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Branding Insights | A Brand Specialist x ARMY’s take on why K-pop group BTS is so successful

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Ever wondered how K-pop group BTS took over the global music scene? Overtaking the Billboards, Spotify charts and even got themselves nominated for the Grammys, there's really nothing stopping their record-breaking successes. Read on to find out how BTS is able to do this and apply them to your business' branding.

Get it, let it roll! K-pop boy band, BTS, celebrates its 8th year anniversary since its debut on June 13th 2013. At this point If you’re asking “what on earth is BTS?”, you must be living under a rock. From the sheer mayhem caused by their latest collaboration with McDonalds (just look at the human floods in Indonesia, the dedication of Malaysian fans), you can roughly get a sense of the great lengths their ‘ARMY’ of fans go to in support of their idols.

BTS is no doubt one of the most popular groups in the K-pop industry. The seven-member boy band has propelled the New Korean Wave (Hallyu 2.0) to greater heights, leading its growth to nearly 90 million fans worldwide in 2018. But what’s the magic behind the BTS effect that has led to its domination of global charts and the hearts of millions? In this article, we’re going to give you an insider perspective from a fan’s point of view (backed by marketing concepts) to illustrate the success behind BTS’ branding, and what you can carry forward in your own branding efforts.

The Origins of the Korean Wave (Hallyu)

Hallyu was first coined in the late 1990s to describe the global popularity of Korean pop culture in film, television and music. The 1997 financial crisis has led to a restriction in cultural imports from Japan, and officially beginning the era of South Korea’s cultural economy as the government embarked on a national agenda to strengthen local culture within Korea. With the box office success of South Korea’s first local big-budget film, Shiri, the potential of commercial Korean films took the central stage. Broadcast authorities started to ramp up production and distribution of TV programs overseas with subtitles in multiple languages, leading to a surge in demand for Korean cultural imports in China, East and South Asian countries.

K-pop was also garnering as much attention alongside the successes of Korean television programmes (or K-drama, as we know it today). Pioneers who ushered in modern-day K-pop included groups such as H.O.T (debuted in 1996) and S.E.S (debuted in 1997). The unique blend of high-quality music video production featuring the precise synchronization of vocals and choreography was unlike any other players in the music industry. The growth of which was accelerated came Hallyu 2.0 in 2007, where Hallyu took over the world by storm by making use of 21st-century modern technologies such as social media and streaming to amplify the reach and influence of Korean’s cultural products.

Just when you think that K-movement cannot possibly grow any bigger, the world was introduced to BTS. This group has consistently defied expectations by achieving record-breaking milestones for the K-pop industry, even earning the first-ever Grammy nomination for a K-pop band.

So, who exactly is BTS and how popular are they, really?

BTS (known as Bangtan Sonyeondan, Bangtan Boys or Bulletproof Boy Scouts) is a seven-member K-pop boy band under HYBE Entertainment (previously known as BigHit Entertainment). The members are RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin V and Jungkook.

Before the COVID-19 restrictions, BTS has been actively touring for their ‘Love Yourself Word Tour’ and ‘The Wings Tour’. Concerts were held in some of the largest stadiums around the world with almost 3 million recorded concert goers. The pandemic did not slow down their success. In fact, they beat their own world record with almost 1 million viewers for their virtual concert.

Over the past 8 years, BTS has built a massive cult following on social media with:

  1. 48.3 Million Subscribers on YouTube

  2. 40.1 Million Followers on Instagram

  3. 34.5 Million Followers on Twitter

  4. 31.8 Million Followers on Tiktok

  5. Over 25.2 Million monthly listeners on Spotify.

To fully grasp the scale of BTS’ successes, look at it from this perspective: A 2018 report by Hyundai Research Institute reported that BTS generates about $3.54 billion to South Korean’s economy per year, with $1.26 billion as added value per year - a contribution that was almost comparable to Korean Air, largest airline and flag carrier of South Korea. Their chart-topping single “Dynamite” alone was projected to generate about $1.43 billion of economic activity and 8,000 new jobs, according to a study conducted by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. They are also the reason that one in every 13 foreign tourists visited South Korea in 2017.

How did BTS get this big? One word: Branding.

Put it in layman terms, branding is about the optimal positioning of your business to ensure that the relevant people think about your service or product in the way that you want them to. More importantly, good branding makes or breaks businesses by helping them differentiate themselves from their competitors and make a lasting impression on their audiences. By outlining the values that companies identify with, it formulates the brand essence that captures consumers’ curiosities and eventually, wins their trust and converts them into paying customers.

These days, celebrities have looked to branding as a powerful tool to reinvent themselves and generate new avenues to make profits.

Case in point: Fenty Beauty’s Branding Strategy

Fenty Beauty inclusive marketing
Credit: Fenty Beauty

Take influential Barbadian singer/actress Rihanna, who founded cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty in 2017. In her own words, the brand was created “for everyone, for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures and race.” Fenty has developed over 50 shades of formulas for a range of skin types, particularly those who have been traditionally hard-to-match. In doing so, Rihanna has branded her business out of creating makeup that is accessible for women everywhere.

Fenty Beauty has revolutionised the beauty industry by making inclusivity and diversity its brand. And when you look at the numbers, it seems like consumers are buying into its narrative as well. In its first 40 days, it achieved US$100 million in sales. Within 2 months of its launch, it was named one of the best inventions of 2017 by TIME magazine.

Beauty brands have since hopped on the bandwagon with inclusive makeup, examples include Revlon’s new line called ‘Flesh with 40 shades of foundation’ and CoverGirl’s new liquid foundation line with 40 shades called ‘TrueBlend Matte Made’.Yet, we will remember Fenty as the brand that built diversity as the central value for its products and reason for being.

Breaking Down the 3 Ingredients of BTS’ Brand Identity

For those who have not caught the BTS fever, it’s probably difficult to grasp exactly what’s the big deal with thes