One Direction: A Marketing Masterpiece

I am a grown ass woman and I love One Direction. You heard me. I don’t like a couple One Direction songs. I don’t hum along to the radio “Hm Hm Hm you beautiful…” I shout “THAT’S WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL.” And I shout every lyric with the same enthusiasm. I LOVE One Direction. I have a sweater with fan art across the chest that is a caricature of each band member. I have ANOTHER sweater that is an exact replica of all Harry Styles’ tattoos (correct placement and all). I also have a One Direction calendar right in front of me. Right now. While you may be thinking this has more to do with my frivolous spending habits than One Direction’s marketing appeal, I am here to tell you differently.

Yeah their brand is geared towards tweens, but I can’t help but respect One Direction’s marketing genius. Here’s why you should too.

They Are Just SO Cute

I am admittedly a Harry girl. He has Mick Jagger’s lips and blue saucers for eyeballs. But I am not so smitten with Harry that I can’t recognize the hotness of the other boys (except Louis. I will never understand his appeal). But it isn’t just their physical appearance that is so stinking adorable, it is the whole persona.

one direction x factor
Getty Images by Ian Gavan 

If you look back at their X Factor auditions, you will see five scared kids trying to impress a British tyrant (Simon Cowell). Their voices are unimpressive but you can’t ignore how adorable and malleable they all seem. Simon, ear always pressed to the audience, saw 5 boys with the right look and knew he could gloss over the unimpressive aspects with

  • Vocal Training
  • Stylists
  • Personal Branding

That’s because the right look (read: attractive) is synonymous with more money. The cuter the boys, the more likely they are to appeal to the target audience, the more albums and merchandise sold. Furthermore, the last point, personal branding, is a real testament to Simon’s foresight which led him to create what was almost a billion dollar boyband.

Following the X Factor, One Direction hit the scene with a sweet and boyish personal brand that appealed to the “average girl” with songs like “What Makes You Beautiful.” Any Beatles fan knows the power of capturing the teen girl demographic. But the boyish and non-threatening charm of early One Direction appealed to the parents too. One Direction circa 2011 looked like the boy you WANT your daughter to bring home. And they even sing about boosting a girl’s confidence. What parent can resist that?

But even if the parent’s weren’t on board, the tweens were already hooked because…

They Are Social Media Mavens

You could argue that without social media, One Direction would never exist. Let’s not forget that they lost X Factor, coming in third place. But, by that time, the bandmates had culled a following larger than some countries. Their Twitter presence today has 28.9 MILLION followers. And that doesn’t take into account that each individual band member has at least 20 Million followers each. That is a direct line to the fans.

This sort of connection with the fans not only breeds loyalty, but it enriches the whole experience. Jason DeMers, CEO of AudienceBloom, wrote in The Top 10 Benefits Of Social Media Marketing that, “Every customer interaction you have on social media is an opportunity to publicly demonstrate your customer service level and enrich your relationship with your customers.” One Direction’s social media presence essentially provided a service level. Not only did this make it possible for fans to communicate with their teenage crushes, but the boys could communicate back. Furthermore, the boys continued to be their kind, boyish and charming brand in all social media interactions.

They Are Committed To Their Personal Brand

If I were to boil each band member down to the most obvious component of their personal brand it would be:

  • Harry Styles, The Heartthrob
  • Niall Horan, The Sweetheart
  • Liam, The Talent
  • Louis, The Accessible
  • Zayn, The Edgey

These are my labels, but if you want an official label, just check out the music video for “Steal My Girl.”

Find me a music video, interview, or even a tweet that doesn’t fit this description. You can’t. There is only one instance where the brand deviates. In 2015, Louis impregnated his then girlfriend, Briana Jungwirth. Suddenly, Louis is no longer a boy band member for tweens to fantasize about losing their virginity to, but a FATHER. This news came to light in a whirlwind and then quickly went silent. The only interview that even broaches the subject is a quick congratulations from one father to another. Otherwise, no baby talk. Why? Because it’s off brand. One Direction is a boy band not a dad band.

Their Brand Evolves

one direction this is us
Getty Images by Dave J Hogan

In the 2013 documentary This Is Us, the brand has evolved from sweet and boyish to still sweet but also fraternity style playful. What I mean by this, is that their brand now allows for tattoos and sexual fantasies. Their songs went from boosting an average girl’s confidence to convincing a girl into the bedroom in songs like Why Don’t We Go There and Little White Lies.

One Direction takes the childish and sweet branding and becomes something you won’t go to prison for when you google search for naked pictures. And they did it so subtly that you didn’t even notice the sweet boy you want your daughter to date is now a tattooed party boy shmoozing his way into her pants.

If a brand is to truly have any staying power it has to become a part of it’s consumer’s lives. Meaning, if your target audience is a tween girl and she has now become a college aged girl, the brand needs to change to retain her as a consumer. One Direction had to grow up and they had to grow into something that a young woman still wants. The music video for “Night Changes” perfectly achieves this goal. Each band member takes you, the camera, on a date unique to their personas. In this video, One Direction has grown up with their fans, but they are still courting YOU.


One Direction is a marketing powerhouse because:

  • They have the right look
  • Use social media to connect with consumers
  • Exhibit dedication to a personal brand
  • Allow their brand to evolve with their consumers

Still not convinced? Let us know what you think in the comments!



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