes the incorporation of fan community names into merchandise, which displays the prominent role of consumerism in fandoms. I argue that YouTube fandom names are an attempt to rhetorically manage how a channel brands itself with the communal aspects of its fandom.

2. Fan demonyms contribute to a sense of community

[2.1] Out of the three channels I studied, there is by far more scholarship on the Vlogbrothers' channel than on the other two. According to Mariana Leyton Escobar, P. A. M. Kommers, and Ardion Beldad, the fan community for this channel "is worth exploring because it has shown durability and growth" since it began in 2007 and has "a strong sense of cohesion, a shared culture, and a great ability to become organized" (2014, 66). As mentioned above, the Vlogbrothers are John and Hank Green. John Green is a popular young adult fiction writer who has won several awards, and his books Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars have been turned into films. His brother Hank Green published his first novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: A Novel in 2018 and his second book A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor in 2020. He is also "an entrepreneur, musician, and educator" (Cunningham and Craig 2017, 78). The Green brothers began uploading video diaries called "Brotherhood 2.0" on YouTube in 2007, and the Nerdfighter community developed from there (Smith 2016). In the video "How To Be a Nerdfighter: A Vlogbrothers FAQ," Hank explains, "Nerdfighter is basically just the community that sprung up around our videos, and, basically, we just got together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against World Suck" (2009). He also tells viewers that this community is inclusive and that anyone can be a Nerdfighter if they want to be.

[2.2] Bunny Meyer, of grav3yardgirl, who lives in Texas, regularly makes beauty-related content such as product reviews and shopping hauls, and she does a video series "Does This Thing Really Work?" where she tests as-seen-on-TV items. Meyer has a very energetic and loud personality, but she also has a dark and intentionally creepy sense of style. She often records her videos in a room of her house where viewers can see her collection of old dirty baby dolls—several missing body parts—and she regularly talks about her fascination with Victorian style. Unlike the Vlogbrothers, Meyer does not have a video that explicitly defines her fans, known as the swamp family, but in the video "MAIL FROM MY SWAMP FAMILY!" she explains that she thinks of her viewers as her family because they can face similar struggles, such as anxiety and agoraphobia, together. She says, "A lot of the letters that you send me, like y'all go through similar stuff that I'm going through…It's comforting to know that none of us are alone on the swamp. We are a swamp family of swamp friends, flying alligators" (2012).

[2.3] The last channel I examined is Good Mythical Morning, a daily morning talk show on YouTube. In the show, hosts Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal regularly eat gross food, such as fish eyeballs; other segments include "Will It" where they test out whether items can be transformed into something else, such as "Will It Corndog" or "Will It Ice Cream." McLaughlin and Neal also often compete against each other, such as trying to perform ice-skating tricks or guessing what countries different foods are from. The two have been best friends since the first grade, which is a key part of the show and has influenced the naming of their fandom. In the video "Why our fans are called 'Mythical Beasts'—RL Vault 15" (2012), McLaughlin explains, "It all goes back to that story from our first grade class…we were both punished for writing profanity on our desks. And then we sat there, and we colored pictures of mythical beasts. I think one of us had Paul Bunyan, and the other one had like a unicorn or something." He goes on to say that when they started the RhettandLinKommunity on their website, they wanted to come up with a name for their fans, so they decided to let them name themselves. After McLaughlin encouraged fans not to vote for the name "RandLers," meaning "Rhett-and-Link-ers," the group chose the name "mythical beasts." Neal explains that the name refers to "the people that commune together at the RhettandLinKommunity or consider themselves fans of us and our work."

