What should brands learn from the BTS success story?
Even as Korean music stars BTS take the world by storm, Kantar group vice president of ideas Sandeep Dutta, reveals their unique offering and its resonance and what brands can learn from their success story.
Global pop stars Bangtan Boys aka BTS released their latest summer single “Butter” in May ’21 and left fans around the world in a frenzy. On its blog, YouTube confirmed that the official MV for ‘Butter’ has “set a new record for the biggest YouTube music video premiere with over 3.9 million peak competitors.”
Previously, in August 2020, their first all-English track “Dynamite” had recorded over 3 million cutting-edge competitors. “They now occupy the # 1 and # 2 spots for biggest YouTube premieres to date,” the company wrote on its blog. The group’s 40 million fans around the world, who call themselves “Army”, are raving about love and devotion to the group.
It’s not just the music the band is known for. When it comes to fashion, they exceed all expectations and commercially no K-pop group has reached the height of BTS. In October 2020, Big Hit Entertainment (BTS’s record label) went public and the boys, all under the age of thirty, became millionaires. BTS ‘phenomenal success drew Harvard University to produce a case study on the 7-member boy band.
What made BTS the global sensation they are today? It’s about wrapping good old values like compassion, authenticity, determination, and gratitude with bold style and unwavering originality.
Now let’s forgive
Our lives are long
Trust yourself in a maze
When winter passes
Spring always comes
– I love myself (BTS) –
These are a few lines from one of BTS’s popular songs that tackle self-doubt, a common dilemma among young people. One of the reasons BTS has become so popular is that audiences who are largely Gen Z connect to their music on a deeply personal level: their songs are about following dreams, defying standards, live with your vulnerabilities and stay true to yourself in the face of uncertainty. Because the members themselves have overcome adversity to make their dreams come true, they have an incredible knack for writing lyrics that inspire audiences around the world to do the same. Gen Z facing an increasingly complex, uncertain and aggressive world finds both solace and inspiration in BTS music. Their music is not only spectacular entertainment, but is also seen as having a more important purpose.
As one member of the military wrote, “Personally, their music has helped me through the hardest and most difficult times of my life and I will continue to love them because of it.”
Not only do they create deeply engaging music, but they also serve it up with captivating visuals, fluid choreography, and a unique sense of fashion that drives their audiences crazy with pleasure. Whether boys are dressed in multiple shades of pink, badass streetwear, or sleek suits, they’re creating the coolest trends that catapulted them to becoming style icons of the youth.
Each of them is a fashionista in their own right, so it’s no surprise that Louis Vuitton recently chose them as their global brand ambassador. Members of the military seem to love their fashion sense, which is part androgynous, part funky, part sophisticated because it is one of a kind.
BTS’s magical power is perhaps best measured by the strength and energy of its burgeoning fan base. Army, which stands for Adorable Representative MC for Youth, is known to be the most active and organized online community today. It has been reported that 40 million people subscribe to BTS’s YouTube channel, and over 30 million follow both the member-managed Twitter account and the official BTS Instagram account of Big Hit.
But it’s not just the gigantic numbers that are impressive; the zeal, enthusiasm and dedication of the community has set a new benchmark in the fan world.
BTS, from the very beginning, has always recognized that its success is not the only one. At every stage of their career, BTS has tweeted “Teamwork makes the dream work” and with each award “The military has won an award.”
In their BTS Festa 2020 video, ‘Namjoon’, one of the group members, greeted those who had recently joined the military and said it doesn’t matter when people decide to like them. “We are always grateful for your love,” he said, because “it is your love that makes us shine”. Humility and gratitude are part of BTS culture and it has certainly helped build intense loyalty among the fan base.
What brands can learn from the BTS success story
The BTS playbook has many lessons for brands, especially as they strive to connect with young audiences on a global scale.
Engage with the Gen Z consumer
This highly regarded cohort is known to genuinely care about societal issues while aspiring to be styled in unconventional ways. They are passionate about their interests and enjoy building communities with like-minded people. Rock stars and hit bands are known to have a spellbinding effect on their fans, but BTS has more than that. They have a thriving community of ardent admirers who are an integral part of the group’s identity.
Treat TGs like soul mates compared to simple consumers
This is perhaps the biggest lesson brands can take from the group. Brands need to see their target audience as partners and even better as soul mates and not just consumers. Brands must make their audience believe that they are insiders and that they are part of their history and their journey. Social media allow brands to connect intimately with their audience and they must take full advantage of it to transform their audience into collaborators and co-creators and integrate them into their existence.
Getting the right mix of soul, style and inclusion
Brands would do well to emulate the intoxicating mix of soul and style that BTS represents. Their style can be described as soft, fluid and yet daring, blending in perfectly with the lyrics of their music which brings out both human vulnerabilities and triumphs. Brands that want to be seen as forward-thinking and ambitious while being inclusive and loving can certainly take BTS’s advice.
Bring out the human side
Coming into adulthood in uncertain times, they believe in the need to be grounded and are grateful for all they have. BTS harnesses all of this and more. Values like humility, gratitude and appreciation are not readily available today and one of the reasons the band is intensely loved by their audiences is that they exemplify these precious old-fashioned values. Brands must constantly communicate with their audience and express their love and gratitude to them. It brings out their human side and makes them really endearing to the audience.
The Bangtan Boys have become an inspiration to their loyal fans and the music industry around the world. It makes perfect sense for brands to draw inspiration from their playbook to appeal to elusive Gen Z consumers.
The author is the vice president (insights) of the Kantar group, co-owned by WPP.