The My Little Pony meme, losing control of your brand and making the best of it

As a child of the 80’s, I remember My Little Pony as a toy and cartoon that I did not watch very often, but many girls I knew had the toys and watched this cartoon. It was popular.  I had largely forgotten about My Little Pony, but the brand has experienced rejuvenation over the past few years and young girls across the nation are once again being introduced to this 80’s favorite.  A person may be surprised to learn that the main target audiences of My Little Pony is not just young girls anymore, but has gained a large following of adult males as a secondary target audience.  This bizarre combination of viewership is directly tied to internet memes. Today, I will review how memes have impacted My Little Pony and also how Hasbro (owner of My Little Pony) has used this interesting phenomenon to their benefit. 

While My Little Pony has been around since the 80’s, the most recent iteration of popularity began with an animated television version on The Hub television station.  My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic first debuted in October 2010.  The show follows several ponies and their adventures where they learn about the importance of friendship.  The animation combined with a light-hearted and moral storyline seems to make a perfect match for a young audience.  Well, apparently for any audience, as proved by this meme.

According to Knowyourmeme.com, the My Little Pony meme originates from a blog post written by Amid Amidi where he asserts that the new My Little Pony series is an example of why creator driven cartoons are now a thing of the past and replaced with commercially oriented cartoons that exist as “extended toy commercials.”  This blog turned into a discussion on a popular cartoon image board on a social media outlet called 4-chan.  Soon, people began to post image threads of My Little Pony that became widespread throughout the site and the My Little Pony meme was born.  The term Brony was also born, being a combination of the word “pony” and the origination from 4chan’s popular ‘/b/’ board.  Since then, the MLP phenomenon has spread to other areas of the internet and there have been multiple MLP sites that have popped up.  Ponychan, Equestria Daily and the My Little Pony wiki are all examples of communities dedicated to the MLP cartoon and culture.

What can your business take away from the My Little Pony phenomenon?  First, sometimes markets can surprise you.  It was not the intention of the My Little Pony creators to gain a mass of followers in the 18-25 male demographic, but it happened.  Things could have gotten awkward for the Odd Couple relationship between the My Little Pony owners and the grown man My Little Pony fans.  The second take away that might be relevant is how the My Little Pony creators reacted to the new fan base… they embraced it.

Memes, particularly image macro memes, typically means that content (in this case intellectual property) may be altered and shared.  While many corporations tend to frown on this type of behavior and may even take steps to prevent the alteration or sharing of this sort of content, Hasbro and MLP producer Lauren Faust have embraced the unexpected fan base.  The MLP meme may have meant that they lost some control over the MLP brand and that could be a scary thing, but the positive reaction by Faust and Hasbro has only served to further strengthen this fan base.  Faust regularly communicates with fans (as well as critics) and the My Little Pony crew have released exclusive content on the MLP fan site Equestria Daily where they made a parody of Katy Perry’s California Girl.  In the video, they even mention and acknowledge bronies. Losing control of your brand can be a scary thing, but in a world where the internet and social media can drastically help or harm any brand, it is important to be able to consider what you may do if you find yourself in a My Little Pony moment.

The MLP team could have turned their backs on the odd fan base, but instead they chose to embrace them Instead of potentially creating an internet backlash, they emboldened a whole subculture of diehard fans.  The My Little Pony meme has had a considerable impact on the brand and how the creators have handled this fandom is an important consideration for any business that may be impacted by social media.

 

Comments

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Great article! As a brony myself, I find this has been an absolutely fascinating whirlwind as the fandom grows. It’s kind of cool going from barely a blip on Hasbro’s radar to the phenomenon we’ve become today. I think it’s awesome.

Please don’t mind me. The blog in question is called “Equestria Daily”, not “Equestrian Today”. There are also lots of grown women in the fandom, too. They call themselves “bronies”, “pegasisters”, or simply “MLP fans”.

RJ Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 03:53 AM

A decent article, but several inaccuracies:

- The fanbase (or fandom, as I will henceforth refer to it as) is not a meme, it is a fan following of the show, just like Trekkies and Twihards are fandoms. The fandom *produces* memes (some examples in our case: “20% cooler”, “10 seconds flat”, “the fun has been doubled”, Fluttertree, etc.)