[2.4] In the various descriptions of these fan groups, all of the YouTubers mention that their fandoms provide a sense of community for their viewers. Having a fan demonym helps contribute to this since it allows social connections to be more visible. According to Finch (2008), personal names in Western culture connect individuals to their families since parents give children their first names and pass on their last names. Applying this to fandom names indicates that fan demonyms enable individuals to show they are connected to other fans by stating they are in the fandom, and they can differentiate themselves from nonfans. Content creators also use their fandom names to show they are a part of the community. According to Elizabeth Ellcessor, mainstream celebrities and their fans "communicate through shared channels in social media, sharing an experience that fully belongs to neither individual, potentially engaging in conversation, and building upon a trove of shared interactions that can amount to a powerful experience of celebrity and even identity" (2012, 61). Fan demonyms contribute to this sense of shared experience because these names highlight commonalities between the YouTube celebrity and fans and provide opportunities to discuss their similar lived experiences. For example, in Meyer's video "MAIL FROM MY SWAMP FAMILY!" (2012), her explanation of the swamp family as a support group for those with anxiety demonstrates that she sees the demonym as a way to express how the fan community comes together to help each other. McLaughlin and Neal's usage of "mythical beasts" likewise expresses community over individuality. When they explain the history behind the demonym (2012), McLaughlin says that he did not want fans to call themselves "Rhett-and-Link-ers" or "RandLers" because it was too focused on himself and Neal. He clarifies, "This community is a lot bigger than anything we've done. This is about the community," so they wanted to find an appropriate name. According to McLaughlin, he "lobbied for 'mythical beasts'" by uploading a video directly to the community to explain why he thought it was a better name. For him and for Neal, the name directly ties into how their community functions.

[2.5] The Vlogbrothers even have some direct evidence that a named community helps provide a sense of togetherness on their channel. Beginning in 2013, the Green brothers began surveying their viewers at the end of every year, which they refer to as the "Nerdfighteria Census," and in 2018, they asked viewers, "Do you feel like you belong in Nerdfighteria?" Forty-four percent answered "Sorta," and almost 39 percent answered "Yes." This indicates that more than 80 percent of the viewers who answered the survey consider themselves a Nerdfighter in some way and find a source of community on the channel. This is consistent with how I find YouTubers most often use their fan demonyms. The Nerdfighteria Census also demonstrates how the Green Brothers use the name to collaborate with their named fan community. Lili Wilkinson explains, "The Nerdfighters project is an invitation to reply and participate, to open up a dialogue between self and other, between author and reader" (2012, ¶1.10). In the census, the Vlogbrothers ask viewers what type of content they like to see; that way they can make more videos that please their audience. Because over 80 percent of the survey respondents view themselves as Nerdfighters, fans can regard their feedback in the census as a way to contribute to the fan community of Nerdfighteria.

[2.6] While YouTubers tend to use their fandom names to focus on communal value, fans can also use the demonyms to showcase individuality. Following that personal names identify social connections (Finch 2008), YouTube community names online act in a similar way through "networked individualism" (note 1). According to Limor Shifman, "In our era of accelerated individualization, people are expected to fashion a unique identity and image, and by doing so actively construct their 'selves.' At the same time, individuals participate enthusiastically in the shaping of social networks, demonstrating an enduring human longing for communality" (2014, 34). In the cases I examine, viewers differentiate themselves from others by using fan demonyms to claim they are more loyal than average viewers, but demonyms also allow fans to find each other. For example, fans often write comments that state they are part of the channel's fandom. On the Vlogbrothers' video "How To Be a Nerdfighter: A Vlogbrothers FAQ" (2009), a couple of commenters said, "I am very glad to be a nerdfighter" and "Yes! I'm a Nerdfighter :D." Since these comments do not relay much information or even mention the video, their basic purpose is to use the fan demonym to tell other viewers the commenters are a part of the community and they are proud of it. Similar comments appear on the grav3yardgirl and Good Mythical Morning channels, such as "I love being part of swamp family" and "I love to be called Mythical Beast 〈3 I'm so proud 〈3." Statements indicating that one is a part of the fandom can also provide ways for fans to find each other offline. Jacinta Yanders (2018) explains that fandom is often "grounded in friendship" and fans regularly participate in "non-viewing-related behaviors and emotions" with other fans (3.3). On the Vlogbrothers' video explaining how to be a Nerdfighter (2009), one commenter said, "I just found out that my chemistry teacher is a Nerdfighter! And there's a Nerdfighter club at my school now too!" Fans who meet together offline have the opportunity to bond over a shared interest in the object of the fandom, which goes beyond fans just watching online videos. For all three channels, whether fans show support for the YouTuber or each other, the demonym is often associated with positivity. For fandom names to work as a successful marketing method, they must be heavily affiliated with a sense of communal development.

