Brand Reputation: Is this the beginning of the demise of One Direction?

Well, they couldn’t stay squeaky clean forever could they?

Let’s remove opinion about their music and have a look at this in a PR context. Britain’s latest x-factor global export has been milking the boy band cash cow for a solid 4 years. Without a doubt they have created an extremely strong brand that transcends language and cultural barriers. Merchandise has gone nuts as every teen worth their salt grapples for a piece of the 1D phenomenon. Their initial stakeholder targeting of the youth pop market was tried and tested and worked to rocket them into the global limelight. But like their child-hood starlet predecessors, Britney, Bieber, Lohan and even Take That, eventually the sugar coating wears off.

Stakeholder salience theory was adhered to but they have fallen in to the classic trap. Salience theory does not consider stakeholder changes over time. Not only do you have a rapidly evolving 1D audience (Yes, boys now like them too!) but the audience and the band itself is growing up. How do the young men evolve from their boyish pop persona? Why of course, like many before them they will play with the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable. The chaps are apparently pictured with a rather large joint. We could discuss the drug debate but that’s opening up another can of worms’ altogether. Let’s not go down that slippery slope on this occasion. There’s a lot of other ethical concepts and consideration to be made here. What this does do though is tarnish their whiter than white image. Will you still love them if they are ‘bad boys’? If their PR team does a good enough job at fixing their reputation you will!

You're going to need more puppies and cable knit boys!
You’re going to need more puppies and cable knit boys!

Not even an exclusive Radio One Big Weekend interview could shy the media away from the content in a leaked video taken in Peru (I can’t verify the video, these opinions are all my own etc!). If you haven’t seen it. Have a peek here.

As a role model to children and teens everywhere, it’s impossible to measure the effect this will have as their reach is so large. Louisot and Rayner state that good reputation is achieved when expectations are consistently met or exceeded. So far for 1D that’s been golden, however this little escapade has planted the seeds of doubt. I’m pretty sure that any parent in any country will not condone drug use (whether the band were smoking drugs or not, the connotation and implications are enough to instigate parent alarm bells). Will this have an impact on their popularity and reputation? Only time will tell.

I can’t even say I’m surprised at this ‘revelation’. They aren’t the first or the last. No doubt someone somewhere is being fired for leaking the footage, unless it was the band member themselves, in which case, smacked wrists from the management team are coming your way! Simon Cowell has a kid of his own now, might this cause him to consider how much pressure he’s putting on the continually touring band? Can we blame the management and unrelenting work schedule? Or perhaps you think ‘lucky so and so’s living the dream’? Whatever your opinion, can you say you are surprised or shocked?

My biggest shock came at the two band members sneering at their fans. Lads, don’t forget who pays the bills, it’s those kids and the parents with the pennies. You could easily be outranked by a cartoon pig in the blink of an eye. Fame is fickle.

I’m sure there are some media moguls who have been working very hard round the clock to create a strategy to deal with this crisis and to repair the damage to the 1D brand. Perhaps I’m wrong and they are revelling in even more coverage. All publicity is good publicity, right?

If they do try and repair any damage that’s been done I wonder what path they will take? Will they acknowledge it in a carefully scripted PR statement or press release? More charitable activities? Or perhaps they will brush it under the carpet as ‘just a cigarette, the boy’s were just mucking about!’? Public relations, reputation management and crisis communications are clearly key to repairing damage but it leads me to think what apsects and skills must be drawn upon as a new PR practitioner. Does the added dimension of ‘celebrity’ change how you would deal with the situation compared to an organisation or service? Crisis communications state that communication is key but we are yet to hear anything from the 1D camp. It’s been a wee while now, time’s a ticking team Syco! It will be interesting to see how they handle this matter and how they recover and rebuild the damage caused to their reputation. Lessons to be learnt by all.


(I will add that this is just an opinion on activities that may or may not have happened, before one of 1D and Syco’s legal team beat me financially into oblivion. My main concern is with the PR activity and what actions you should take in a crisis to repair brand reputation when it’s damaged.)

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