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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

Shopee PH’s latest brand ambassador draws flak from netizens

Manila, Philippines – E-commerce platform Shopee in the Philippines is in hot water following the announcement of its newest brand ambassador, Filipina singer-actress Toni Gonzaga, with local netizens criticising the brand for their ambassador choice.

Shopee Philippines previously teased the new brand ambassador in a snippet video posted on Twitter on September 28.

Toni Gonzaga has been involved in controversy over the past few months after showing her staunch support to now-elected President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr., the son of former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. It should be noted that Gonzaga has appeared in numerous presidential campaign rallies for Marcos towards the May 9 national elections.

Progressive-minded netizens have called out Shopee Philippines for their new ambassador, with many saying that they would not support a brand that enables political lies.

Netizen @majiksparky stated that with the new announcement, they will switch to rival e-commerce platform Lazada.

Meanwhile, a Twitter user named @ArenoEllen, who is also an online seller, has encouraged netizens to switch to Lazada, claiming that Shopee takes a 15% cut from their payouts, while Lazada takes around 5% of payout.

Many Twitter users have also pointed out that the new brand ambassador comes after Shopee Philippines have recently laid off employees, the latest string of Shopee employee layoffs in Asia-Pacific, including China, as well as in Latin America.

Despite the criticism, Shopee Philippines pushed through with the announcement of Toni Gonzaga’s brand ambassador stint, with her thanking fans for the ‘mentions and engagement’.

A Shopee representative said that Gonzaga was chosen not for her ‘political views’ but rather her mass appeal.

“Together with our newest brand ambassador, Toni, we are working to deliver entertaining content to drive anticipation leading up to the upcoming 10.10 Brands Festival,” they said.

This was not the first time Shopee drew flak with its brand ambassador. When Shopee got international superstar Jackie Chan to be its brand ambassador for its 11.11 Regional Sale in 2021, marketing leaders and creatives criticised the ad for its ‘lukewarm’ and ‘confusing’ direction.

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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

Sim Leisure Group names first-ever celebrity ambassador Baki Zainal

Malaysia – Malaysia-based leisure entertainment specialist and theme parks developer and operator, Sim Leisure Group (SLG), has appointed celebrity host and TV presenter Baki Zainal as its first-ever brand ambassador. This appointment will see Zainal anchoring and championing prominent brands under the group, including its proprietary ESCAPE brand of nature-inspired theme parks.

Zainal, who has made significant strides in Malaysia’s entertainment industry with his talent and linguistic edge, is perhaps most known for his claim to fame as a multilingual TV host, conversing effortlessly in English, Bahasa Melayu, and Mandarin, amassing a wide-reaching audience and fan base. He is also known to be an avid traveller, adrenaline junkie, and thrill seeker, making his appointment as SLG’s brand ambassador a rather natural one.

Commenting on his ambassadorship, Zainal shared that he has always had a lot of respect for Sim Leisure Group, especially for the ESCAPE brand of themed attractions, as they are a fine example of a homegrown Malaysian success story, who have made their mark in the international travel and leisure industry. 

“And as a TV and travel show host, this is something I try to promote and portray – the multifaceted nature and richness of Malaysia and Malaysians. So, when I was approached by the group to be their first-ever brand ambassador, I did not hesitate to jump on the opportunity. It’s going to be exciting and I’m truly looking forward to working with them,” said Zainal. 

Meanwhile, Choo Kheng Sim, Sim Leisure Group’s founder and CEO, commented that they are thrilled to have Zainal on board as their first-ever brand ambassador, as they have had a wonderful working relationship with him in the past when he hosted the launch of many of their attractions. 

“In addition to his natural charm and magnetic personality, his spirit of excitement and adventure has truly stood out, making him the perfect fit for this role. Moreover, his involvement with various travel and tourism bodies around the world bodes well for the group’s ongoing expansion plans, not only in Malaysia, but also internationally. We’ve got a lot of plans in store and are already working with him on several engagements to take our brands and attractions to even greater heights,” said Sim.

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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

Traveloka completes jump to lifestyle super app, unveils SG ambassador

Singapore — Traveloka, Southeast Asia’s lifestyle super-app, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and to mark the special decennary event, Traveloka unveiled their first brand ambassador for Singapore, Singaporean actress Michelle Chong.