[2.7] The usage of fan demonyms often goes beyond simple declarations. Fans can use the fandom name to show support for the YouTuber. Patricia Lange argues, "Vloggers believe that it is important to share one's life and feelings with others–even strangers—in order to exchange important information, develop interpersonal empathy, and establish profound human connections" (2015, 298). Meyer utilizes this approach to vlogging in her video "Why I'm So Scared (being myself and crying too much)" where she expresses her thoughts and feelings about Shane Dawson's (2018) video series about her (note 2). After Dawson's docuseries received millions of views, many of Meyer's former fans began returning to her channel and watching her videos again. She says, "I have been saying I feel like the past couple of days is a huge swamp family reunion…I never felt like I would get you back" (2018). Fan usage of the demonym mirrors Meyer's feelings, such as one saying, "I love you Bunny you never lost the best of us. Your real swamp family members never left and the ones who did aren't really swamp family members." Other comments expressed the impact Meyer has had on her fans, like the comment, "Bunny, you are amazing. You are a lovable, real person that millions of people relate to. You've helped so many of us and have been a constant in so many lives. I know I am not alone when I say the Swamp Family is here for you." These types of comments show that fans' usage of the demonym follows Meyer's use of the name. She sets the example of using the name to express communal values, and her fans likewise use "swamp family" to show they also uphold those views. Both YouTube celebrities and fans use the fandom demonym to emphasize a communal value and appreciation focused on specific YouTube channels, demonstrating that some of the collaborative aspects of the social core that Burgess and Green (2009) describe still persist in today's YouTube culture. While the social practices of the platform may be codeveloped to a certain extent by both YouTubers and faithful viewers, content creators predominantly use fandom demonyms to emphasize their connection to their fan communities and maintain a positive affiliation with their channel branding and fandom name.

Video 1. "How To Be a Nerdfighter: A Vlogbrothers FAQ" by the Vlogbrothers (2009).

3. Negotiating authorized narratives of fandom and fan disapproval

[3.1] Daniel R. Smith (2016) explains that YouTube presents itself in two contrasting ways. On the one hand, users can see themselves as having equal opportunities to participate on the platform. On the other hand, there are "unequal power relations: those who do endorse and use it to preserve their own 'equal and valid voice' in polyphonic space where theirs is heard more than others" (351). Since YouTubers with large subscriber numbers have their opinions heard more, they have more power over the authorized narrative of their communities and fan demonyms (note 3). Since fandom names act as both a rhetorical branding tactic and a way to develop community on YouTube, power dynamics are especially important to analyze to understand how consumerism and marketing function in various fan practices. For example, although the Vlogbrothers describe the process of a community forming around their channel as occurring naturally, Wilkinson explains, "The Nerdfighters don't form a bottom up community—it's created and curated by the Green brothers, and is largely driven by their values and interests" (2012, ¶ 1.8). Because the Vlogbrothers make videos describing the fandom, such as "How To Be a Nerdfighter: A Vlogbrothers FAQ" (2009), they choose what details to include and what to leave out. They are essentially authoring the official fandom narrative and instructing viewers to see Nerdfighteria in a certain way. In the video, they say anyone can be a Nerdfighter, but in the 2018 census video, Hank Green explains that Nerdfighteria is overwhelmingly white. He remarks, "People definitely find people who are more like them through these platforms, and is that a good thing? Eh, hopefully we are also searching for a diversity of viewpoints." However, not all fans are as optimistic as Green. One viewer said, "Sadly to me Nerdfighteria seems increasingly like an echo chamber of privilege, and I doubt that will change." Therefore, when the Vlogbrothers describe Nerdfighteria as having the desire to be inclusive, they encourage viewers to imagine the community that way despite the limited diversity of the group, but not all fans follow their instruction. Smith argues, "Vloggers are not only naming and analysing their own medium (YouTube and the vlog) but also making normative arguments about how one ought to understand and conceptualise 'YouTube celebrity'" (2016, 346). He gives the example of the Vlogbrother's phrase "imagine others more complexly." Since this statement encourages viewers to think about what other people experience, it also encourages them to think of the Vlogbrothers and other YouTuber celebrities as people rather than othering them. Smith claims this sets up the YouTuber as an educator who provides moral instruction to his or her viewers, and this example reveals that YouTubers emphasize a desired way for their fan communities to perceive their channels.