- 4chan, not 4-chan

- “Brony” is a portmanteau of “bro” and “pony”. It has nothing to do with 4chan’s /b/ board

- There’s no such site as “Equestrian Today”, you’re thinking “Equestria Daily”, which you mentioned earlier in the article

Right, now that I feel like a total jerk for pointing those out, allow me to applaud and thank you for providing a balanced and neutral perspective of the Friendship is Magic phenomenon =) If I may, I suggest keeping an eye out for John de Lancie’s (actor of Q from Star Trek and voice actor of Discord, a villain from Friendship is Magic) documentary, “BronyCon: The Documentary”, particularly if you’re interested in familiarising yourself with the fandom.

Oliver Lacota Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 06:57 AM

RJ and Oliver… GOT IT.  My fat fingers typing-what-I-thought-I-remembered got the best of me on the “Equestria Daily” blip - fixed

Oliver,  to your point about the origination of the term Brony:

I used, and attributed, the origination of the term Brony from Knowyourmeme.com.  I had been familiar with MLP before writing this article, but this is where I first dug deep into it.  Of course, Knowyourmeme could have it wrong as well, but the origination story I describe is one that others have shared and communicated, as well.  No matter… I will defer to your expertise in the subject!

And Q…. ahh Q… when I was a teenager in the late 80 and early 90’s, whenever I was asked what super power I could have - Q was the top of my list.  I always liked him.  Perhaps it was because he was such a trouble maker or perhaps it was because he played Eugene on Days of our Lives…. I am very interested in seeing that documentary and it sounds like Faust is going to be a part of it.

THANKS for commenting and adding to the conversation!

Benjamin Myhre Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 07:32 AM

Good writing, a lot of it is pretty spot on. I can vouch for the ‘4chan /b/ board’ origins for ‘Brony’. I was present at the birth of the term, and Knowyourmemes.com has it right. :) While ‘Brony’ is typically understood by a lot of followers as the combination of ‘Bro’ and ‘Pony’, while not specifically the origin. That being said, it doesn’t really MATTER so much, because the fandom identifies itself with the ‘bro-pony combo’ ideology anyway.

Yeah, the Brony fandom is going to be a goldmine for researchers in Modern Sociology, Popular Culture and Psychology. This is probably one of the very few times in the past couple of years that such a weird phenomenon has developed so large haha. (It’s late, I can’t think of any major examples that are similar to a male demographic fanboying over a ‘female-intended audience’ driven show.)

J Wortel Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 08:43 AM

This was really interesting.  I’ve been waiting for people to start writing more about this phenomenon than simply “Can you believe this exists?!”

I have mixed feelings about the Bronies becoming a primary target audience for Hasbro, since honestly, the show was made for little girls, and I don’t want them to be forgotten simply because they have a much quieter voice on the internet.  That being said, it’s very impressive that Hasbro and the Hub, unlike Disney, Nickelodeon, or Cartoon Network, have embraced the Bronies.  That response shows a sort of cool confidence about their brand and products, and can only be benefiting them now that (aside from a few ridiculous incidents) they have won the Bronies’ loyalty. 

Thanks for writing about this!  I’m certainly sharing it :)

Evie Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 08:57 AM

This is an excellent article.Not only did the author actually do some research and get the facts about the show and the fandom correct he maintains a non - biased attitude and makes a fantastic article for discussion.

And as it seems to be a point of discussion, if you have been following/part of the fandom since it began it’s generally accepted that the origination of the term Brony is portmanteau of “bro” and “pony”, and it does originate from 4chans /b/ board.

T Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 08:58 AM

Very well balanced report on the Growth of the new incarnation of My Little Pony outside its intended audience.  However toy or any entertainment providing company such as Hasbro shouldn’t be to suprised by.  Theirs many factors that play into MLP:FIM success with non target audience. One is its part of American 20th and 21st century culture to have a need for nostalgia.  While its been more obvious in recent decades, one can look as early back to the start of the 20th century when toy trains and fire trucks started to be made and the few lucky families that could afford them for their children.  As they became adults and with TV moving into homes, these adult males who had trucks and trains could be marketed too to buy them for their own sons, and maybe a special “daddy’s only” collection too.  Not to leave girls out dolls became increasingly sophisticated with Barbie dolls. 
As these kids grew up, they where marketed to, so that they would buy them again for their children in the 70’s and 80’s and ofcourse the collectors market. 