In anticipation of the said anniversary, the app has also refreshed its identity and value proposition, moving from Southeast Asia’s leading travel platform to becoming the region’s overall lifestyle super app.

Through Traveloka’s transformation to a lifestyle super app, the process was accelerated by Covid-19 as Southeast Asians emerged as global leaders in mobile connections with over 887 million connections, representing 132 per cent of the region’s total population. With such a mobile-first culture that readily embraces digital technologies, the platform realized the demand and opportunity for it to become a lifestyle brand.

Caesar Indra, president at Traveloka, said that the last 24 months have drastically reshaped the fundamental idea of travel and discovery. Indra continued by saying that consumers today have vastly different expectations — they prioritize convenience, safety, and personal wellbeing, which will enable them to truly enjoy and engage in activities. Traveloka has seen demand for travel and local experiences surge in the last few months and Traveloka is committed to providing seamless experiences, without the user having to leave our platform.

“As one of the first lifestyle super apps in the region, we are revolutionizing lifestyle services for millions of consumers in Southeast Asia, redefining how they live, play, and discover new adventures in their very own backyards and across the world,” Indra said.

On the topic of Traveloka’s new brand ambassador for Singapore, Indra commented, “Michelle couldn’t be a more natural fit for Traveloka. We are on a mission to fulfil the lifestyle aspirations of our users and redefine the idea of discovery with them. With her vibrant and outgoing personality, coupled with her affinity with Singaporeans, we are confident that our partnership with Michelle will bring Traveloka’s extensive lifestyle offerings and convenience closer to even more Singaporeans.”

Michelle Chong, brand ambassador for Traveloka, said, “I am very excited to come on board as Traveloka’s first brand ambassador. We haven’t been able to travel in the last two years and I can’t wait to rediscover the world with everyone again. Besides bringing everyone on a journey and adventure with me to my favourite cities, I’m also looking forward to rediscovering hidden gems in our very own Singapore. Actually, Ah Lian might be your travel companion instead, because she confirm plus chop knows how to get the best deal and travel arrangements using Traveloka.”

As the region’s lifestyle super app, Traveloka currently offers users in Singapore an innovative and tech-enabled experience. From AI recommendations to a personalized chatbot, users enjoy a comprehensive and seamless experience on Traveloka. Beyond travel services, users also have access to experiences from attractions and workshops to beauty and spa options. As Traveloka strengthens its presence in Singapore, the company is committed to introducing end-to-end solutions for Singaporeans’ lifestyle needs.

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Premium Main Feature Marketing Southeast Asia

Marketing experts, creatives majorly thumb down Shopee’s latest 11.11 ad ft. Jackie Chan

Singapore – In August this year, top e-commerce platform Shopee unveiled its newest endorser, probably its biggest ambassador to date – global superstar Jackie Chan. 

Following the announcement, Chan’s first visibility was for the platform’s 9.9 sale, and now the renowned action celebrity is back to grace Shopee’s campaign for 11.11. 

Both advertisements with Chan were nothing short of the e-commerce’s creatives DNA – a cheerful and upbeat mood, animated movements, and of course, Shopee’s staple soundtrack. 

Screencap from Shopee’s latest 11.11 ad

However, on the back of the recent release for 11.11, some marketing and creative professionals on social media gave their verdict on the ad – which leaned towards disappointment and frustration over its creative execution. 

On Monday, October 25, Richard Bleasdale, a specialist advisor at media investment analysis firm, Ebiquity, shared an article about the ad on a LinkedIn post with the comment, “Is it just me? Or is this without doubt the worst ad ever made? I challenge anyone to nominate better (worse).”

The post attracted other creative experts and advertising leaders to share opinions of their own, which had a resounding rejection of the ad’s conceptualization and overall direction. 

“The bar is very low…”, one ad leader wrote, while one marketing leader pointed out how the ad made him “lost for words.” 

Another agreed to Bleasdale, commenting, “I know what [you] mean. Very disappointing. Was hoping for more [Jackie] action.” 

MARKETECH APAC‘s Inner State reached out to some of the marketing executives that jumped on the post for their official insights on the ad.

A common sentiment among the marketing executives was how the brand failed to leverage Chan’s superstar imprint of action coupled with comedy. 

