- K-pop’s huge global success has seen many top luxury brands enlist Korean performers as luxury brand ambassadors in recent years.
- With huge popularity and name recognition in China, as well as success on platforms like TikTok and Douyin, K-pop stars carry strong influence among younger millennial and Gen Z consumers.
- Going forward more brands may turn to C-pop stars as brand ambassadors for China to complement K-pop partnerships, but risks remain.
Over the past decade, the massive success of K-pop has enticed a growing number of luxury brands to enlist its stars as spokespersons and brand ambassadors. From Jennie of Blackpink (Chanel) to Seulgi of Red Velvet (ambassador for Salvatore Ferragamo) and quartet Aespa (Givenchy), K-pop performers offer brands a highly polished, generally (but not always) uncontroversial, and globally popular route to gain attention from younger millennial and Gen Z shoppers worldwide.
This has been a particularly successful strategy for brands in China, where K-pop and K-dramas remain hugely popular and influential despite the occasional boycott or backlash. And now, the role of K-pop stars has expanded beyond serving as representatives for individual brands to becoming a new marketing cornerstone for luxury groups.
Luxury powerhouse LVMH has arguably been the most effective at leveraging the K-pop wave across its portfolio, announcing a slate of brand ambassadorships in 2021. Louis Vuitton, one of the group’s most important brands, announced a wide-ranging partnership with BTS and Christian Dior enlisted Blackpink member Jisoo as its global brand ambassador. Its recently acquired Tiffany & Co. (which is in the midst of a major Asia-facing branding effort) joined forces with another Blackpink member, Rosé, in a bold move to get in front of younger consumers.
LVMH-owned Loewe’s most recent ambassadorship offers another glimpse at how the conglomerate may see its K-pop strategy roll out across other brands. This month, the Spanish luxury house announced singer-songwriter HyunA (Kim Hyun-ah) as its newest global brand ambassador, joining other young celebrities who are a little off the beaten path compared to the household-name superstars enlisted by Louis Vuitton or Dior. (Another example would be The Crown star Josh O’Connor, ambassador for the Eye Loewe Nature outdoor line and fellow LVMH brand Bulgari.)
Known for a somewhat edgier aesthetic than the likes of BTS or Blackpink, HyunA has achieved much of her success through viral TikTok dance challenges. Her seventh EP, “I’m Not Cool,” released earlier this year, topped charts of streaming platforms in South Korea while the hashtag #imnotcool racked up more than 850 million views on TikTok.
But HyunA’s new gig as Loewe brand ambassador may have the greatest impact in China, a market that is relatively new to the brand yet increasingly important. HyunA’s latest EP reportedly sold more than 200,000 copies on QQ Music, while her videos garnered 1.4 billion views on Douyin. As Loewe makes a strong global effort to promote its new Goya bag, the choice of HyunA could help the brand maintain some of the momentum it built up in China this earlier year via its nostalgia-fueled Totoro collection. And depending on HyunA's ability to drum up interest in Loewe and the new Goya in China, she could be the first of more relatively niche Korean stars to be recruited as global ambassadors.
Who will LVMH tap as the next brand ambassadors for its dozens of other brands? Aside from niche K-pop performers, C-pop stars and idols very well may see greater interest, with actor and singer Jackson Yee already announced as a Tiffany brand ambassador in 2020 and Liu Yifei as the China representative for Louis Vuitton earlier this year.
While less well-known outside of China, Chinese celebrities offer the advantage of instant name recognition among millions of potential consumers and plenty of opportunities for collaboration across the content spectrum. However, they’re not without risks for LVMH or any other group. Just this week, a major scandal is unfolding as top C-pop star Kris Wu — brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, and many others like Porsche and L’Oréal — was accused of infidelity and predatory behavior on Chinese social media, leading to a flurry of PR crisis management among the brands that work with him.