How Shawn Mendes Got Famous: The Marketing Strategy Behind His Success

While great songs can take singers far, there’s nothing like a good music marketing campaign to help them rise to stardom. Let’s take a look at how Shawn Mendes got famous and the marketing strategy behind the Canadian singer-songwriter’s success.

Shawn’s (Marketable) Origin Story

While most of us forgot about where Shawn came from as soon as “Stitches” and “Mercy” dropped, his fans didn’t. Shawn Mendes became an internet star at 14 thanks to his vines. Now defunct, the platform was known among teens for allowing them to upload funny, six-second looping video clips. Shawn used Vine for a different purpose. He posted his covers of popular songs.

By the time Vine shut down in 2016, Mendes had over half a billion views and an established fan base. He was successfully marketing to his audience even before Island Records found out about him. The first thing he did was notice that no one was doing song covers on Vine. YouTube was already saturated and offered few chances for growth, so Mendes turned to a new platform where his target audience hung out. One of the first videos he posted on Vine was the chorus from Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me,” and it blew up, accumulating over 10,000 likes overnight. In four months, he grew to 200,000 followers on Vine and Twitter! Shawn Mendes also often filled fan requests, a strategic move that ensured he always knew which songs were the most popular with his audience at a given moment. 

Mendes became so popular that he started going on meet-and-greet-conventions (MAGCONs) with other social media celebs to engage with fans.  In the end, it was his cover of “Say Something,” that caught the attention of major record label, Island Records. 

#HandwrittenBuyouts Music Marketing Campaign

When Mendes started marketing his first album, Handwritten in 2015, it caused a lot of controversy in the media. In a tweet, he announced the release of his album by inviting his fans to go to their local music stores and buy out all the Handwritten albums on shelves. They had a chance to find a golden access pass to meet Shawn in person and watch him perform in a tropical destination.

Despite creating some controversy, this tactic worked. His album flew off the shelves and he sold 119,000 album-equivalent units in the first week. This is no record-breaking number, but impressive nonetheless. Now, all of this would’ve been impossible if Mendes hadn’t become a person his fan base could relate to. Instead of perceiving him as a singer with a marketing team behind him, his fans saw him as a friend and rushed to support his first album.

Mendes interacted with his fans who bought stacks of his albums (frequently spending hundreds of dollars to clear out the shelves), retweeting their photos and celebrating his success as the youngest artist to have a number one album on the Billboard 200 chart. While Mendes’ fan base was happy to just consume his songs, they thrived when he gave them a chance to do something to show support for him. And win a meet & greet, of course. 😉

How Shawn Mendes Promoted the Album Illuminate

The first thing Mendes did in 2016 (quite literally – it was Jan 21) was appear on CW’s show The 100. Mendes also sang in the episode, which was the third season premiere of the show.

By appearing on The 100 (whose audience is demographically and behaviorally similar to that of Mendes), he was able to capture more interest and reach the audiences he hadn’t before. The best part? Mendes is rumored to have landed the role after tweeting to the show’s producers. Whether this is true or not, if his audience wasn’t sold on him by that point, they would’ve been. Once again, he showed how much he resonated with his fans. After appearing on The 100 and getting in front of a large, previously unreached target audience, Mendes announced his second world tour.

Shawn Mendes’ OOH Advertising Campaign

When it came time to promote Illuminate, Spotify and Mendes teamed up to launch an Out-of-home (OOH) campaign. This time, instead of putting Mendes front and center, his marketing team opted for billboards displaying his lyrics across cities in the US. Mendes himself invited his fans to take part in the campaign by sharing the photos of the boards they found. Lucky winners would meet him on the tour.

According to Musically, the campaign’s budget was around $25,000 and it had a good success rate, garnering over 21 million impressions across the US, the UK, and Canada. When it comes to digital music marketing, this was a good move on Spotify’s part. Instead of putting Shawn at the forefront of the campaign, they put his lyrics in the spotlight in order to capture a new audience.