[3.2] Content creators often want some control in how their fan communities are shaped because they want to determine the branding of their channel. Only Good Mythical Morning claims to have collaborated with fans on what to call their community; both the Green brothers and Meyer chose the names of their fandoms. By selecting the name, the YouTubers also chose what connotations and images people would think of when they hear the fan demonym. When a viewer hears or sees the words "nerd," "swamp," or "beast" certain images come to mind and indicate what type of community each fandom is. For example, Meyer regularly incorporates her fan demonym into her channel branding. In the video "Swamp Family MAIL!—OMG EDITION!!" from February of 2019, Meyer opens boxes of fan mail, and several viewers sent her various items, such as a ring, wall art, and blanket, that featured an alligator in some way because of Meyer and her swamp family's affiliation with the animal. She also often uses "swamp family" in her outro where she says, "If you're not already and you'd like to be, hit that button down below [the subscribe button]. Subscribe. Become a member of the swamp family and give an alligator its wings" (2019). Meyer's use of "swamp family" demonstrates how the demonym both identifies her fan community and her influence in the selection of an alligator with wings as her brand image, further emphasizing the unconventionality of her YouTube persona.

[3.3] McLaughlin and Neal use their fandom name for branding in a similar way. In Rhett & Link's Book of Mythicality, they define "mythicality" as "the quality or state of being that embodies a synergistic coalescence of curiosity, creativity, and tomfoolery (sometimes referred to as curiotomfoolitivity,) ideally experienced in the context of friendship and intended to bring good will to the universe" (2017). "Mythicality" plays on the word "mythical," which is associated with fantasy and exceeding reality, and McLaughlin and Neal created their own word to match their channel branding. When viewers encounter "mythicality" either through the Good Mythical Morning show's name, the mythical beasts, or their book, McLaughlin and Neal want their audience to think of surpassing normalcy as well as their definition of the word. In their explanation of the name "mythical beasts," McLaughlin says, "So many things have been mythical…We try to work that mythical name into as many things as we can do" (2012). Part of creating a cohesive brand for their channel and merchandise was choosing the fan demonym and defining it. McLaughlin and Neal even call their crew "the mythical crew" and their merchandise mythical, such as the "mythical mug."

[3.4] As stated above, Good Mythical Morning asked fans to select the fan demonym. However, McLaughlin explains that he encouraged fans to vote for "mythical beasts" instead of "RandLers." He says, "I like lobbied to the community why 'mythical beast' was the best, and it worked. That's kind of probably cheating in some way" (2012). This shows he is aware of the control he had in naming the community and shaping its development. However, in their book, McLaughlin and Neal tell the story a little differently. They say, "After members of the RhettandLinKommunity (an online fansite) threw around a number of suggestions…we all eventually settled on 'Mythical Beasts'" (2017, 8). This presents the naming of the fandom as a communal choice. In Exploiting Fandom, Mel Stanfill explains, "As industry invites fans to participate, it attempts to recruit them into a system of management—a selective and specific system passing itself off as neutral and universal" (2019, 10). Applying this to Good Mythical Morning's multiple stories about the naming of their fan group demonstrates an attempt by the channel to author and control the official narrative of the mythical beast fandom while appearing not to do so.

[3.5] However, YouTubers do not solely control their fan communities, and a form of collaboration between the YouTubers and their fan community still occurs, which can make fans feel more invested. According to Stoner, Blank, and Loken (2017), naming provides the name giver with a sense of ownership over the named thing, such as families naming a new pet, and this influences how consumers view products as well. They explain, "When consumers were invited to name a product…they rated the name as better fitting and more creative, which increased their feelings of psychological ownership of the named product" (135). Therefore, if viewers contribute to the naming of their fandom, they can feel some ownership of the community. Although McLaughlin wanted fans to choose the demonym he preferred, the fans still had to approve and vote for the name "mythical beasts." The fan participation in the naming of their community enables the fandom to perceive that they also author part of the community narrative, which is essential to both maintaining communal value and positive channel branding. However, the back and forth between content creators and fans creates opportunities for fans to associate the fandom name with criticisms of the YouTubers. For example, McLaughlin and Neal make videos responding to fans' concerns about changes made on Good Mythical Morning. After the channel replaced their typical daily video for four shorter videos each day in November of 2017, they experienced more harsh criticisms than usual, and McLaughlin and Neal uploaded the video "A Candid Response to Your Comments" (2017). Neal explains, "We're going to have a candid conversation with you, mythical beasts, about the changes you're experiencing and the comments you're giving us." This demonstrates McLaughlin and Neal's willingness to work with their viewers to shape the channel, but it also indicates that their fans feel some ownership over the show and that they can say how it should operate. According to Stanfill, "Often the belief is that…being able to talk back to industry and increasingly get at least a social media reply mean audiences now control their own media experience and media has been democratized" (2019, 4). Stanfill argues that this perception of fan usage of social media relies on the media companies regularly responding to their audiences in order to maintain a large following. While Good Mythical Morning is not the same as a mainstream media company, the channel demonstrates that it understands that directly communicating with and responding to fans is an essential part of their channel participation on the platform.

