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James Turner raised more than $16,000 to produce a commercial celebrating the diversity and beauty of My Little Pony fandom.
What do an 11-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl, two military officers, a college chairman, and a biology teacher have in common?
They’re all prominently featured in a TV commercial about fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
The Brony Thank You Project is one fan’s crowdfunded TV ad effort to let Hasbro and the Hub— the show’s owner and channel, respectively—know how many different types of people enjoy My Little Pony.
But it’s more than that. It’s a testament to how huge brony fandom has become.
“This is something the Hub said has never been done before,” James Turner, the project’s organizer, told the Daily Dot. “No fandom has ever bought a commercial.”
Turner, 49, organized the ad campaign in May on Indiegogo, earning $16,576—more than six times its monetary goal. Now that the commercial is in post production, we checked in with the New Hampshire brony to hear about his progress.
“I like to run things and organize things; it keeps me busy,” he said.
“It’s my inner Twilight Sparkle.”
He’s not kidding. When Turner isn’t working as a software engineer, he writes for the Christian Science Monitor and O’Reilly Media. His research for the latter turned him on to My Little Pony.
“Obviously bronies have grown pretty heavily over the last 18 months or so,” he said. “I kept hearing about it, so I got an episode or two on iTunes. I was intrigued so I watched a few more—any brony can tell you that’s all it takes.”
Since then, Turner has made no secret of his brony status. One day at work, his manager brought in a pizza and all the employees sat down to watch the show Turner was always talking about.
“The general public is definitely curious about bronies,” he said.
“In the last 15 years, it’s been OK to like cartoons and animation as an adult male, but this is aimed at girls. However, most of the things they go through, everybody goes through. It’s not about the prom and dating boys. It’s about running a business, dealing with your friends, dealing with the calamities in your life.”
The commercial will help show the wide variety of people who watch My Little Pony. But Turner said that was only a secondary reason for the ad. The idea struck after rumors started going around the Web that My Little Pony’s third season would be half the size of its second.
“Everyone in the fandom is wondering how long has this show going to be around,” he said.
“I started thinking, usually when a show goes off the air, people hold big campaigns. People don’t think to do that while its still running. We want to say thank you, we like this, we’re going to pay for commercials to show that we like it and support it.”
Turner finished filming in June and is now waiting for Hasbro’s approval (since the commercial uses the company’s trademark). The commercial will air during prime time on the Hub 10 times this fall, including “during Hub Family Movie Night,” Turner said. Due to FTC restrictions on commercials for kids’ shows, the ad will not run during My Little Pony.
Now that the commercial is almost complete, it’s hard to remember the scathing criticism Turner received from parts of the fandom. Critics claimed the the commercial was “self-serving,” but Turner, who’s been online since 1978, doesn’t see it that way.
“One percent of the people on a forum pushing something can tip the whole forum over,” he said. “Very vocal people were projecting their own concerns on to the community itself. Early versions of the script had flaws, but we worked on them.”
In a sense, Turner doesn’t think his ad will be a PR campaign for bronies. It’s for the kids, he said.
“As the little girls watching the show now get older, their friends might tell them, ‘No, you should be listening to Justin Bieber, ponies are for kids.’ I want them to think back on that Navy officer or the biologist sitting in the lab and say, ‘No, I don’t have to give this up as part of growing up.’”
In fact, the excess funds raised by the Brony Thank You Project will go to Toys for Tots, and Turner hopes to give to other charities soon as well. He’s working with a pro-bono lawyer (“pro-brony,” Turner joked) to turn the project into a charity after the commercial runs.
“It’s what C.S. Lewis said, ‘Being overly concerned with appearing adult is a sign of childishness,’” Turner concluded. “Childish things are things we should value and appreciate.”
Photo via James Turner
Lauren Rae Orsini is a web culture reporter who specializes in anime and the business of fandom. Her work has been published by Forbes and Business Insider.