BITES // 07.01.21 // K-POP’S BRANDING GENIUS
Every month we collect six of the best pieces of content published on the web and share them with you, because we believe that the most extraordinary thinking is inspired by looking to unexpected places. BITES is a reading list for those who want to bring a little of the outside, in.
1. B(R)AND MANAGEMENT
There’s something to be said about K-pop fans’ loyalty and devotion. Brands can learn from how K-pop’s band management not only focuses on the band but their fandom. A 2020 survey from Forrester found that 80% of consumer’s interactions and experiences with brands were mediocre. AdAge identified three factors from K-pop’s success that can help brands create more authentic consumer relationships. These include: multi-dimensional experiences, blending together physical and virtual worlds, and letting brands and people co-create experiences. For brands looking to foster successful brand-consumer relationships, it’s about making consumers feel like they belong, meeting them where they are, and letting them know that their value extends beyond just their wallets.
2. THE POWER OF COLLABORATION
In the last decade, bands like BTS, Black Pink, and Aespa have solidified K — pop’s popularity in the American music scene. Billboard points out that collaborations with other major U.S. pop artists have helped K-pop achieve overseas success. Their strategic collaborations have gone beyond just music and have crossed over to the food industry, with the most recent being their 10-piece nugget McDonald’s meal that launched worldwide. This was able to bring their fandom even closer to their beloved band in a way only McDonald’s can — through food and fashion which is a big part of South Korean culture. Along with the McDonald’s meal they released a merch line that nods to their new single Butter to go along with the promotion, hoping to create longer term engagement with consumers. Collaborations should take into account the relevancy of the celebrity and making sure they have similar values to the brand. Brands can take these cues to create collaborations that not only make sense but create authenticity and increase visibility for both parties involved.
3. EMBODYING EMOTION, SINCERITY, AND LOYALTY
A trend known as Hallyu, the Korean Wave, has been in the works for the last decade. BTS changed the name of the game when it came to K-pop. Now instead of dance crazes like Psy’s Gangnam Style, K-pop bands are focusing on making music that is not only catchy but empowering. Bands like BTS are using their steady stream of social media content to spread positive messages about life and talk about issues like mental health. Black Pink released a documentary on Netflix Light Up the Sky that talked about mental health including their struggles with anxiety, chasing perfectionism, and sacrifices they’ve made throughout their K-pop career. Many modern K-pop bands lyrics are socially conscious and talk about the effect that fame has on their mental health. Brands can really lean into transparency and empathy when talking to consumers, helping to establish a real connection.
4. BLENDING CULTURAL SYMBOLS
Success usually doesn’t happen overnight; it involves strategic thought and meticulous planning. The South Korean entertainment industry, especially the music industry, has been able to seamlessly integrate Korean and Western culture together without compromising their cultural roots. The success of K-pop groups like BTS, Aespa, Black Pink and more have shown the world that K-pop groups like this aren’t just one off successes. K-pop understands having a balance when it comes to being recognized on a global scale while still keeping true to their South Korean roots. K-pop bands and other South Korean entertainment outlets aren’t trading accessibility with their culture’s exclusivity that still preserves and shows their culture in a genuine and authentic way.
5. FANDOMS ARE GOING POLITICAL
K-pop fans are a powerful force and can help not only change the discussion but bring to light social issues. They are using social media to pull off stunts and take a political stance. We’ve seen this at the Trump Tulsa rally in 2020, the takeover of the Dallas Police app FanCam, and the dismantling of #WhiteLivesMatter on Twitter. The most recent instance happened in April when a Chilean comedy show, Mi Barrio, made fun of Korean culture and associated BTS with Kim Jong-Un. Their fanbase, the Army, came to not only the band’s defense but the issue of anti-Asian hate and xenophobia. They were able to globally spread the episode with the hashtag #RacismIsNotComedy, getting it to the number one trending topic on Twitter. This shows that not only engaging but nurturing an online following can be a powerful tool for a brand. Especially this last year where COVID brought to light political issues, brands and consumers can stand up and be part of something bigger.
6. AMBASSADORS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE
While K-pop groups have seen success they’re also still subject to Asian hate and racial discrimination. Gaining success in the U.S. has taken them over seven years to achieve, so they want to make their success meaningful. When BTS was asked about attacks on Asian groups they said they’ve experienced and endured expletives without any reason and have been mocked for the way they look. This hasn’t stopped them from addressing these issues along with the rigid conceptions of masculinity, especially in Asian culture and are trying to help change that narrative. Their lyrics grapple with identity, self-love, social justice, mental health, and more, making them spokespeople for a new global generation. Brands can sell more than a product but a message that resonates with their consumers on a deeper emotional level.
K-pop has strategically and methodically made its way into mainstream culture over the last decade. Through collaborations, positive messaging, and ultimately staying true to their roots, K-pop groups are not just bands but idols and culture shakers. There are some things to be on the lookout for though when it comes to K-pop’s success: while they are breaking down traditional stereotypes they are also building new ones, such as categorizing every Asian as Korean and perpetuating the goal of perfectionism no matter the cost. There are still multiple barriers that need to be broken down but K-pop is helping to change conversations around Asian culture and bring to light social issues in a palatable way. Brands can take a lesson from the K-pop book about how to authentically and genuinely interact with people while commanding not just awareness but loyalty.