Video 2. "A Candid Response to Your Comments" by Good Mythical More (2017). Good Mythical More is an additional channel belonging to Good Mythical Morning.

[3.6] In my sample, Good Mythical Morning also had the most negative comments using the fan community demonym. Many of these remarks appeared on videos where McLaughlin and Neal addressed changes to their content or offered services that some fans disliked. For example, on Good Mythical Morning's video responding to the format change (2017), one person commented, "Dear Rhett and Link: I am a long time mythical beast…I watched the show because it was like hanging out with friends, but this change makes it feel more like a TV show. I wish you guys the best but I'm not going to continue watching if things remain this way." This commenter tries to balance their appreciation for the show as a fan with the dislike of the format change, and other comments also said the user disapproved of the change but would continue watching the show to see if it got better. Others stated that viewers were not true fans if they stopped watching the show, such as one person who said, "I can live with the change. Im just terrified everyone will be buttheads and quit watching…It's just a sea of cranky ass menstruating mythical beasts as far as the eye can see!! Well guess what yall can stick it. Rhett and Link you're the bees freakin knees." This comment implies that true loyal fans will stick with the show and those who quit watching are inferior fans.

[3.7] Later in February of 2019, McLaughlin and Neal introduced the Mythical Society, a monthly subscription service where fans pay to receive special perks, such as discounts on merchandise and access to content only available to members. However, not all mythical beasts liked this idea. In the video "Deep Fried Snack Stadium" (2019), McLaughlin and Neal provide details about what the Mythical Society offers fans, but many in the comments section pointed out that not all mythical beasts can afford to participate. On commenter said, "so basically mythical society is a group of rich mythical beasts…cool cool…way to market to your target audience. not like most of us are broke lol," and another person said, "As a very broke college student, it was very reassuring to hear you guys say that I'm not any less of a mythical beast for not signing up for the secret society." Both comments express concern over the possibility of needing money to be considered a mythical beast. The fan demonym identifies the commenters as faithful fans, but this does not stop them from making harsh comments, despite how content creators work to use the fandom name to maintain the appearance of a positive fan community. The back and forth between the two parties also reflects the prominence of commercialization within both fandom and YouTube culture.

4. Fan demonyms used for merchandise

[4.1] Another aspect of YouTubers regularly incorporating fandom names into their marketing is the merchandise they sell to fans. According to Stanfill, "Consumption is expected or obvious for fans," as demonstrated in various representations of fandoms, such as "a montage of merchandise or a panning shot across piled-up goods either in fans' homes or at conventions" (2019, 77). While Stanfill refers to representations of fans in movies and television, this description of fan consumption reinforces that consumerism is equally expected of social media fans and YouTube creators incorporate the same techniques into their content, such as the Vlogbrothers' videos about Pizzamas. The Green brothers host this annual event on their channel, and they make extra videos and sell special products for Pizzamas. In the Vlogbrothers' video "I Mustache You: A Pizzamas Reunion!" (2017), John Green explains, "Pizzamas is a two-week period where Hank I make videos back and forth to each other every day to celebrate brotherhood and affection…and e-commerce." In the video, they provide viewers with behind-the-scenes footage of the "Don't Forget to Be Awesome" (DFTBA) online store. Showing limited-edition merchandise and their warehouse provides fans with insider knowledge while also advertising the Vlogbrothers' products.