Shopee’s 11.11 platform-wide sale is running from October 25 to November 11, and the campaign was launched on October 18 on the platform’s YouTube channels across its covered markets.

The ad showed Jackie Chan on the street, being slowly approached by dangerously looking men. With an impending fight scene, Jackie is seen mustering his strength to prepare to defend.

Throughout the 30-second ad, Jackie is able to fight off the men with Shopee’s ‘Big Sale’. Using only his phone, Jackie magically defeats the men by powering through Shopee’s ‘big discounts’, where for every press of a button, discount bubbles pop up, such as “$60 CASHBACK ALL DAY” and “$6 OFF EVERY $50” off the phone and beat the men down. 

Anand Vathiyar, managing director of Cheil Singapore, describes the ad as an ‘orange mess’, a reference to the platform’s orange branding 

“Jackie Chan’s brand equity is action-comedy…Shopee could have done something [on what] we’ve come to love Jackie for instead of the orange mess they’ve rolled out,” said Vathiyar.

Echoing this, Rob Sherlock, advisory board chairman at martech solutions DAIVID, said, “I do think they could have taken Jackie Chan’s trademark antics and dialed them up into something even crazier, more ‘action’ exaggerated – and still have Shoppee fully integrated into the story.” 

He adds that instead of handing Jackie a mere phone in an attempt to inspire action to the ad, Shopee should have had “some whacky martial-arts impossibility performed by Jackie.” 

“And make the Batman & Robin pow-wow cartoon bubbles more integrated into everything we love about the man,” continued Sherlock. 

Meanwhile, Bleasdale, the one who published the LinkedIn post, shared to MARKETECH APAC that he thinks the ad has been “devoid of any idea.” 

When asked what Shopee could have done better, Bleasdale said, “Start with a real brief – with a clear objective and a compelling consumer insight. Anything that responded to that would be better and more effective than this.”

On one hand, executives were also quick to poke on the past Shopee ad with professional footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, saying that the e-commerce brand had been underperforming with its campaigns even before when it signed the Portuguese sports personality in 2019. 

Shopee’s 9.9 ad in 2019 with Cristiano Ronaldo

The two-year-old ad puts Ronaldo on a football field where shortly after scoring a goal, audiences in the stadium start changing into an orange-wearing army with the trademark Shopee pop-ups coming out of each one. At the middle to the end of the ad, Ronaldo performs the Shopee dance together with his team. 

According to a survey done by consumer research Milieu, 24% of audiences in Singapore ‘dislike’ the 9.9 ad with Ronaldo in 2019, with 56% ‘liking’ it. Of those that disliked the ad, stated reasons were they found it “silly” (60%), made them cringe (60%), and was “annoying” (47%), and lacked product information (37%).

For Sherlock, Ronaldo was the worst use he’s ever seen of a mega-celebrity and thinks if Shopee had done a low-quality ad the first time, it would be difficult to redeem itself.

“It probably worked, drove sales, and tattooed the brand in the consumers’ brains. But, like any sequel, it’s hard to improve on the original – or in this case, be intentionally ‘so bad it’s good’,” said Sherlock.

MARKETECH APAC has already reached out to Shopee for a comment. 

Shopee’s presence expands Southeast Asia and Taiwan. For the latest 11.11 ad, the Thailand market paid the ad a staggering 30 million views on YouTube as of writing. 

The e-commerce platform continues to be the top platform in Southeast Asia with the most visits by consumers in 2020, trailed by Lazada. 

Inner State is MARKETECH APAC’s dedicated platform for industry deep dive.

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Marketing Featured Global

Virtual influencer Rae introduces beauty of virtual landscapes with OSIM ambassadorship

Singapore – Following its Asia-first collaboration with Singaporean artist Benjamin Kheng for a music video, local-based virtual influencer Rae is back at it again, this time being tapped by Singapore-based healthcare company OSIM for its global campaign that merges virtual reality (VR) experiences with their massage chair therapy experience.

The campaign, which promotes OSIM’s latest uDream Pro chair, invites users to a five-sense experience of massage therapy, and with virtual reality (VR) technology, users can wear VR headsets and enjoy virtual landscapes being showcased by Rae, ranging from an ethereal garden to the vast galaxy, which encourages one to imagine and travel beyond the universe while indulging the senses in wonderment.

