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September 3, 2011
Nerds: The Hottest Demographic in Marketing
 
I cannot live this lie any longer. It’s time for me to admit to the world who I am. This is my confession, and as I write it, I cannot help but wonder what my friends and colleagues will think of me after reading this. Most of all, I fear for how my girlfriend will react as I have worked so hard to hide this awful truth from her.
 
Here it goes: I. Am. A. Nerd.
 
Yes, I am a nerd. Like, a big nerd. I’ve participated in in-depth arguments over which superhero is more likely to win in a head-to-head grudge match: Batman or Superman. (Batman, of course. One needs only to look in the annals of comic canon to see examples of him whooping the Man of Steel.) I can recite from memory each and every line of dialogue in the original "Star Wars" Trilogy, and I feel as equally rancorous about Episodes 1, 2, and 3 as I do about the handling of Hurricane Katrina. My Xbox Gamerscore is a modest 8,075, and the excitement I feel watching each new video preview of the upcoming "Halo" title is so great it may as well be pornography. Perhaps most telling of how truly nerdy I am is the fact that I find the films of Kevin Smith to be funny.
 
Let me be clear, my nerddom has nothing to do with my love of gadgetry. Thanks to Apple, obsessions with technology have become far too chic to be embarrassed about. I’m talking about the "living in your mom’s basement playing World of Warcraft” type of nerdery.
 
Why have I chosen this column to make my grand confession? Because, as advertisers and marketers, you should be trying to get me and my brethren to buy your client’s products. Forget soccer moms. It is the Nerd Demographic who truly are deserving of your attention.
 
Stripped of all pretenses, advertising is simply the selling of products. Fragrances, luxury cars, and tennis shoes are not products that will cure cancer or solve world hunger. They are material things that, at best, will make a consumer feel a little bit better about his or her own self-worth. My point is that, in the grand scheme of things, these products amount to very little.
 
However, a nerd will go to fisticuffs over the most inconsequential matter. We nerds live in a world where the most innocuous subjects are matters of life or death. For example, two soccer moms won’t get into an intense argument over whose minivan is the best, but two Nerds will hurl the basest insults at each other over the merits of Red Bull versus Monster. This is because the requisite characteristic of a nerd is blind passion. Blind passion is reason why a Storm Trooper will never show up at a Trekkie convention, and it is why we are likely the most brand-loyal consumers who exist.
 
Several years ago, when I was working in experiential marketing, I pitched to senior management San Diego’s Comic-Con as an event for our automotive client to participate in. I not only thought it was a great event, but I really wanted an excuse to go, so I put together what was probably the best PowerPoint deck I’ve ever created (remember, a nerd is passionate) and proudly gave a presentation chock-full of stats and case studies. Perhaps I erred in showing too many pictures, like the one I included in the deck of a woman dressed as Princess Leia arm in arm with a man suited up as Boba Fett, because my crowd was too busy snickering to really understand what I was pitching. Once I finished, a single person summed up management’s thoughts, "Great job, Justin. It’s just that this is all so…nerdy!”
 
I look back on that memory today, and I still believe that if management had seen past their own “coolness” and given the event a shot, Comic-Con would have been our client’s most successful event of the year. I don’t hold onto that belief as a nerd scorned. I hold onto it because as a professional I have seen the value of brand evangelism raised above all else in this industry. Over 100,000 people attend Comic-Con each year, and that makes for over 100,000 would-be evangelists for any brand smart enough to court them. If Comic-Con has indeed become too commercialized, I know I’m not alone in assessing the nerd demographic as fertile ground. So take me at my word as a nerd and try throwing some of us into that focus group the next time a client tasks you with a product launch. Just make sure you have a capable monitor, because with that many nerds in one room, things could get ugly fast!
 
Note: The author neither lives in his mother’s basement nor plays "World of Warcraft." He does not pass judgment on those who do.

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Justin Celko is a digital communications professional based in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter.



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