[4.2] This presentation of backstage information parallels tactics used by mainstream industries to interact with fans. In "From Strategic Retweets to Group Hangs," Annemarie Navar-Gill (2018) analyzes how television show writers use Twitter to promote desired fan behavior. She explains that writers for Orange is the New Black reveal behind-the-scenes information, such as "details like their musical tastes, their lunches, and whether or not they like their partners to wear lingerie," but these facts are "almost entirely personal, as opposed to providing insight on production details, simultaneously creating intimacy and mystery" (423). Similarly, the Vlogbrothers' video focuses on the products for Pizzamas and their reactions to those products rather than showing viewers specific production details. This choice maintains audience attention on consumption while also providing the appearance of intimacy. However, a significant difference from mainstream industries and even the other YouTube channels analyzed in this paper is that DFTBA donates a large portion of the store's profit. According to the "Our Mission" page on the store's website, "DFTBA gives over 90% of its profit to charity. Right now, the majority of DFTBA's donations are going toward help [to] decrease maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, where, currently, one in seventeen women are estimated to die in childbirth" (2020). The Vlogbrothers' motivations for selling fan merchandise appear more charitable than solely focused on economic gain. While this differs from most other YouTube celebrities' approaches to selling merchandise to fans, the Vlogbrothers' use of the fandom name in the products they sell still demonstrates the prominent role selling merchandise plays within online fan communities.

[4.3] The Vlogbrothers often incorporate their fan demonym "Nerdfighter" into various products from the DFTBA store, like the "Nerdfighter & Proud Shirt." They describe the T-shirt as a way for fans to "show your Nerdfighter pride" (2019), and the design showcases the Nerdfighter "gang sign" consisting of crossed arms with both hands doing the "live long and prosper" hand gesture from Star Trek. In order to fully understand the intended message of the shirt, one must be a loyal fan and have watched enough of the channel's videos to know the context of the gesture. The Green brothers also use the fandom name in merchandise to promote different ideals of their fan community. In the video "The Thing with Feathers" (2019), John Green describes how the British football club AFC Wimbledon worked to move up from the lowest tier in English football. After a series of wins, Green explains, "If Wimbledon do stay up it'll be one of the greatest great escapes in English football history." He attributes part of their new success to the fact that AFC Wimbledon is owned by its fans rather than a wealthy owner, and Green believes "the players kept playing for each other and for their community as if the situation were not hopeless, even when it was." Then, he tells his viewers that if they would like to support Wimbledon they can buy "this awesome scarf" which has the ACF Wimbledon logo on it as well as "DFTBA Nerdfighteria." This implies that since Nerdfighteria understands the significance of the relationship between fans and the object of the fandom, such as a YouTube channel or football club, they will want to monetarily support Wimbledon and purchase the Vlogbrother merchandise. Also, the inclusion of the fandom name on the merchandise equates the Nerdfighter community to the optimism and hope of Wimbledon and its fans, and some of the comments on the video reflect this. One commenter relates Green's description of hope and English football to the personal struggles of taking care of their grandparents with Alzheimer's. This person explains that putting in effort is valuable even when it does not feel like that is true, applying Green's lesson in the video. The fan concludes…All that said, I still love this video and its message. Thanks for inspiring me to reflect on my life, Nerdfighteria." This comment demonstrates that fan merchandise can use the fandom name to invoke an emotional attachment from the fan community and maintain the channel's brand identity.

[4.4] The other sampled channels, Good Mythical Morning and grav3yardgirl, both sell merchandise to fans for monetary gain. While YouTubers may use their fan demonyms to brand their channels, these economic motivations do not necessarily undermine the sense of community the fandom names provide. According to Ellcessor, "Internet-based fame depends on the authenticity of a star's self-representation and on the notion of intimacy, experienced through the possibility of interaction rather than through simple familiarity" (2012, 51). Content creators regularly use the authentic presentation that Ellcessor describes to rhetorically soothe any criticisms about selling fans their merchandise. As previously mentioned, both fans and YouTubers use fan demonyms to show support for the fandom and connect with each other, and this dynamic emphasizes the YouTube celebrity's appearance of authenticity. Yanders argues that whether celebrity and fan interactions are truly authentic is not as important as understanding that they "are perceived to be authentic, genuine, and real" (2018, 1.5). The appearance of authenticity through repeated communication with fans enables YouTubers to use their fandom names for both communal and commercial purposes. In "Being 'really real' on YouTube," Stuart Cunningham and David Craig (2017) explain that viewers constantly test their trust in the YouTuber through repeated "interactivity intrinsic to the SME [social media entertainment] business model and to digital platform affordances" (74). Since YouTube encourages users to participate on the platform, this provides a continuous conversation between them and content creators and allows them to question a YouTuber if they do something fans dislike. Cunningham and Craig argue that after trust is established, YouTubers can do brand deals, or in this case sell their own merchandise. They say, "The critical point here is that brands, by definition, only enter the picture after the establishment of this dialogic relationship between authenticity and community" (74) (note 4), and the YouTuber's relationship with the brand or merchandise has to be secondary to their relationship with the community.