OSIM’s campaign tagline, #uDreamOutOfThisWorld, encapsulates how users of the uDream Pro chair can relieve stress while at the same time being enchanted by the scenery they witness virtually.

“Living in both physical and virtual realms enables me to experience out-of-this-world magic, and I’m very excited that I can now share these dreamscapes for the first time, made possible by OSIM uDream Pro. It’s awesome how technology is so closely intertwined in our lives, as we harness it to enhance our well-being and re-connect with ourselves. I look forward to starting my new journey of self-care as I travel through the metaverse and beyond,” Rae said regarding her participation in this latest campaign.

Rae joins the long list of brand ambassadors OSIM has tapped, including Singaporean singer JJ Lin, Hong Kong actor Andy Lau, Hong Kong singer and actress Sammi Cheng, K-drama actor Lee Min Ho, to name a few.

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Platforms Featured Southeast Asia

Big shot ambassadors to continue driving growth of SEA’s e-commerce platforms

Singapore – As more and more e-commerce brands in Southeast Asia ramping up their presence through frequent platform deals such as the recent ‘9.9 Sales’, these brands in the region are highly incentivized with the use of influencers for their sales campaigns, hence pushing the e-commerce industry in the region to a steadfast growth, latest insights from e-commerce aggregator iPrice shows.

Comparing the latest ambassadors of Lazada and Shopee namely K-pop actor Hyun Bin and international kung fu actor Jackie Chan respectively, the report showed that the senior global star received higher engagement for articles published regarding the collaboration. Jackie Chan’s presence in Shopee’s latest campaign garnered 59 articles published, compared to the 53 articles garnered by Hyun Bin’s Lazada campaign.

Despite that, Hyun Bin’s campaign garnered more engagement in social media, receiving 79% of ‘love’ reactions, 19% of ‘haha’ reactions, and 2% of ‘wow’ reactions. Meanwhile, the study found that Jackie Chan’s campaign garnered 62% of ‘love’ reactions, 21% ‘haha’ reactions, and 17% of ‘wow’ reactions on social media.

“It’s clear to see that influencers play an important role in driving excitement for the upcoming sales period. Thus, key e-commerce companies have enough incentive to involve influencers in their campaigns,” said iPrice. 

Meanwhile, overall web visits among e-commerce platforms across the region have increased by 31% this year from January to June compared to the same time frame last year. By average, overall web visits from the aforementioned period this year clocked in 4 million web visits.

The Philippines experienced the most surge by 73%, followed by Indonesia (41%), Malaysia (34%), Singapore (10%), Thailand (9%), and Vietnam (7%).

Specifically, the top two Singapore-based companies, Shopee and Lazada, experienced an increase of web visits by 56% and 10% in 1H 2021 compared to the same period last year.

In terms of consumer behavior, given the uncertain COVID infection rates, consumers will continue to stay at home, and consequently forego holiday travels and family get-togethers. With that given, it is expected that there will be more opportunities for online shopping. iPrice foresees that Southeast Asian consumers would probably spend an average of US$40 on e-commerce by the end of the year.

Furthermore, the insights found out that there was an increase of 26% in average consumer spending in 2020, when consumers spent about US$32 per e-commerce transaction.

“Most purchases will be directed towards the categories of sports and outdoor, home improvements, and electronics. Lastly, even if consumer spending won’t increase as predicted, online retailers can still expect far more online web visits to their platforms this year,” the company concluded.

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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

Hyun Bin is Lazada’s first LazMall regional brand ambassador

Singapore – Singapore-headquartered e-commerce for Southeast Asia, Lazada, is taking its marketing to new heights as it announces its very first regional ambassador for in-app mall, LazMall; and it’s none other than top K-drama leading man, Hyun Bin. 

Last October 2020, Lazada has also unveiled a massive first for the brand that similarly involved the K-pop craze – signing on top K-pop actor Lee Min Ho as the first regional-wide ambassador of the brand. Prior to launching regional ambassadors, Lazada’s marketing strategy has always relied heavily on local endorsers, partnering market-specific stars to bring in the engagement with consumers.

Hyun Bin has been a prominent actor among Hallyu, or the term coined for the ‘Korean wave’. He is one of South Korea’s top celebrities and known for K-dramas and movies Secret Garden, Memories of the Alhambra, and The Negotiation. Most recently, his popularity surged even more when he starred as the leading man of the Netflix-produced romantic comedy K-drama, Crash Landing on You. The series gained global craze and afforded both Hyun Bin and the show’s leading lady Son Ye-Jin numerous brand partnerships following the success of the series. 