Star Wars movies and toy line along with the growth of GIJOE now this time 20 years on in the 80’s really helped solidify the collector market, but still this was considered a very small part of the target audience, however it didn’t stop Mattel from time to time releasing high end expensive Collectors edition Barbie.  As the 90’s came around Anime (even though its been coming to America since the 60’s)  really took hold, and thanks to Sailor Moon 80’s and 90’s kids could see Female characters, that could kick butt, take names, and still find time to attend school. I remember many guys liking Sailor moon because they where use to the concept of truly heroic and “awesome” female lead characters thanks to prior experience with Anime in the 80’s and VHS releases in the 90’s. 

So as a culture we’ve been told thanks to marketing that if you find the toy or story behind the toy, to be of some sort of “quality”, its ok to like it. 

Back to Hasbro’s embracing of the MLP and its impact on the internet. I sort of feel this is also their reaction to being very very slow to understanding how much an impact The Transformers, had on children growing up in the 80’s and being teens and 20 year olds in the 90’s watching Beast Wars.
With early internet access many Trans-Fans felt Hasbro didn’t really give to much interest into Transformers compared to the story writers and animators on the show. Hasbro sometimes would go out of their way to try to block interaction, and always thinking the teen and 20 something fanbase was just a small segment, over time they began to figure out it was much larger then they expected, and that Transformers was becoming a pop culture item like Star Wars and Star Trek.  They still didn’t know how to fully interact with the fans “I feel” until the Transformers Energon series around 2004.  Now it feels like they almost go out of their way to communicate with the fans.  I’d like to think and hope that what Hasbro is doing now with MLP, is partly based on their experience with the Transformer Fan base.

And lastly of this long observation on why adults especially adult males are interested in a girl show with magical talking ponies. Going back to the quality of the shows overall story elements and growing Anime/Manga influence in America.  If one is familiar with Japanese toy market, it would not be uncommon to see adult males buying cute girl figures to place on their desks at work or home.  Thanks to the internet and Anime, American males have been embracing this. 

So in summarize of a longwinded post, We Americans have been marketed too for about 100 years now, and told that its ok to reclaim your youth with a nostalgic impulse buy. Also thanks to the growth of the internet, Anime/manga influence on Male fans, and Hasbro allowing Ms Faust to assemble a strong creative team that can handle this amazing show even with her no longer actively involved… It really shouldn’t be a suprise that this show has a strong and growing non-target demographic. 

Besides whats more manly then a bunch of Little pony girls beating up on Demonic forces with nothing more then their hoves, and the magic of friendship. 

Jason Canty Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 09:21 AM

Jason, GREAT point about the need for our generations obsessions with nostalgia.  I wish I could claim that I watched MLP before MLP was cool, but I can’t.

As a 38 year old man, I must admit that I make many purchasing decisions (mostly comics and books) based on the importance I held characters/franchises as a kid.

THANKS for commenting. 

Benjamin Myhre Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 09:42 AM

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-E-xJNvGRHEQ/T5W7rQJDJSI/AAAAAAAAnHQ/6ykLADJjwF0/s640/typical_brony_by_darthagnan-d4m6x6w.jpg

UNASHAMED

Proud brony. Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 09:53 AM

Finally! I’m so glad someone wrote this article. I had a friend who wrote an article about the business side of MLP for his economics class last semester and it touched on a few of these points.

I was hoping someone would explore the idea further and try to explain what Hasbro has done right. I really wish more companies would use this kind of model instead of clinging to the old model. The internet has changed things and it is so irritating to see so many companies resist this rather than embrace it.

*Brohoof*

Tyler Henderson Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 09:59 AM

Thanks for the brohoof, Tyler!

Honestly, I love writing about this kind of stuff.  I am a longtime Reddit guy, so I absolutely get a kick out of how these random interesting things on the internet get so popular out of nowhere… or is it out of nowhere?

