The Big Lie
This commercial is an implicit admission on the part of One Direction that they don’t have any exceptional talent or artistic vision. That their music is interchangable with that of any of the dozens of other “boy bands”, past and present. That what makes them popular now is simply their embrace of trivial things such as fashionable hairstyles. Anyone can see that this is what this commercial is, so shouldn’t this lower the group’s popularity, not increase or maintain it?
The reason why it won’t is because One Direction’s fans already knew this about them. They knew it, and – in their better moments – they were ashamed that they had been taken in by it (and afraid – rightly so – that they will continue to be taken in by it because one’s emotional responses aren’t within one’s immediate control). What the admission in this commercial does is allow them a moment’s reprieve from those feelings by creating doubt about their legitimacy.
When someone who likes One Direction sees the guys of One Direction making fun of themselves for what everyone knows to be true, what she (or he?) feels is that maybe – just maybe – there’s another, respectable reason why they feel they feel those feelings of shame and fear. That they’re not really fans of One Direction for the reasons they chronically fear and suspect (but never explicitly admit) they are.
It’s what Hitler and Goebbles termed “the big lie.” A lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” In other words: when One Direction, as they do in this commercial, implicitly says that they’re not deserving of the fame and fortune they receive*, the effect is that they convince people that they actually do. That they actually are an exceptionally talented group with exceptionally good music and messages.
People see them admitting to their mediocrity and think “no group which depends upon other’s stupidity for their success would point it out so explicitly, there must be another reason why I like them.” This thought relieves the shame of being taken in by such a gimmicky entertainment act (and the fear that continuing to do so is a bad thing), and in the process – hopefully, from Macy’s perspective – reminds them of Macy’s.
Macy’s knows that that feeling of relief – because it is based upon a specious rationalization – will not last. They know that the people who accepted it will need to consciously revisit it in order to reinstate it (to ward off the bad feelings), and they hope that when they do, in addition to thinking of One Direction, and wigs, and silly behavior, they will also think about Macy’s and whatever the company happens to be selling.
*This is by no means to say that One Direction – simply because they’re commonplace – don’t deserve any reward for being entertainers, or that their music and message is automatically worthless or harmful (their music and image is actually quite positive, on the whole). It is simply to point out that a disproportionate interest in “boy bands” – and this boy band in particular (if you’re not a local fan) – is unhealthy; and that it’s that unhealthy interest which is the source of the vast majority of their commercial success.