Hyun Bin_Lazada_LazMall
The first LazMall ad featuring Hyun Bin with an action-filled narrative

On the new ambassador, Lazada Group’s CMO Mary Zhou, commented, “Lazada was the first to bring the virtual ‘mall’ concept to Southeast Asia and we are delighted to welcome renowned superstar Hyun Bin as LazMall’s first regional brand ambassador. With his expansive portfolio of critically-acclaimed films and television dramas, Hyun Bin is a familiar personality respected for his genuine personality and extraordinary dedication to his craft by fans all over the globe. This highly resonates with LazMall’s brand promise of authenticity, quality, and a trusted online destination for consumers to enjoy a convenient shopping experience.”

The announcement comes as Lazada celebrates the third anniversary of LazMall as well as 9.9, the first of the year-end mega campaigns. For starters, Hyun Bin headlines an action-inspired ad. Also known as a great action celebrity, the short ad aims to capture the imagination of fans that is reminiscent of Hyun Bin’s popular action sequences. 

In the TVC, Hyun Bin stars as an agent on a covert mission commanding a crew of operatives. In a fun and celebratory twist, his character targets the mission of releasing thousands of LazMall care packages to the public.

On his LazMall ambassadorship, Hyun Bin said, “I’m very happy to be joining the Lazada family and connecting with fans in Southeast Asia as LazMall’s first regional brand ambassador. I look forward to creating lots of fun times together, starting with the 9.9 shopping festival. I wish everyone good health and hope you stay safe until we can meet again in person.”

He added, “Shooting the short film for the campaign was incredibly fun, especially when we got creative in demonstrating the efficiency, reliability, and variety of products that LazMall offers to shoppers through a secret agent mission storyline.”

LazMall is Lazada’s in-app mall that features flagship stores from both established and starting merchants. This differs from independent sellers in the app. Earlier in August, LazMall introduced a new personalized portal, LazMall Prestige, featuring an extensive portfolio of eight categories with over 50 premium brands such as Bacha Coffee, Bang & Olufsen, Elemis, and Longines, as well as Polo Ralph Lauren, and Salvatore Ferragamo. 

In addition to popular features like Brand Mega offers and an improved returns policy across the region, consumers will gain access to brands through an intimate, visual storytelling experience. This includes an enhanced discovery spotlight via ‘The Prestige Edit’, which features content-rich thematic editorial sections.

In line with the special online launches, Lazada’s mascot Lazzie will also make his idol trainee debut via Lazada’s newest addition on LazGames – Lazzie Star. 

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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

Search results for a brand can jump to 50% when tapping BTS as brand ambassadors

Singapore – With the sudden rise of K-pop groups such as BTS being tapped by global brands as their respective brand ambassadors, the trend has been evident among these brands to be more recognized by the general populace. The K-pop effect on the consumer is proven further with the latest findings from shopping aggregator iPrice showing that search results for brands can jump up to 50% after signing in BTS as their brand ambassador.

According to the insights, these sudden spikes in brand popularity have been long evident across brands three years ago when the prominence of K-pop brand ambassadors started to materialize. For instance, luxury brand Louis Vuitton and soft drink brand Coca-Cola gained 46% and 14% search boost respectively in the global market when they signed BTS as their brand ambassador. Meanwhile, sportswear brand Fila gained a 16% spike in brand interest in 2019 globally for the same reason as well.

Another successful brand interest was manifested last year when South Korean multinational electronics company, Samsung, released a BTS edition of Galaxy S20+. The result revealed a 53% increase in brand searches compared to the same period in 2019. 

And more recently, the recent collaboration of BTS and fast-food chain McDonald’s has earned the brand an 8% increase in search interest globally compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, among Singapore consumers, the said collaboration recorded a whopping 81% increase in Google search volume, signifying the massive effect it had on the growth of McDonald’s brand awareness in the country. 

The insights also note in McDonald’s case in Singapore that due to the insane demand for McDonald’s paper bags adorned with the BTS logo, people ended up reselling the packaging along with unopened sauces on an e-commerce platform within 24 hours of its launch.