[4.5] In the video "The Secret Lives of Rhett & Link" (2017), Neal explains that mythical beasts "are gonna love this [The Book of Mythicality]," but he also describes how the book is an opportunity for those outside the community to join and become a mythical beast too. He says, "I also, honestly think that it's a great gift for somebody who maybe hasn't watched a show yet, doesn't know about us, but would value a fresh, fun take on creativity as told through the lens of friendship." The business motivations for encouraging anyone to buy the book are obvious in this statement, but it also demonstrates the potential to expand the fan community. Thinking of The Book of Mythicality as a gift rather than as merchandise distracts from the profit Good Mythical Morning will make because the emphasis is on communal values. According to Avi Santo (2017), "What distinguishes the fan collector from the non-fan variety is typically their desire to share these objects along with the stories that surround their production, acquisition, and display with other members of a fan community who will appreciate an item's cultural and social value as much as if not more than its economic worth" (331). By framing The Book of Mythicality as for faithful fans or potential new fans, McLaughlin and Neal use the fandom name to emphasize that the book's communal worth is more important than their business ambitions.

[4.6] Grav3yard girl similarly combines communal and economic pursuits. Out of my sample, the advertising for grav3yardgirl's makeup collaboration is the most fan-centered. In 2016, Meyer collaborated with the makeup brand Tarte to create the Swamp Queen makeup palette and lip paints, and she included the fan demonym and the alligator logo into the products to accentuate the connection between the merchandise and her fan community. In her video "GRAV3YARDGIRL TARTE PALETTE IS HERE!" (2016), Meyer repeatedly thanks her swamp family for their help in this project and says that it could not have happened without them. She explains that "two swamp family members on Instagram" posted that they thought fans would enjoy a Tarte makeup palette by Meyer and tagged all of Tarte's social media handles as well as the company's email and headquarters' address. She describes how they "got this whole movement and united the swamp family together under one cause suggesting to Tarte or asking Tarte, like, 'can there be a Bunny and Tarte collaboration?'" Meyer's description showcases positive results of fan action. According to Stanfill, "Contemporary consumption norms pitch intensive engagement so fans get what they desire in ways that (conveniently enough) do not challenge industry interests, whether financial or reputational" (2019, 102). Although Meyer focuses the story on the makeup satisfying fan desires, the merchandise can also satisfy both her and Tarte's financial desires.

Video 3. "GRAV3YARDGIRL TARTE PALETTE IS HERE!" by grav3yardgirl (2016)

[4.7] Because of her fans' effort, Meyer explains, "I literally one thousand percent designed this with swamp family in mind," and she tried to make a product that almost all of her fans would enjoy and use regularly. She chose the names of the eyeshadow colors based on different aspects of her channel branding and the fandom, and she included an alligator on the packaging because "that is the symbol of our family, like our family crest" (2016). Even Tarte's advertising for the palette incorporates the swamp family's communal values. On the makeup brand's website, the description for Meyer's products says, "YouTube sensation @grav3yardgirl's larger than life personality inspired a 'Swamp Family' of millions to embrace their own version of beautiful" (2018). Meyer's channel branding demonstrates that fan demonyms can regularly be incorporated into videos as well as translated into selling products to loyal fans within the named community. Meyer's backstory of the Tarte collaboration merges the community with economic pursuits, and she presents the products as not only her work but also the work of the fandom. Describing her products in this way allows her to appear humble because she explains that selling the products is more for the fans than to make money, demonstrating Cunningham and Craig (2017)'s analysis of authenticity on YouTube. Meyer's makeup products differ from the Vlogbrothers' and Good Mythical Morning's merchandise since Tarte is a third-party company selling the items rather than Meyer selling the merchandise herself, but her description focuses more on the swamp family than on Tarte's business investment. The various examples of fan merchandise from the channels Vlogbrothers, Good Mythical Morning, and grav3yardgirl show that using fan demonyms in advertising allows YouTube celebrities to use insider knowledge and fandom values to sell products to fans without undermining their communal values or appearing greedy.

