BTS: K-Pop’s lesson on perfecting PR campaigns
Multiple Guinness World Records. A number of world firsts. One of Time Magazine’s ‘25 Most Influential People on the Planet’ for two consecutive years. A record for the highest number of online views for a music video in 24 hours. The most Tweeted about celebrity in 2017. No, I’m not talking about Taylor Swift, Beyoncé or Kanye West. Those are the accomplishments of Korean pop (K-Pop) sensations BTS.
If you didn’t know about this band when they debuted five years ago, you will once you’ve read this blog. Just last week, BTS kicked off the European leg of its ‘Love Yourself’ tour in London, leaving an impressive trail of PR activity which included; interviews, media coverage, an exclusive UK performance on the Graham Norton Show, and two sold-out concerts at the o2 in its wake. And this is a band that sings mainly in Korean, with a sprinkling of English!
Despite the obvious language barriers, BTS is a textbook example of PR at its finest. Here we look at three reasons why BTS has become a phenomenon, rather than a band whose albums are confined to the bargain bins of record shops.
Like no other
In the communications industry, we’re always telling our clients that to stand out, they need to be different – have a unique message or offer an alternative solution than others in the market. Don’t be ‘me-too.’ BTS ticks all the boxes when it comes to marching to its own drumbeat.
The septet’s members – Jin, Suga, Jungkook, RM, Jimin, J-Hope, and V – all have unique personalities that play off against each other in interviews. RM is the designated leader of the group, given he’s the only one who can speak English relatively fluently. Jin introduces himself as ‘worldwide handsome’ in almost every single interview he gives, compared to the infectious positivity of the aptly named J-Hope. As evidenced with the likes of the Spice Girls or similar boybands from days gone by, fans like to pick their favourites (or ‘bias’ as it’s called in K-Pop) based on the relatability and likability of these different personalities. Add to this a back catalogue of catchy tunes, ridiculously creative, colourful and cinematic music videos and backbreaking, super-precise dance routines and you’ve got a recipe for success that no other band can replicate.
A band with heart
BTS, along with its record label Big Hit Entertainment, has given back to local and global communities since the band first appeared on the music scene in 2013. According to reports, in 2017 BTS donated 70 million won (approximately £47,000) to the Sewol Ferry Disaster 416 Family Council – a group comprising the families of the victims who died in the sinking of a ferry off the coast of South Korea in 2014. In September this year, BTS became the first K-Pop act to speak at the United Nations, as part of an anti-violence campaign with UNICEF. The ‘Love Myself’ campaign saw BTS donate a portion of the income from physical sales of its Love Yourself series of albums to the cause – which currently stands at $1.03 million. Band member RM eloquently gave a speech, in English, to a room full of diplomats and heads of states, to encourage awareness of and support for the cause worldwide.
While the band’s songs are written and performed largely in Korean, within the lyrics the members have been open and honest about the troubles their target demographics face in today’s modern age – privacy, mental health, love. Taking a cue from Suga, a member of the band who has struggled with mental health himself, many fans have since shared their own stories in a bid to open up the conversation on a topic tarnished by stigma.
An engaged audience
BTS’ use of social media to share insight into what’s going on behind the scenes has set it apart from any other celebrity on social media today. Members take it in turns to post pictures on a shared Twitter handle, with candid, post-concert live videos streamed on YouTube or via broadcasting app V-Live. So it’s no surprise the band snatched the ‘Favorite Social Media Artist’ award at this year’s American Music Awards.
It’s clear the record label has a tight handle on what can and can’t be posted; the members do have a certain reputation to uphold given the conservative nature of their home country. However, speaking directly to fans – collectively known as the ARMY – has helped BTS create and nurture an engaged audience in the Western world, as well as among Asian fan bases closer to their native South Korea.
The members of BTS undoubtedly work hard at their many crafts, with 12-hour-a-day practice schedules and strict daily routines. However, PR – and particularly social media – has been a crucial component in propelling the band into new markets, bridging a significant language gap with creativity, personality and a warmth that most celebrities these days just don’t possess. And if the BTS train keeps picking up pace, you’ll be singing along to their latest track in broken Korean in no time (just like I am!)
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