Part of the reason these brands have gained so much success from their collaborations is that aside from the love towards BTS as a whole, each of the Korean boy band’s members boasts a fan base of their own. K-pop fans have come up with a term called ‘bias’, which essentially means a favorite member.

In terms of biases within the Singapore consumer base, findings show that Jungkook tops the list, accounting for over 26% of the country’s searches. He is followed by V (25%), Jimin (20%), Jin (10%), Suga (8%), RM (7%), and J-hope (3%).

In Southeast Asia, people seem to be Googling V the most, averaging 29% of the search volume, followed by Jungkook at 26%, and Jimin at 18%. 

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Marketing Featured Southeast Asia

PH-centric report unwraps the wide impact of BTS x McDo collab

Manila, Philippines – Following the global rollout of the much-awaited fast-food collaboration of McDonald’s and K-pop group BTS for their limited-time meal combo, the PH social media saw a trend surgeon the collab, with a mix of both the positive and the negative side of trends, new insights from media intelligence and insights business Isentia shows.

Trend-wise, the social buzz on the collaboration, or the number of times a particular term is used online, totaled 33,330 from 11 June to 25 June where 32% of those buzz words, approximately 10,563, were seen during the launch day.

“BTS’s influence and popularity is undeniable. They have cultivated more than a loyal fanbase – they have created advocates who are more than willing to defend them and all-out express their admiration and support for them. For companies and brands, it is important to understand at what level your customers are,” said Victoria Lazo, insights manager at Isentia Philippines.

Part of the popularity of the ‘BTS x McDo’ meal collaboration can be attributed to the creative upcycle featuring the BTS x McDo meal coming from ‘ARMYs’ or BTS fans online. For instance, many fans are collecting the meal combo’s packaging and are posting it online, while some get creative and repurpose them such as tumbler wrapping or a bag.

One social media buzz that also contributed to the hype was a fan tweet that showed the Iloilo Business Park lighting up in violet colors, the attributed color of BTS, in celebration of the much-awaited McDonald’s meal collaboration.

There is no shortage as well of creative ‘spin-offs’ from the online community regarding custom meal collaborations, featuring artists such as Taylor Swift, Sarah Geronimo, and Regine Velasquez.

Lastly, stories of inspiration from the community also further augmented the hype, as for the instance of one foodpanda driver in the country, who expressed gratitude on social media because of the constant influx of BTS x McDo meal delivery orders. In response, ARMYs raised in total PHP45,230 to donate to the said delivery rider, thanking him for his hard work.

“Over the years, brands have taken advantage of the positive impact of celebrity endorsements on consumers’ purchase behavior. Tapping prominent personalities, as well as social media influencers, has been a staple marketing strategy used by companies to create waves to promote brand awareness, shape perception, or push for brand loyalty,” said Kate Dudang, insights manager at Isentia Philippines.

Despite the positive outlook of said campaign, there has been a relative fall-out within the local sphere, including customers who purposely crumpled the packaging of the meal and posted it on social media.

Infamously, the term ‘biot’, or the Cebuano term for gay, was used by a lot of ‘haters’ and ‘trolls’ in a negative way to equate them with BTS. Caught within the issue as well are several Grab delivery riders, who posted on social media the homophobic remarks.

It should be recalled that Grab Philippines recently published a statement, stating that they have suspended the drivers in question and are working towards enforcing their culture of inclusivity within the company.

Despite these fall-offs, the campaign still went on actively, with McDonald’s Philippines offering customers exclusive BTS content on their own app, as well as free drink upgrades to those who ordered the BTS meal via Ride-Thru. The fast-food chain in the country also convinced fans to eat the BTS meal with fellow fans by only charging 7 PHP per address to those who order for others. 

“What BTS did with the BTS meal is beyond product interaction, we analysts saw an amazing display of dedication from the ARMY. This display of brand dedication opens up many avenues for other brands to capitalize on certain trends and personas. From preserving the packaging and turning it into different BTS-themed items to outright uninstalling delivery courier services apps for calling BTS slurs. But with all that said, calling the ARMY ‘just a fandom will forever be an understatement,” said Francis Calucin, insights analyst at Isentia Philippines.

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Premium Main Feature Marketing Southeast Asia

K-pop brand ambassadors: Are they the new ‘upmarket’ or a ‘relevancy’ ploy?

