From the Beatles and the Monkees, to Menudo, Boyz II Men and New Edition, to *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, and most recently, the Jonas Brothers, it would seem that boy bands are nothing new. Far from surprising, the recent re-emergence of a new crop of boy bands signals a return to a recognizable place. It might be easy to dismiss wannabe sensations like One Direction (who may have made it on the radar of adults-without-tween-girls-living-in-their-homes on Saturday Night Live, when they served as musical guest), as the end of the artist as we know it. Afterall, these groups are often not shy about their commercial
ambitions or the way in which they were brought together by youth-savvy producers and industry moguls. But regardless of what you think of their music or their highly choreographed dance moves, understanding the appeal of boy bands (“then” and “now”) provides invaluable insight into what a tween girl wants…So what can brands and organizations do to access some of that boy band appeal?
- Focus on cute, not cool. Who says nice guys never win? And who says that being aloof makes you more admirable? Not tween girls. Boy bands can come off as cloying to adults, but for tween girls, they are just like candy – sweet, easy to consume, and inviting. As an Irish newspaper, talking about One Direction noted, Justin Bieber had reminded everyone that there was still a market for "clean cut, wholesome, middle class, parent-friendly pop: cute boys advocating puppy love.” When it comes to their fashion sense, their sounds, or their personal style, they are rarely edgy, and often startlingly sweet. And for tweens who are moving into music for the first time, these boy bands serve as starter artists – who don’t make you work too hard to get them.
- Give girls different faces, within the same frame. Go to any middle school playground in America and you’re likely to see groups of tweens girls wearing, what seems to be, the exact same outfit, with such subtle differences that the average adult is likely to gloss over them. Not so for the tween girls, who will proudly distinguish among their group of friends – she’s the one who likes blue…She’s the girly one, so her Tom’s shoes have the sparkles (as opposed to everyone else’s Tom’s shoe that don’t). Boy bands have this down to a science. There’s the scruffy one, the born leader, the mama’s boy (although they’re all a bit over-the-top about their love for their mamas!), and the shy one. There’s the preppy one, the fashion fiend, the “rocker” and the sports savant. The result: everyone in your group can participate, but you can match your guy with your own personal style.
- Focus on friendship. Why, you might be asking, is it always a band? Perhaps it’s because of the synchronized dancing (like line dancing and cheerleading routines) that makes dance moves feel so formulaic that they can imagine themselves executing them with enough practice? But more importantly, these guy groups present the ultimate tween girl fantasy: friendship. At a time when tweens are trying with all their might to untangle the web that can be tween girl relations, watching a gang of guys make it look so easy gives them hope! While a group like One Direction, who admittedly came together at the urging of X Factor judge/producer Simon Cowell, even better are the stories (authentic or exaggerated) of a group of true friends from the neighborhood who have had each others’ backs for a long time.
- Don’t assume caring is corny. As any youth brand knows, once you crossover to corny, it’s hard to come back. But, what teens might dismiss as dumb, tweens will often embrace with enthusiasm. Teens might reward artists and brands that seem to be so casual as not to care, tweens appreciate effort. Caring about your fans (and even about their parents!) isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of niceness. And when it comes to boy bands, nice guys finish first.
- It’s about the girls, not about the group. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the crazes and fevers that develop surrounding boy bands is that it’s all about them. Despite all that hair gel, and their inevitable entourages, tween girls are often left with the impression that these guys would give it all up if it meant dissing their fans. Boy bands don’t put themselves on a pedestal; they put their fans on one (at least from girls’ perspectives). We see this in their ballads – which are less about relationships and more about reiterating how special, pretty and altogether lovely their love interests are.
Finally, it would be hard to talk about boy bands without acknowledging that tweens have a much higher tolerance than most targets for ubiquity – it’s hard to become overexposed with tweens! But know that the brighter the flame, the faster the fizzle…So brands might want to borrow from the boy bands’ strategy tool box, but make sure that they think about their next hit before the craze has hit crescendo