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We're Being Targeted. Do You Care?

Do you like your wings Chaotic Evil or Lawful Good? Have you noticed cosplayers show up alongside your big Beef & Cheddar on your timeline?

The TTRPG, cosplay and other "geeky" communities are getting more mainstream exposure everyday. For every new fan of Stranger Things to the next live-play D&D stream to pop up on Twitch, new audiences are becoming aware of the growing popularity and acceptance of role playing.

And as audiences become aware, so too do advertisers.

In Summer 2019, State Farm released a commercial featuring two LARPers who remain in character as they file a claim at the site of their accident. The ads appeared on nationwide television and on many streaming services and continues to run as of Dec. 31.

Battlefire and Phoenix, as the LARPers are known, then showed up to Wizard World Con in September, interacting with convention-goers.

To date, this is one of the most visible acts of marketing towards the community on the mainstream level. On social media, the attempts have been even more focused towards the dice rollers.

Pizza Hut, for instance, posted an alignment chart to their Facebook page in December. Those who saw the post could figure out which chicken wing flavor to order based on their preferred alignment, taking advantage of an ongoing meme.

While some big companies like The Hut are just dipping their toes in the pool that is this audience, others already have the advantage of time with their campaigns.

Arby's, having once made an effigy of Matthew Mercer in pita and bacon, has continued its posts of creative artwork. Pop culture icons, anime characters and more are transformed with Arby's packaging, condiments, and yes, The Meats. But a year after that post, Arby's has ramped up its brand presence amongst D&D and fantasy fans, with posts involving cosplayers, and even an improvised dice tower with custom Arby's D20s.

And even on a more narrow scale, Eastern seaboard chain Checkers/Rally's regularly interacts with community members, even going so far as to play into a D20NN parody story last year about a Barovian restaurant franchise.

It's validation of our community, and it's inclusion - but it is also marketing. Will these types of posts continue? For the short term, likely so. But if D&D becomes mainstream to the point of being widely accepted - what then? Probably not - advertisers have to attach to the "next big thing."

So we are being used to promote insurance, fast food, and what have you. But do you care? When we posed the question to you on Twitter, the consensus was that it's a symbiotic relationship: they get our dollars; we get even more exposure.

In many cases, these attempts at marketing go well - but in one well known instance, it's caused friction. As we reported in October, a partnership between Critical Role and Wendy's backfired. A workers' rights issue involving the restaurant chain left a bad taste in the mouths of CR fans when Wendy's released a one-shot module.

The fans will always keep advertisers in check, so as long as Critters and TTRPG fans keep the welcome mat at the door, the big corporate brands can include the community in their next campaigns.

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