Harry Styles came out with the music video for “Adore You” just a week short of his upcoming album Fine Line’s release. The single’s release, however, was supported by an elaborate, meandering advertising campaign that spanned several months. Together, Harry Styles and director Dave Meyers built the fictional city of Eroda from the ground up, with the song at the very base. Targeted Twitter ads promoting Eroda emerged in October around the release of Styles’s “Lights Up” music video. Scattered subtly throughout the campaign were arrows pointing to a fine line (or, rather, Fine Line).
Extensive Twitter threads unraveled as quickly as details for the album, with conjectures and conspiracy theories running rampant. Eroda was immediately recognized as fictional, only a map drawing on its website to counter the case. The ties back to Styles were tongue-in-cheek once news of this mysterious ad campaign broke. Eroda spelled backward is “adore,” a direct connection to “Adore You.” This idea was further supported by a slogan on the website that read: “Welcome to Eroda! We Adore You.” A comment on the Eroda Twitter feed also claimed to have booked a visit for December for Dec. 13th — an option that is one, unavailable and, two, the same day as Fine Line’s release. Claims of the island’s notoriety for cherries, watermelon and strawberries also emerged, with songs from Fine Line’s tracklist also referring to these fruits. One of Styles’s new band members also has the same voice as the announcer for the Eroda ads. A bench seen on an Eroda Twitter feed is purportedly located in St. Abbes, Scotland, where Harry shot the “Lights Up” video — the list of references to Styles goes on and on, but you get the point. The ad campaign was clever and successful in garnering attention and interest in Styles’s new work, regardless of whether the targets were fans or not.
The “Adore You” music video confirmed fan theories with Meyers and Styles’s elaborate and luscious Eroda landscape. The video spans seven minutes with the history of Eroda presented prior to that of Styles’s character. The video starts like the beginning of a “School House Rock” episode, an animated globe whirring before it pans into the Isle of Eroda. Located near England and “shaped unmistakably like a frown,” the island is home to a forgotten, bleak fishing village ripe with superstition. A perpetual spell of “resting fish face” is cast upon every native’s face until Styles’s character is born with a literally blinding smile. This casts him into solitude and isolation, forcing him to leave home until one day, he meets a literal fish out of water with a smile much like his. “Loneliness is an ocean full of travelers trying to find their place in the world,” the narrator puts it simply. From there, the music video details Styles’s relationship with his fish friend. The two eat tacos together, go for a bike ride and dance upon a hilltop. The fish, however, grows larger and larger by the day and its species races back to Eroda to find it. This leaves Styles with no option other than to release it back into the ocean. The entire village unites to help him in this endeavor. This effectively clears the clouds cast over Eroda, transfiguring everyone’s frown “into the unmistakable shape of a whale’s tale.”
In all its cheeky, abstract glory, the music video echoes the song’s message on doing anything for the person you love. Styles may not “walk through fire” for his fish friend, but he does almost everything he can to show his appreciation for its company, from knitting it a sweater to frantically seeking fishbowl replacements to match its increasing growth. His relationship with a fish adds a quirky, lighthearted element against the gloomy backdrop — it’s a lot more fun than screencaps would convey. But that’s not what makes the music video so impressive or effective at consolidating Styles’s message on love and its freedom from isolation. The video tells a story perfectly in tune with the song, but its pithy layers beyond the song’s lyrics make it artistically captivating. The video gains the bulk of its meaning from abstract gestures, like the extended fish out of water metaphor and the shape of Eroda as a frown. But these symbols are not static and they’re not there for the sake of symbolism. Rather, the transience of these abstract visuals and explanations envisions them as complex assets to the story. We don’t care about the fish for what it represents; rather, we appreciate that it has an impact on the protagonist of our story and moves the plot along in tandem with the song’s progression.
The marketing campaign only took this clever video up another caliber. It not only heightened anticipation for Styles’s music video release and album, but developed a complex story arc for Styles’s art. Whereas most artists rely on their on-screen personality and overall effect on others to carry anticipation for their work, Styles developed an artistic marketing ploy to bounce off the anticipation of his fans for his new work. The social media ads were developed over a long period of time, with attention radared to the movements of fans and followers over the internet. “When they found (something) we adjusted and/or leaned on it to make sure that they could further go down the rabbit hole,” says Columbia digital media director John Salcedo. The social media ruse, more effectively than his robust Saturday Night Live double feature as a host and musical guest or Graham Norton performance, brought traction for “Adore You” and Fine Line. This tactic puts Styles’s artistic flare at the center of his celebrity. His artistry doesn’t strive for attention, but rather appreciation as complex and beautiful pop music. This separates Styles from his boyband past by putting his artistry at the core, not stifling and reworking his personality to better fit a strain or audience for attention.