Korean pop music or most commonly known as ‘K-pop’ has now become a global force to be reckoned with, despite its relative local roots in South Korea. Part of the rising popularity of K-pop nowadays can be attributed to frequent use of social media. Data from Twitter shows that K-pop stars averaged 1.2 tweets per day by second-generation stars, 3.5 tweets per day by third-generation stars, and seven tweets per day by fourth-generation stars. The latter also tweeted 5.8 times more than second-generation stars, and two times more than third-generation stars.

With the combination of global popularity of these groups and the evident presence across social media channels, it is no wonder that a lot of brands, both locally and globally, have tapped into the growing popularity of K-pop groups to be their respective brand ambassadors.

There have been countless examples across the globe of the rising number of K-pop brand ambassadors, ranging from automotive brand Hyundai, insurance brand Prudential, to local brands such as Philippine telcos Globe and Smart, and more recently, global fast-food chain McDonald’s.

Looking at these brand ambassador examples, most of them have unified reasons as to why they chose to tap into K-pop groups: bringing favorite groups closer to the brands’ consumer base, while integrating the K-Pop group’s trademark into the brand’s objective into being customer-centric. 

And while this seems like a positive message for brands to delve into, some customers feel like brands should instead focus on improving their services rather than tapping into K-pop brand ambassadors. For instance, insights provided by media intelligence and insights company Isentia unveiled that Filipino customers shared their concern about Philippine telcos tapping into K-pop ambassadors.

With these seemingly divided thoughts from brands and consumers, it begs the question: are K-pop brand ambassadors the new way for brand representation, or is it merely a ploy of some to garner traction and relevancy?

For our first-ever deep dive under The Inner State, MARKETECH APAC’s feature series, we spoke with four public relations industry leaders: Li Ting Ng, director of innovation and client experience at DEVRIES Global in Singapore; Sailesh Wadhwa, chief strategist at Edelman Malaysia; Andrew Sha, managing director at RedTorch Communications in the Philippines; and Elya Eusoff, general manager at Ruder Finn Asia Malaysia, to once and for all, get their take on the tipping point for brands realizing the impact of K-pop brand ambassadors, and how integrating them can affect the overall health of their brand; their brand value and reputation.

K-pop brand ambassadors: why them instead of local ones?

According to Li Ting Ng of DEVRIES Global, part of the growing trend of K-pop brand ambassadors can be attributed to the fact that prior to its global expansion, K-pop stars have long been tapped by Korean brands themselves to be their front for both their local and global campaigns. However, with the spread of the so-called ‘Hallyu’ or ‘Korean wave’, there had been a steadfast rise of non-Korean brands finally hopping into the K-pop brand ambassador scene.

And with the now evident mainstream success of K-pop globally, Ng also noted that non-Korean brands tapping into the bandwagon can be highly likened to the phenomenon of roping in Western figures, like a Hollywood A-lister actor or actress who have been signed as a brand ambassador.

Such global recognition of these brand ambassadors, Ng notes, can now help brands be able to streamline their brand campaigns to a much wider and global scale.

“In addition, as the world is increasingly connected across geographies, consumers do not distinguish between what the brand does in different markets. Therefore, everything consumers come across from a brand – whether online or offline – contributes to their overall brand perception,” she stated.

This is also agreed upon by Elya Eusoff from Ruder Finn Asia Malaysia, which, according to him, further stamps the brand’s quality of their products or services, and therefore linking the brand to be labeled as ‘international’ and ‘of quality’.

In an example given by Eusoff, he compares K-pop brand ambassadors to the fact that Malaysian brands have also tapped international celebrities in order to add recognition and relevance to their brand. For instance, athlete Usain Bolt was used to signify connection speed with Malaysian telco Celcom, while football player Roberto Carlos was showcased by AirAsia to signify ‘the possibilities of daring to dream, among many other similar partnerships. 

But perhaps, the most notable reason for the rise of these K-pop brands: the growing demographic of K-pop fans, which are well known to start large-scale fandoms. Ng notes that K-pop fandom is one unique asset within the K-pop scene, which in turn is a great opportunity for brands to tap into to grow their consumer base.

