“What If I Told You I’m A Mastermind”: the era of Taylor Swift and the consumer

Around the MBS office, I have developed a bit of a reputation for being a self-professed ‘fan girl’. My allegiances vary, from the timeless ABBA to this year’s Brit Awards success story, Raye, through to Lady Gaga, whose artistry I have been championing for the last 16 years.

I am acutely aware of all the fans who have come before me. Musical stars like Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Madonna reached unprecedented heights of fame due to their cult fan following – and this fan culture that was born out of the twentieth century has continued to evolve, as the rise of social media provided fans with new levels of accessibility. In turn, artists have more avenues through which to engage with fans, and to extend their influence far beyond the music industry. In 2024, even more so than the music they put out, pop stars are their own brand, and their own consumer product.

There is one woman in the world right now who best exemplifies this phenomenon – and last night, she kicked off the UK leg of her blockbuster tour. Taylor Swift, the country singer-turned-mega star, has spent the last year travelling around the world touring her three-and-a-half-hour show, which takes fans on a journey through each of her studio albums. To say it’s been a success would be an understatement: by the end of 2024, the US pop star will have played 152 gigs across 54 cities, selling a staggering 6 million tickets.

Taylor’s success doesn’t exist in the vacuum. This tour – and accompanying concert film and merchandise – has, and is continuing to have, a lasting impact on our world (quite literally: Eras Tour concerts in Seattle last July were linked to seismic activity equivalent to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake). For companies in our sector, there are critical lessons to be learnt about how to harness global moments like this – and what this means for the future of entertainment and fan culture.

pic of concert crowd
Taylor Swift has sold 6 million tickets.

It’s true that the ‘Taylor Swift effect’ can be felt across every corner of society. In culture, we’ve seen London’s Victoria & Albert Museum release a job advert for a ‘Superfan Advisor’ on all things Taylor Swift. In academia, there are now six separate colleges in the US offering courses on her career and influence. In sport, Taylor’s relationship with NFL star Travis Kelce has reportedly boosted the brand value of the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs by $331m, bringing NFL viewership by teenage girls up 53%. And this popstar is political: in March, the Singapore Prime Minister revealed that he had paid Taylor Swift’s team to make Singapore the only stop in South East Asia, and, perhaps most pressingly, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Swift’s endorsement of a presidential candidate could swing the US election in November.

Against this backdrop, organisations in our global consumer-facing sector have found themselves firmly inside Swift’s sphere of influence. Recent research into Eras Tour ticket-holders in the UK found that the fans are spending an average of £848 each to see the show, paying for the price of the ticket as well as travel, hotels, new outfits, and food and drink. The tour is expected to boost the UK and US economies by £1bn and $5bn, respectively – with almost all spending coming from the consumer-facing sector.

“Recent research into Eras Tour ticket-holders in the UK found that the fans are spending an average of £848 each to see the show.”

It’s been interesting to see how consumer businesses have responded. Over the last year, we’ve seen organisations capitalise on sudden surges in demand around tour dates, significantly flexing pricing and expanding their services to cater to the fan base. During the Australian leg of the Eras tour, for example, Qantas put on more than 60 additional flights to carry fans to and from regional shows, and hotel prices in Edinburgh for this weekend have spiked by an average of 169% compared to the week before.

We’ve also seen brands tap into the Taylor Swift frenzy to reach new customers, and find creative ways to engage existing ones. Marriott International has used the tour to attract a younger generation of consumers to its loyalty programme, whilst at London’s Four Seasons at Park Lane, the luxury hotel has unveiled a “gig-tripping package,” ahead of Swift’s eight nights at Wembley Stadium. Among other perks, guests who book the package will find karaoke machines in their rooms, glittery welcome drinks, portable phone chargers for the show (also glittery) and friendship bracelet-making kits.

There are countless more examples – and it’s not just the live shows. In October 2023, The Eras Tour concert film was released in cinemas, boosting revenue for theatres at a critical time amid entertainment industry strikes. And four months later, Disney paid $75m for the streaming rights to the film.

Taylor Swift will be performing for eight nights across June and August at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Taylor’s stratospheric success is a masterclass in influence. She has spent years investing in her community, and fostering relationships with the real people who relate her to music. It’s this network of fans – rather than Taylor herself – who influence each other to buy the merchandise, secure the tickets, and watch the football games. For brands, it’s a critically important lesson about the power of community.

“It’s this network of fans – rather than Taylor herself – who influence each other to buy the merchandise, secure the tickets, and watch the football games.”

It also speaks to the future of the entertainment industry – which looks set to get bigger, better and more all-encompassing. Taylor is not alone in launching world tours which become cultural moments. Beyonce’s Renaissance tour was also released as a record-breaking film, and the influence of her metallic silver ‘tourdrobe’ could be felt right across the fashion industry, from fast-fashion platforms creating products for fans to wear to the shows in record time, to the sell-out link-up with Flannels on Oxford Street. Looking ahead, the most forward-thinking brands will be quick to respond to cultural events like this, finding new and creative ways to tap into fan communities.

For me, perhaps the greatest lesson is to not overlook the power of a fandom. Fan culture is often dismissed as being ‘crazed’ or ‘irrational’, but the passion and community – not to mention level of spending – generated by fans is unparalleled. Taylor sings that she promises ‘you’ll never find another like me’ and it looks like we possibly will not. Her particular brand of reinvention, storytelling and feminism has set the tone for millions to live their lives by.

But that is not to say that in the decades to come, we will not see another international artist’s star rise and particular brand resonate with an equally expansive audience. When that happens, how will the consumer sector respond to ensure it does not miss an opportunity to generate synergies? I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

bea.link@thembsgroup.co.uk | The MBS Group