Benjamin Myhre Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 10:07 AM

An extremely interesting article that I truly enjoyed. I feel like there is so much focus by outside media on the disturbing side of the brony phenomena and the negative impact it might have on society today that there is little to no discussion on the fandom’s positive impact.
What’s also interesting to point out is that, although Hasbro originally took down episodes that fans uploaded onto Youtube, they have recently let them be; this has further allowed the older demographic to grow internationally as many of the current episodes have yet to be dubbed and released to other countries.
Also, Hasbro’s acceptance and encouragement of the brony fandom has allowed Hasbro to be cast in a much more positive light than, say, Disney is. Hasbro’s acceptance and encouragement of fan-made work has cultivated a loyalty among the bronies to the company, with many encouraging one another to buy merchandise and episodes to support the show.
In turn, bronies have become a larger influence in the merchandise Hasbro creates and supports. For example, ponies that have little screen time in the episodes, yet have been loved and enhanced by the fans have also found their way into MLP merchandise (i.e. Derpy Hooves, Vinyl Scratch). Hasbro created a toy of a villain, something they had never done before, simply because of the brony market. This marketing to the older demographic has then further led to it’s growth. The relationship between Hasbro and the bronies is almost a mutual one, with each side supporting the other. It’s really rather interesting to see.

TauMeow Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Since the following article came out about this time last year, it’s been a fascinating journey through the shoals of licensing and other IP issues, particularly that of trademarks:

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/07/28/0124213/better-copyright-through-fair-use-and-ponies

Rather than assaulting the fanbase with cease-and-desist notices, Hasbro has embraced its newfound fanbase. In return, the fanbase has been respectful of Hasbro’s IP rights: a large proportion of videos start/end with things like “MLP is the property of Hasbro”, or “Hasbro owns MLP”, or “Thanks, Hasbro, for MLP!” - far too many to explain away as a mere “please don’t sue me” fig leaf. The fanbase really wants it to be clear to the viewer that Hasbro owns the IP, and that the fans are grateful for Hasbro’s tacit permission to play with it. The interplay between fans who make a sincere effort to respect the creators’ IP, and an IP owner that’s prepared not to overreact to the overblown fear of trademark dilution, has resulted in a Cambrian explosion of Internet remix culture that has benefited both fanbase and IP owner alike.

Anonymous Brony Posted on: Aug 01, 2012 at 09:09 PM

hey there, i’m from Know Your Meme, and i must applaud this article for its neutrality and attention to proper research. as a Brony who has spent a lot of time within the fandom, both as a content creator, consumer, and researcher (it is a hobby of mine to study the development of memes and sub-cultures like the MLP fandom), you have no idea how frustrating it is to see the constant news articles fraught with inaccuracies and bias-filled opinions about the fandom.

but you showed that you actually spent time to get the facts as correct as possible, and provided a refreshingly intelligent yet accessibly concise analysis of what bronies are. for this, i applaud you.

if you’re interested, there is a very well-made video from PBS’s Idea Channel on Youtube which explores some interesting ideas about the fandom. the first part of the video is simply explaining what bronies are, and as an accompaniment to the information provided by KYM’s databases, it’s quite fascinating and presents a slightly different perspective on the whole MLP craze. the second part of the video delves into a question about the fandom’s impact on public perception of what is generally considered acceptable for what men should be watching.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Est3UNs-LIk

again, thanks for this article, i loved it!

August Day Posted on: Aug 02, 2012 at 11:38 PM

Hey… Thanks August for the compliments and also for the YouTube link.  I also enjoy investigating internet memes and occurrences (I have written about a few of them).  For this blog, I usually try to put a spin on it for what a business can learn or how perhaps businesses can be impacted.

We do live in a world where one good or bad popular post on 4chan or reddit can really impact a brand and I think it is great with how the MLP team handled it. 

Finally, as a grown man who does my fair share of comic book reading and participates Star Wars nerdery…. who am I to judge people for watching a cartoon that some might frown upon?  Thanks for reading!  You should check out some of my other posts… If you are into reviewing memes, you may enjoy.

Benjamin Myhre Posted on: Aug 03, 2012 at 12:08 AM

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