Sailesh Wadhwa of Edelman Malaysia also agreed to the aforementioned statement, noting that the heightened interest in K-pop groups can be hugely chalked up to the fact that the genre being a source of positivity for millions of fans worldwide, which pushes brands to think of innovative ways to incorporate the same cheer and positivity through their desired collaborations.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sha of RedTorch Communications also affirms the belief in seeing K-pop fans being the strength for brands tapping into K-pop stars, stating that long before ‘Hallyu’ became globally known, K-pop has been a dominant genre of interest across Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. He also noted that with K-pop fans providing a large purchasing power in support of their idols, it is no wonder that brands can also leverage this to generate engagement and sales.

Will riding the K-pop brand ambassador wave work always?

For Sha, brands hopping into the K-pop wave “will work,” as long as it is done right. Sha uses the example of photo cards, a well-known merchandise among K-pop fans, and he notes that buyers from both the brand’s home country and overseas will try to get hold of the product as long as it is relatable and appealing to them because they want to support their idol. 

However, there are mixed thoughts about the effectiveness of K-pop brand ambassadors, as Eusoff states that while a K-pop affiliation may bring value to the brand, they would still need to adhere to their core values from a corporate aspect, and not just merely ‘riding’ the trend, which in turn can bring a negative impact to their existing customers. 

Wadhwa also agrees with this reasoning, stating that while having K-pop brand ambassadors can have brands offer its customers a piece of the pop group’s existing story and persona, there is still a critical point brands should take into consideration, or else it only ends up as an ‘opportunistic tactic’ by the brand, which does not add up genuinely to the brand’s value.

Furthermore, Ng supports this reasoning by noting that brands should also take into consideration the proper affinity of the brand and the group they are pitching to be their front. She also added that just because K-pop has an international following or any related group, for that matter, doesn’t mean brands should immediately jump into this endeavor. Rather, they should ask themselves the purpose of the brand ambassador’s appointment, whether it is for the longer run or merely just to get a boost of attention and sales.

“We have seen many instances of K-pop collaborations resulting in products selling out almost instantly for the latter. However, while you may achieve short-term sales and buzz, it is important to question whether these consumers support their K-pop idols or support the brand or products,” Ng stated.

Tipping the pros and cons of K-pop brand ambassadors

Content, gamification, and activation or pure engagement: this sums up what unique experiences brands should apply as with any brand ambassador, according to Wadhwa.

“We’d like to view them as creative collaborations. And the best natural fit aside from values, personality and talent attraction fit, is their willingness to curate unique experiences for your brand. Given their currency with the audiences we intend to connect with, the brand story needs to have a natural fit, else we run the risk of being left out from the romance,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Eusoff notes that the factors of global link and reach to a much wider audience, as well as the possibility of faster and higher impact results are some of the advantages of tapping K-pop brand ambassadors. This was agreed upon by Sha, who added that factors such as increase in return of investment (ROI) and the brand being the front and center of buzz online or offline gives the brand an advantage to win some brand love. 

On the other hand, almost all of the public relation leaders agreed that extremely expensive fee and strict rules in engagement are the main factors that pose a low point for a brand seeking a K-pop brand ambassador, with Sha adding that one wrong move from the brand would result in immediate backlash from the fans, and Ng adding that the K-pop brand ambassador could potentially outshine the brand and its product or service being offered.

Pointers to ponder for brands venturing into the K-pop brand ambassador space

Both Sha and Eusoff agree that in order to truly work out a K-pop star-brand partnership, there should be questions considered regarding the relevance of the group to the consumers, as well as on the match of the K-pop star’s story and persona against what the brand truly embodies. 

Wadhwa agrees with this as well, stating that in addition to the science and rigor of choosing an ambassador is ticking the boxes on ROI metrics where the real question to ask is – what would the brand’s role going to be when these stars are romancing their audiences.

Meanwhile, Ng’s stance is for brands to take a precautionary route, noting that with issues emerging from the industry such as perpetuating toxic beauty standards, bullying, and its notorious training boot camps and contracts, brands should ask themselves how they should align themselves with the groups or idols they desire to work with.

“If you’ve decided that engaging a K-pop ambassador would benefit your brand, it’s key to recognize that K-pop talents and groups are brands of their own. Choosing the biggest and most popular talent or group may not necessarily add value to your brand, especially if it becomes all about your K-pop ambassador rather than your brand,” she concluded.