Musical instrument brands play a crucial role in an artist’s career. Not only do they provide financial support, offering highly discounted or free gear, but they also bolster an artist’s identity. Fender is an iconic guitar brand that grew up with rock n’ roll: the titans of guitar including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck and countless others, made it an essential instrument to own and play. Here we present an interesting case of Fender China ‘accidentally’ connecting with an up-and-coming band’s fan base and leaving the situation with what we believe overall is raised awareness and improved sentiment.

TFBOYS (also known as The Fighting Boys) is a Chinese pop/rock band formed by TF Entertainment in 2013. Consisting of 3 young men, the trio rose to popularity mostly through online promotion and participation in films including Pound of Flesh, which was directed by Ernie Barbarash, and starred Jean-Claude Van Damme. In this sense the band was conceived as a commercial project. On the 15th June Fender wrote a post (pictured) on Sina Weibo stating “Welcome to the Fender family, TFBOYS”. The band’s voracious fanbase quickly picked up on the post, which received about 1500 comments and 1700 reposts within one day (Fender’s previous Weibo posts averaged between 0-15 reposts and/or comments).

“Artists have been using Fender to create history for more than 60 years. Welcome to the Fender family, TFBOYS”

“Artists have been using Fender to create history for more than 60 years. Welcome to the Fender family, TFBOYS”

The post was actually written in response to a fan of TFBOYS, who asked the official Fender account which guitar Karry Wang (the leader of TFBOYS) was using in a photo (see below).

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Fender CD60/ @FenderMusic Which guitar is it? I think that Fender looks so cool.

Fender followed up with another post, talking about the guitar Karry Wang was using.

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The brand new #FenderCD60# can definitely get 4.5/5. As an entry-level guitar, CD60 is an excellent guitar in this segment. It provides a nice sense of touch and great timbre. That’s why Karry Wang from TFBOYS likes it so much.

TFBOYS’ fans responded to these two posts very positively, expressing their interest in the guitar.

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I want the one Karry Wang is using!

Fender has its own following, which responded to the affection TFBOYS fans showed toward the brand with protectionism and the occasional derogatory comment. Fender fans claimed that TFBOYS were not a part of the brand’s target market. Below is a sample of posts that show how brand followers went about speaking as ambassadors, slightly sniffing their noses at the association with TFBOYS:

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Won’t buy fender anymore.

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TF(Telecaster Fender) BOY, definitely the best spokesmen for Fender.

Gonna smash my fender. / I missed their “Fenderer “concept, Fender did it when the brand entered the Chinese market. It was an awesome marketing plan. / It is acceptable that music instrument brands use celebrity endorsement in such a market, where there is no famous guitarist, but I still think Fender China has no bottom line.

Use your fender, like TFBOYS / this endorsement was just bad, my next guitar will be a Gibson.

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Gonna smash my fender. / I missed their “Fenderer “concept, Fender did it when the brand entered the Chinese market. It was an awesome marketing plan. / It is acceptable that music instrument brands use celebrity endorsement in such a market, where there is no famous guitarist, but I still think Fender China has no bottom line.

The same afternoon, Fender reposted the original Weibo post, clarifying that the TFBOYS are not official brand endorsers, but rather part of an extended family of Fender users: “part of the club”, so to speak.

Those who use Fender are a family. Fender did not sign an endorsement contract with TFBOYS’ Karry Wang.

Those who use Fender are a family. Fender did not sign an endorsement contract with TFBOYS’ Karry Wang.

We have shared this story because we believe it demonstrates the powerful potential that lies in a dedicated fanbase. Fender’s engagement numbers (as seen in the posts) shot up, and a number of fans of the Fender brand spoke out quite abrasively to stick up for what they believed in. We believe Fender’s response was exemplary; when a clear conflict surfaced, the brand stepped back and allowed fans to contend among themselves, rather than attempting to end the conversation (by deleting the posts for example) or trying to steer the conversation toward an outcome. By leaving their fans to contend among themselves, a lot of sentiment and solidarity between the fans was built.

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