In early May, a plain, vanilla-scented white candle from Target sold out online. A quick glance at product reviews can tell you why: It smells like Harry Styles.
Or so the buyers say. The 26-year-old singer and actor has never said anything about the item, but his teen fans on TikTok claimed that the candle, then priced at $6.99, smells like a fragrance Styles is known to have used, Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, which costs $155 for 1 ounce. Those claims were enough to have the candle fly off Target’s shelves.
Styles also has never talked about the JW Anderson cardigan he wore before an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show in February, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a viral sensation, with TikTok users teaching themselves how to knit to make the patchwork cardigan.
Unlike other social media stars beloved by Generation Z, Styles doesn’t use the hashtags #ad or #sponsored. In fact, Styles doesn’t promote anything on social media beyond his albums, tours and music videos, and yet he wields an outsize influence over his 81 million-plus followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Notably, he does not have an official account on TikTok, the social media platform favored by Gen Zers.
The former One Direction star’s detachment from social media, which is also characteristic of other celebrity darlings of Gen Z like singer-actress Zendaya and singer Billie Eilish, breaks the usual rules for influencer marketing, but it has only increased Styles’ appeal to a generation that is always online, marketing experts said.
“He’s really been able to expand beyond the music industry and become this cultural icon,” said Kristin Breakell, a content strategist with Trendalytics, a New York City-based data insights platform. “He’s transcended celebrity status and become a representation of today’s culture,” she said, able to generate buzz among cultural influencers even when he’s silent on social media.