Retail in Asia


Riding the K-wave: How brands can leverage Korean culture’s soaring popularity

Hallyu, also known as the Korean wave, signifies the remarkable surge in the global popularity of Korean entertainment and culture.

This phenomenon has resulted in a staggering revenue of over USD 27 billion in the past five years and has transcended borders, with K-pop’s massive album sales, viral #KPop TikTok views, and Blackpink’s record-breaking YouTube subscriber numbers.

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As hallyu’s fandom expands globally in 2023 and beyond, key industries including fashion, beauty, food and drink, consumer tech, and gaming could reap significant benefits from these collaborations.

From luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton and Dior, to F&B retailers such as Starbucks, high-profile events in South Korea and collaborations with Korean celebrities exemplify the growing trend of tapping into Korean culture’s growing global appeal.

Retail in Asia delves into the transformative shifts and brand opportunities that are arising with hallyu, and speak with Alison Ho, strategist at WGSN.

Empowered femininity takes centre stage

A new generation is challenging gender norms, embracing self-confident female icons and narratives, as empowered femininity takes centre stage.

A more globalised fandom, characterised by enhanced social tolerance and understanding, is fuelling an unprecedented surge in aesthetic diversity. This shift is propelling female icons into the realms of stardom like never before.

“Brands can maximise the K-wave opportunity by embracing strong female icons, women-led stories and the female gaze in film and TV to tap the rise of empowered femininity within the hallyu cultural zeitgeist,” said Ho.

South Korean star Jennie Kim, part of the group Blackpink, released a collaborative collection with Calvin Klein. Source: Calvin Klein

Beyond advertising campaigns, consumers embrace exclusive collaborations with celebrities

Consumers crave personal and meaningful connections, driving the demand for brand collaborations that involve celebrity co-creation, such as exclusive capsule collections and self-designed collaborations with celebrities.

“Examples of this are Blackpink’s Jisoo birthday collaboration with Dior, which features a special shade of the Dior Addict Lip Glow crafted exclusively for Jisoo, as well as the Jennie for Calvin Klein capsule collection, which she curated and designed,” Ho noted. 

“A good bet for the next two years would be investing in the kidult boom with gamified spaces that enable opportunities for play, such as Nudake’s cafe collaboration with New Jeans, and Stray Kids’ pop-up with SKZOO.”

A Hakuhodo study reveals that 88.2 percent of ASEAN consumers are willing to pay extra for brands that support their favourite groups or celebrities. But consumers also seek aspirational and co-created brand collaborations that authentically reflect the personalities of their favourite celebrities, surpassing mere product endorsements.

South Korean actor Rowoon and Blackpink member Rose, a new Rimowa ambassador, attend an event by Rimowa. Source: Rimowa

Explore other channels for brand-building

As consumers continue to seek tangible and immersive experiences to connect with their favourite celebrities, new prospects emerge for successful collaborations in the form of co-branded pop-up spaces and intellectual property (IP) collections. These ventures provide opportunities for fans to engage in real-life (IRL), fostering a tactile and visceral connection that resonates deeply.

Online, as South Korea’s preferred streaming channel, YouTube has become an invaluable platform for entertainment agencies, production studios, and celebrities to establish and enhance their brand presence.

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“Brands can also integrate YouTube, which offers a more direct channel of communication between fan and celebrity, as part of marketing strategy,” continued Ho. “Co-create intimate and personal content that deepens the fan-celebrity connection for a more organic and authentic form of product discovery. Code Kunst’s Starry Ear Night series, which is ripe with sponsorship opportunities for brands, sees the music producer discussing deeply personal issues with other celebrity guests in a bedroom setting.”