(Photo from the BTS official Facebook page)
The biggest brands in the world are getting BTS to endorse them, and since BTS is the biggest music act out of Korea today — appealing to a wide variety of fans in more than 100 countries — it is safe to assume that working with the group requires a considerable investment.
But it looks like the investment pays off.
The brands enjoy their growth and returns, the fans (ARMY) are happy about supporting the group or their “bias” (favorite member), and BTS goes on to do more endorsements. This is a group with a collective influence that ranks among the highest in the social media scale. Individually, they also possess the so-called “Midas Touch.”
BTS endorsement success
BTS was launched by their management agency Big Hit Entertainment in 2013. In 2016, they landed endorsements and brand partnerships that would eventually place them on the influencer map. Among the early “adaptors” were Smart (Korean school uniform brand), SK Telecom, Seoul Tourism, Kookmin Bank, and Lotte Duty Free.
Then 2018 happened, and BTS came out with hit after hit after hit, among them the exotic “Airplane, pt. 2,” the bubbly ditty “Anpanman,” and the tribal “Idol” whose music video was the inspiration for their partnership with toy brand Mattel. Mattel came out with BTS “Idol” dolls considered by ARMY as must-haves (yep, all 7 dolls).
“What we love about BTS is that they are a pop culture music phenomenon that transcends age, culture and language,” says Lisa McKnight, the global head of Mattel’s Barbie brand. “We are fortunate to bring one of the most popular bands right now to life.” (Marian Liu, Washington Post)
This landmark year saw BTS sign with Coca-Cola and Hyundai. The succeeding years saw their name alongside brands like Fila, KwangJuYo (tableware), Tokopedia (marketplace), Lemona (beauty product), Casetify, Formula E, Samsung, Bodyfriend, Chilsung Cider (their faces on the bottles have made the bottles collectibles), and, most recently, Philippine telco giant Smart.
“I think it’s one of those rare moments for an artist’s career, where everything surrounding the artist simply works and makes money and more money,” says Youngdae Kim, author of “BTS The Review.” (Marian Liu, Washington Post)
Read more about BTS’ strategic partnerships with brands here.
BTS branding lessons
BTS is known for what their ARMY calls their “duality” — a side that is goofy and a side that is sexy. They are known for their ever-changing hair color, their use of makeup (NOT a bad thing), their outfits that don’t match but look good together, and their individual quirks that endear them to fans in their individual uploads on WeVerse.
So what branding tips can we pick up from their success?
According to an article by Goldie Chan for Forbes.com, “BTS has addressed various social justice topics since they came onto the music scene in 2013.”
In 2020, BTS donated USD$1 million to Black Lives Matter. This move inspired their ARMY (fans) of 40 million to raise the same amount within a day.
The members are also known to handle rude and disrespectful people their own way. They perform with passion, and care about causes aligned with their values with even greater gusto.
Watch the speech they made in UNICEF in 2018:
When BTS’ fans communicate with them on social media (did we say their fanbase is 40 million and counting?), BTS listens. On WeVerse, members of the group do individual VLive sessions where they interact with their fans in real time. They let their guard down, open a bottle of wine, eat, and answer fan questions.
This is far from the one-sided love fans are used to giving big stars. BTS, one of today’s biggest music groups, always say that they owe their success to their fans. So if their fans seek to connect and interact with them, BTS makes it happen.
When BTS was first launched, their music was hip hop; but it has slowly evolved to what it is today — a mix of different genres that keeps them free from being boxed into just one category. This also meant that the Bangtan boys have ever-changing looks.
Sometimes they are hard; sometimes they are soft. Sometimes they are more masculine; sometimes they are androgynous. Sometimes they wear minimalist outfits; sometimes they go all-out in clashing prints. They are unpredictable, and they appeal to so many different fans across different age groups and cultures.
By appealing to many, they have created a new kind of fan: one who appreciates and supports BTS as people, one who enjoys their music and performances, and one who will support their endorsements and causes. Yep, the ARMY is a group of superfans.
BTS does not hesitate to show weakness and exhaustion even as they try to perform for their fans (you’ll see a lot of their sleeping videos on YouTube). They are transparent and show genuine emotion even as they interact with each other (you’ll see some of their arguments captured on-cam on YouTube). They are not perfect and are unafraid to show it.
Watch their speech at the UN General Assembly last September 2020:
Sometimes BTS wears blacks, white, neutrals, and denim, but often you will see them wear color. Bold or pastel, on their hair or on their clothes, BTS’ use of color adds to the joy and positivity that fans feel when watching them.
There is psychology in color, after all, and BTS not only understands this — they are also putting this to good use.
Something brands also need to do.