Is Lady Gaga and the like taking young fans for a ride?

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As One Direction and Lady Gaga cash in on their newest projects, I look at the marketing techniques deployed by the entertainment industry, and ask whether it is financially exploiting young fans

Iona Bain

Why has a band like One Direction made so much money? That is, literally, the billion dollar question that is being widely asked this week, since Business Insider Magazine has now predicted that the boyband will be worth a cool 10 figure sum thanks to the release of their first film.

It is easy (and perhaps lazy) to attribute this handsome bank balance to the disposable income of teenage girls. After all, where do they get all that cash from? It’s Britain’s most forgiving and reliable financial institution, of course.

Bank of Mum and Dad PLC is paying for the concert tickets, the album sales, even the make-up range that 1D is planning to bring out (and no, I’m not making that up, if you pardon the pun). It even branches out into providing unpaid security and chauffeur services when teenage girls want to go screaming to One Direction’s live concerts.

BMD PLC provides this extraordinary service because it recognises the powerful pressures that are exerted on young people to buy into certain cultural phenomena. Let’s face it – resistance is futile. Teenagers have an overwhelming urge to conform and consume; this overrides all other considerations, since young people have not yet grown into mature consumers who can discern real value, know what it’s like to work hard for money and can recognise when they are being financially exploited. Institutions, politicians and even parents often forget the urges that drive the younger generations – that is partly why many of my peers do not receive compassionate and concentrated advice on how to overcome commercial influences and become more savvy individuals.

I believe the One Direction Corporation is bankrolled by BMD Limited under the tacit agreement that it will not take the mick by charging excessive amounts for its goods and short-changing its loyal fanbase. There is no evidence so far that it has done either. But this week, another pop star stands accused of financially preying on young fans.

Lady Gaga is currently running a competition in the U.S. via Twitter, where fans are encouraged to buy multiple copies of her new album, among other things, if they want the chance to be her ‘date’ at the London iTunes festival in September. There are reports that some young customers have spent up to $200 on her new album in order to be in the frame. Entrants can also submit fan ‘artwork’, but I suspect this pays lip service to critics who say the scheme has been devised purely to drive album sales.

Many of her ‘little monsters’ will be young and therefore highly susceptible to this astute marketing technique. They’ll inevitably feel under pressure to spend money they don’t really have in the vain hope that they’ll meet their idol. They will receive no benefit from purchasing more than one album – in my opinion, the songs all sound the same if you listen to one copy of the album, let alone a different one. But the ploy will sure bump up LG’s album sales.

Young people can get easily caught up in the zeitgeist, and the entertainment industry knows this all too well. The film critic Mark Kermode once had a telling exchange with a producer for the blockbuster film Titanic, which made over $2bn across the world. In his book “The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex”, he said that the studio mogul discounted all his criticisms of the film by saying; “The problem, Mark, is that you are not a teenage girl”.

If we have any chance of regulating the natural impulse to spend in our teen years, we must all become more aware of the persuasive and even manipulative marketing strategies used by the entertainment industry.

My very first blog highlighted the impossible economics that were developing in connection with music festivals, relying as they did on broke young people to pay ever-higher sums in order to watch the same old acts year-after-year. Just as music festivals eventually suffered a backlash, so too could pop acts who deploy questionable tactics when trying to elicit spending among young fans.

Gaga, you have been warned…

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