One Direction or The Rolling Stones – which brand are you?

I originally wrote this blog last December, but in the light of the premiere of the new One Direction movie, “This Is Us”, I thought I’d give it a refresh.


An estimated crowd of 70,000 squeezed into London’s Leicester Square in an effort to catch a glimpse of the world’s biggest boy band as they turned up for the premiere of their movie. It’s a familiar scene for them. When they celebrated the release of their album Take Me Home on the Today show in New York late last year over 15,000 screaming fans in Rockefeller Plaza many of whom had camped out for as long as five days in the freezing cold and rain. 

Around the same time The Rolling Stones were celebrating 50 years in the industry by playing to a sell-out London crowd for the first time since 2007. The Stones, all in their 60s and 70s, performed in front of 20,000 screaming fans at the O2 and then went on this year to play Hyde Park and Glastonbury in triumph.

All very interesting but what’s the point? Look at it from a marketing perspective. It’s worth noting the differences between the high octane, smash and grab approach of One Direction, hitting the consumer on multiple touch points, ramping up consumer awareness steeply and sharply in multiple markets, utilising every tool at their disposal in order to create a wave of enthusiasm and hysteria that the brand can exploit without, one would suggest, expecting to still be around in five, ten let alone fifty years. It’s classic get into the market, make as much impact as you can, exploit it for what you are able and get out before the market moves away from you. 

Of course, one could argue that what One Direction are doing now is no different to the way the Stones built their following in the 60s. The difference, perhaps, is that the machine behind the One Direction brand is creating the market rather than merely riding it in a very modern marketing manner. The fans have bought into the brand, knowing that it comprises much more than just the music. They are buying into a brand which offers the individuals, the fashion, the promise and the brand values of fun, sex and a dose of boy-next-door naughtiness. 

Contrast this with the Stones, whose whole brand since the 60s has been built on longevity; on creating a sustainable, loyal follower base whilst ensuring that the brand has always remained current, never really retro and has avoided being tarnished with the nostalgia tag that has affected so many others. This has required a different approach to. They have recognised the value in being more sparing in their use of the individuals, of understanding what their consumers want from the Rolling Stones brand, of keeping the brand values consistent, even as the band members get older. There is still the same sense of rebellion about the Stones that there was at the beginning, which has kept the brand valid and true even though that’s hard to maintain convincingly as the members reach their seventies. What they have achieved is an authenticity and aspirational nature around the brand across all of its elements that has made it better placed than almost anyone else to play the long game and not only survive, but win. 

The common factor, of course, is that both are giving their consumers what they want at this particular moment in time. But how does this transfer to other brands and businesses. How successful are other brands at creating the market rather than merely riding it. How many businesses look within themselves and actually utilise the ability they have to shape the market to meet their commercial objectives. And what prevents them from so doing? How many assess the importance of refreshing the brand and the way it communicates in order to keep it current. 

Essentially it’s three things: a lack of genuine understanding about the brand and how that suites with what the consumer really wants. Don’t forget, you need to position the brand according to what your market is looking for – not what you think it should be looking for. A lack of imagination – brands not exploiting creative marketing thinking and doing what they have always done previously, regardless of the results it has delivered. As one client once said to me “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had.” And finally there is fear. Brands are frightened, especially in the current climate, to stand out even though they know the potential rewards are greatest for those that impose themselves on their markets, in a structured, targeted and creative manner. 

The brands that are the most successful are the boldest and most targeted in the way they approach their markets. Get it right and the world could be talking about you. Fail, and your brand could disappear faster than the last X Factor contestant to fade quickly away.



I want to pay homage to the Norwegian PR company hired to inject some life into the campaign of the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. They had him out on the streets for an afternoon working incognito as a taxi driver in Oslo, which enabled him to listen to and engage with the voters who got into the back of his cab. It’s a fantastic piece of creative PR, not just because it captured the attention of the media as well as the interest of the voters with whom he came into contact, but also because it served an actual purpose. It enabled him to engage directly with the voters and therefore, presumably, helped meet one of his strategic objectives for communications.

PR as an industry is packed full of fantastically creative people, each and every one capable of coming up with stand-out ideas that will out-innovate their colleagues or their competitors. But all of that creativity means very little unless it is working towards a common purpose.

The starting point for any campaign must be to identify what the commercial objectives are; ask yourself what success would look like if everything worked to plan and then how you would measure or quantify that success. Only then should you begin to apply the techniques and disciplines you might use to help you achieve those objectives – and only then can you get creative to come up with the ideas to create the standout you need.

There are two further caveats. No matter how awesome the idea, if it doesn’t fit with the objectives you have set, park the idea for another time. Don’t try and shoehorn the idea to fit the objectives. And second, if your brand is conservative in character, with a traditional customer base, don’t put your energies behind a wild and whacky idea that is likely to baffle, confuse or even alienate them.

Your brand profile is critical to success. Increasingly we buy products and services from companies because we value or respect the brand FIRST, and we look at the detailed features and benefits second. If we got to buy a new car, a new phone or a new television, we enter the shop armed with a hit list of brands and refine our choice from there. The key is to make it onto that hit list of brands in the first place.

Your company must live up to its brand promise. It must deliver what we expect it to deliver in the way we have come to expect it. Surprises should only be good ones; initiatives should be in keeping with the brand personality. Easy Group has made its name championing the affordable through its orange-clad airline EasyJet. We each may moan occasionally, but nobody can doubt that Easyjet has contributed to a revolution in low cost air travel.

In recent years the brand values have been successfully transferred to other sectors through Easy Car Hire and Easy Hotel. Now EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou is to open his first easyFoodstore in Croydon. The venture could be extended next year if it is successful. Although it has little track record in food retailing, the brand strength and the nature of the proposition are likely to be such that consumers will warm to the idea because of inherent trust in the brand. Creative communications on the back of that becomes not only easier but also considerably more powerful.

However, Sir Stelios says that his foodstore will concentrate on affordable, basic ‘no-brand-name’ packet and tinned foods at bargain prices. For a company that is all about the power of the brand, that’s an interesting move – unless it is reluctant to share the limelight with any others.