[4.8] The positivity of using fan demonyms along with the YouTubers' appearance of authenticity allows fans to show support for the fan community through praising a YouTubers' merchandise. For example, in the Green brothers' video about Pizzamas (2017), they explain that they had different artists draw John Green as "Pizza John" so they could put the images on T-shirts. In the comments section of this video, one person said, "These are great shirts!! wow!! best year so far!!! Good job nerdfighter artists :D." This commenter not only shows their appreciation for the fan merchandise but also praises the artists in the community. Another person said, "I can afford things now so I'm getting TWO pizzamas shirts. I'M A PIZZAMESS!," and over 250 people liked it, suggesting that support for the merchandise also contributes to building the community and showing appreciation. On Meyer's video about her Tarte collaboration (2016), fans repeatedly stated how proud they were of her accomplishments. One person said, "You [Meyer] are the most gracious you tuber of all time. You truly love and appreciate your swamp family as we do you. This palette is the most versatile and beautiful colors…so extremely happy for you." This comment reveals that support for the community is directly tied to supporting the merchandise marketed to fans by the content creator. Santo explains, "Fandom as lifestyle doesn't merely place greater emphasis on consumption, but on individuals using branded products as forms of self-expression and even self-promotion in order to establish their value in a reputational economy" (2017, 332). Similar to comments stating that someone is a member of the named fandom, merchandise that incorporates the fan demonym enables fans to identify themselves and showcase their appreciation for the YouTuber and the fandom, which is essential to building and maintaining channel communities. Fandom names function as an ongoing negotiation between expressing communal desires and economic ambitions.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Fan demonyms are a balancing act between a YouTube channel's branding and sense of community. YouTubers use the name to identify the fan communities on their channels while also shaping those fandoms through official definitions in their videos. Many fans readily support YouTubers' presentation of authority over the community, such as praising their channel branding and merchandise, but fans will also express their dislike of the YouTube celebrities' choices. However, fan usage of the demonym typically reflect YouTuber's intended use of the name and demonstrate the level of influence that YouTube celebrities have in the creation of the authorized narratives of fandoms. YouTube fandom names are a rhetorical strategy for content creators to brand their channels and sell products to fans while still maintaining the appearance of championing their fandoms over monetary gain. The commercialization of fandom is continually present in modern social media usage, but the collaborative and communal practices of platforms such as YouTube, as demonstrated by the social core that Burgess and Green describe, can distract or overshadow celebrities' various marketing methods. Examining how fan demonyms try to balance channel branding and community motivations can help us better understand the role of consumerism within online fan practices.

[5.2] There are several different possibilities for expanding this research in the future, such as including more channels in the sample to diversify the YouTubers and fandoms examined. I want to note that all of the YouTubers in my theoretical sampling were white; content creators of color as well as more female YouTubers should be included if this research were to be expanded. Also, this research could include an analysis of fan creations that use the fan demonym, such as fan art and videos. While looking at fans' usage of community names in the comments sections provides a good indication of how the name functions for fans, there are definitely more possibilities for using fandom demonyms for researchers to explore.

6. Notes

1. Shifman explains that "memetic activities…can be linked to what Barry Wellman and others describe as 'networked individualism'" (2014, 33).

2. In May of 2018, YouTuber Shane Dawson made a popular three-video docuseries about Bunny Meyer. In these videos, Dawson reveals that Meyer hid her wealth from viewers out of fear that her fans would criticize her lifestyle, and Dawson explores various reasons why Meyer's current videos do not receive as many views as her previous videos. I also want to note that Dawson has received much criticism for his past videos that include blackface and racist comments as well as his many inappropriate remarks about children.

3. I want to note that the majority of YouTube users who upload content to the platform do not have millions of viewers or named fan communities. The phenomenon that this paper analyzes predominantly appears within fandoms formed around YouTube celebrities who have a large number of subscribers on the website, and this occurrence demonstrates how consumerism influences popular online fan communities.

4. Cunningham and Craig (2017) use Sarah Banet-Weiser's work on the concept of authenticity in her book AuthenticTM: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture (2012) as the foundation for their analysis of YouTube. Banet-Weiser explains, "Rather, I examine how areas of our lives that have historically been considered noncommercial and 'authentic'…have recently become branded spaces. These cultural spaces of presumed authenticity not only are often created and sustained using the same kinds of marketing strategies that branding managers use to sell products but also are increasingly only legible in culture through and within the logic and vocabulary of the market" (14). Cunningham and Craig emphasize Bannet-Weiser's attention to the ambivalence within the concept as especially relevant to their work.

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