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As luxury brands see Asia as a force to be reckoned with, the likes of Blackpink and BTS become more prominent in their advertising space.
You needn’t be a K-pop fan to have noticed that it’s everywhere right now. Its stars seem to be everywhere, occupying not just the covers of elite magazines, but more significantly, major partnerships with the world’s most valuable brands in lieu of traditional Western celebrities. It would be impossible not to bring up Blackpink and BTS, two of the most successful K-pop groups of the moment. Collectively, the four female members of Blackpink are official global brand ambassadors for seven luxury fashion and jewellery houses: Celine, Bulgari, Dior, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, Tiffany & Co. and Chanel. Meanwhile, seven-piece Korean boyband BTS has scored the highly coveted role of global brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton, the most valuable luxury brand in the world at the time of the band’s appointment. Without even discussing the K-pop brand ambassadors of Gucci, Givenchy, Omega, Burberry, Chopard, Miu Miu and many more, the obvious Hallyu (Korean wave) conquest of the luxury sector has been enough to get media professionals buzzing about what we are seeing.
Content Commerce Insider’s COO, Avery Booker, a veteran in the luxury market forecasting game, summed the appeal of K-pop stars to luxury brands aptly when he said, “K-pop stars are all-round entertainers. They’re the Swiss Army knife of marketing because they can reach audiences in so many countries on all these different platforms.”
Just as luxury brands are much more than the physical products they put out, K-pop is much more than just the music. Both are essentially incredible marketing operations with massive teams working behind the curtains to engineer aspirational front-end images. As Booker implies, brands have realised that they can get much more bang for their buck with K-pop stars, who won’t just model for them in campaigns and display their products on the occasional red carpet, but can also feature them in flashy music videos, concerts, and many other meaningful appearances, including those online.
K-pop stars are of a young and digitally savvy generation, like much of their fanbase and a segment the luxury sector needs to start laying the groundwork for. Someone like 25-year-old Lisa Manoban, the most-followed band member of Blackpink and Bulgari and Celine brand ambassador, currently has an engagement rate of 7.7 per cent on Instagram. That’s phenomenal the brands she represents, considering she has a platform following of 84 million.
But does personal reach and engagement really translate to direct value for brands?
In 2021, it was estimated that Lisa generated almost 90 per cent of Celine’s media impact value. Similarly impressive, one of Blackpinks’s Rosé’s Instagram posts for Tiffany & Co. was valued by media analytics firm Launchmetrics to be worth US$2 million in media impact value for the brand. Meanwhile, Dior brand ambassador Jisoo, also from Blackpink, has proved the power of her clout by reportedly increasing the brand’s sales by 484 per cent, a success which enabled Dior to increase the prices of its products by up to five per cent. Few Hollywood movie stars have that dedicated of an online following to be able to deliver the same level of impact to brands.
Representing the Cutting-Edge
One of the reasons it’s hard to beat K-pop when it comes to mainstream relevancy nowadays is how the industry has completely reinvented standards that were largely dictated by traditional Western ideals in the past. The biggest example of this is the blurred line between masculinity and femininity when it comes to K-pop. As opposed to shaming men for expressing themselves through beauty, cosmetics and playful fashion the way their female counterparts freely do, K-pop unabashedly embraces it, creating even greater opportunities for brands in the fashion and beauty space especially. The industry as a whole very much represents the cutting-edge, a characteristic that brands, of course, desire to be aligned with.
Simply put, K-pop and the luxury sector getting together is more than just a cute little fling; it’s a planned and purposeful power-coupling, one that makes even greater sense when you consider the potential purchasing power of Asia—K-pop’s biggest market—for luxury brands.
A Gateway to the World’s Powerhouse—Asia
The US has long been and remains the world’s largest luxury market, however, regionally the American continents come second to Asia-Pacific as the largest consumer of personal luxury goods. To put the importance of Asia to global luxury brands into perspective, LVMH, the world’s largest conglomerate of luxury goods, has the region to thank for over a third of its 64 billion euro annual revenue last year. Within Asia-Pacific’s market value for luxury goods, two nations make up more than half: China and Japan. Japan is one of luxury’s top spenders, with the highest average revenue per capita in Asia. But while the Japanese individually spend more on luxury goods, there are simply much more Chinese customers out there, making China by far the largest market for luxury in Asia, and it is only expected to grow exponentially.
Bain & Company forecasts that by 2025, Chinese consumers alone will represent over 45 per cent of the global luxury market, overtaking luxury-loving Americans. Researchers also expect to see the regional market as a whole grow by 10 per cent, fueled by growth and increasing disposable incomes in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, as well as slower but continuous growth in the rest of East Asia—Japan and South Korea. Coincidentally, K-pop’s top markets outside of South Korea, based on sales, happen to be the US, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines, with China not far behind. It’s also worth noting that Southeast Asia nations have consistently clocked in some of the most YouTube views, Spotify listening time, and tweets for K-pop.
It’s clear that brands have much to gain in moving away from traditional Western hegemony in luxury advertising and toward the Asian market with increasingly relevant and modern branding strategies. The most wide-reaching and effective vehicle for brands to do this at current seems to be K-pop, and this shift in luxury marketing isn’t likely to be reversed anytime soon, considering what the market is going to look like in a couple of years. So, if you’re wondering why you’re seeing fewer Charlize Therons and Julia Roberts and more Jisoos and Jennies these days when you’re strolling through luxury department stores, it’s a sign of the times. Get used to it.