Monday, 30 March 2015

Big Bands & Branding – What lies ahead for One Direction?

From left to right: Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik & Harry Styles (Source: Sugarscape)

In news that had teenagers all over the world gasping for air, Zayn Malik announced his departure from One Direction after spending five years as part of the chart-topping British boy band. As a low-key fan of the group (and dedicated marketer), what I was most concerned about was the impact Zayn’s departure would have on the One Direction brand going forward - especially considering it was up until now one of the most lucrative musical acts to have ever existed.

In 2013 Business Insider estimated the worth of One Direction as close to US$1 billion, with earning sources ranging from concert ticket to record sales, movie tickets, DVD sales, and a wide range of memorabilia and merchandise (including an official fragrance). Forbes also estimated that the group earned $75 million in 2014, and listed them as the 7th most powerful celebrities on social media, 17th in terms of earnings, and 44th in terms of overall press coverage.

So given all these stats, I was left wondering how the departure of one member of this group would impact the overall longevity of ‘One Direction’. If history were any indication, I would predict that like many other bands before it (Spice Girls, Take That, Boyzone etc.), One Direction are headed towards an eventual disbanding, perhaps with one last album and tour under their belts.

Part of the charm of a boy (or girl) band is the togetherness and chemistry between the members, and so to loose a vital player leaves an unforgettable void, and one that will always be referred to with scrutiny and comparison. They’ll never be just One Direction anymore – it’ll always be One Direction before/after Zayn – and this is perhaps the crux of the problem, as although the band isn’t just one person, the balance in personalities is what lies behind their success, and so it’ll be incredibly difficult to fill this void and to carry on without fans feeling like something (or someone in this case) is missing.

Aside from the overall branding concerns, the process of removing one band member from the picture may prove to be an extremely costly exercise – and one that the band may not want to repeat if another member leaves. Not only will all official merchandise need to be updated without Zayn’s signature or face on it, so will the external licensing deals that have proved to be cash cow’s for the band, and will now need to either be renewed, or changed to account for Zayn’s departure.

I would compare this whole situation to someone losing an arm or leg (as graphic as that comparison is), because at the end of the day you can still function to some degree, but your movements will always be limited, and that’s something One Direction will no doubt experience in the years (or months) to come.

Salil Kumar
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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