Mendes’ Music Video Fulfills Fan Fantasies

It’s not a secret that a big part of Mendes’ fan base is attracted to his boyish looks and demeanor. And that’s exactly what Sharon Timure of Island Records used to promote his single “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.” In the music video, Shawn Mendes is shown falling in love with a girl who’s apparently his fan (judging by the scenes showing her in the audience as he’s performing on a tour). The video itself is cute, but what’s even cuter is the marketing behind it; every Mendes’ fan wants him to fall in love with them.

Teen magazines like Seventeen started asking themselves: “Who would reject Shawn’s love? Also, how is his voice always ~so angelic~ and ~soft~? Fans wanted to know if the love was real, Jimmy Fallon made a cover of the song, and Ford used it to promote their 4×4 Ranger. Successful? Definitely. Mendes’ fan base does like his songs and his voice, but they love his personality even more. It’s a great card for his marketing team to play, especially since fans today expect to get more access to the celebrities’ private lives than ever before. In the words of Mendes’ manager: Authenticity is a must.

Shawn Mendes’ Partnership with Spotify

Since digital music marketing is gaining more and more traction with each passing day, it’s not enough to just drop an album and call it a day. Record companies have to focus on the tools that the fan bases are using, and that’s exactly what Mendes did with his self-titled album. By partnering with Spotify again, and adding his album to the Pre-Save program, Mendes generated a lot of hype. Spotify also organized a meet-up with Mendes’ biggest fans on their app.

The album debuted at the top of the US Billboard 200, with 182,000 album-equivalent units (142,000 pure album sales).

Shawn Mendes Artist Spotlight on YouTube

Next, Mendes focused on building his brand through YouTube and a big part of this was YouTube launching an Artist Spotlight Story for Mendes. In the spotlight, directed by Casey Neistat, Mendes looks back on his journey and the music that led him to where he currently is.

Again, it’s all about Mendes’ authenticity that his fan base can relate to. And when it comes to the channels his marketing team chooses, they’re the ones used by his fans. While he does appear on TV shows, the majority of Mendes’ influence is perpetuated through social media and digital channels, and it’s something we should take note of in music marketing. 

How Shawn Mendes Became So Famous

Mendes’ songs may be catchy, but it’s his personality, paired with the right marketing channels, that allow him to consistently engage his fans.  Mendes’ marketing campaigns and industry partnerships have been thoughtfully curated by a team that knows their stuff. And with that kind of support, there’s really nothing holdin’ him back.

Key Digital Marketing Takeaways from Shawn Mendes’ Campaigns:

  • Keep an eye out for new platforms your target audience is using, and find a way to stand out. Vines were a BIG part of how Shawn Mendes got famous.
  • Connecting with the artist’s fan base should be the number one priority. Create a strong bond and learn more about their preferences.
  • Gamify promotion to engage the audience more.
  • Increase the relatability of the singer in regards to their target audience. Fan connection has and always will be a big part of Shawn Mendes’ marketing strategy.
  • Know when to remove the singer from the spotlight and let their music attract new fans. Having a strong fanbase was critical to how Shawn Mendes got famous.
  • Local has an influence on digital, so try OOH experiences to engage fan bases.
  • Identify overlaps in audience in TV shows and movies to expand a singer’s influence with native advertising.
  • Singers are public figures. Hinting about their private lives (if the fan base is involved enough) can be a great way to promote new material.
  • Make fan fantasies come true. Do they want the singer to fall in love with them? Give them a chance to experience it, even if it’s just in a music video.

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Annabel Youens

About Annabel Youens

I'm a co-founder and CMO at AE. I believe that truly successful internet businesses have to connect people. {wave} When I'm not online I'm exploring beautiful Vancouver Island. Things I love: everything scifi, literary fiction, coffee, Google Music, my workhorse sewing machine and board games.