Analysis: Louis Vuitton's BTS tie-up goes beyond just Asian representation, say experts

Louis Vuitton delighted K-pop fans last week when it brought on board BTS as its ambassadors. The luxury fashion brand tweeted that the K-pop group is recognised for its "uplifting messages that impart a positive influence". LV and BTS will collaborate on special projects and the K-pop will wear the brand for upcoming appearances, several media outlets including The Straits Times said. Separately, the K-pop group also recently tied up with McDonald's for a bespoke one-of-a-kind menu "tour" that will be available globally in nearly 50 countries.

LV joins other luxury brands such as Celine, Bulgari, Prada, and Calvin Klein that have tapped on the popularity of K-pop stars such as BLACKPINK's Lisa, Red Velvet's Irene and South Korean actor Ji Changwook. Nonetheless, it is also not the first time LV has appointed an individual of Asian descent as its brand ambassador. Earlier this year, the luxury brand made waves when it named Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka its new brand ambassador, describing her as "multi-faceted, independent and modern". 

Bonsey Design's chief operating officer Graham Hitchmough told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that through this partnership, LV can further advance its competitive position in the commercially critical East Asian markets and among Millennials and Gen Z audiences internationally - who will be the future of the brand. His view mirrors that of a joint research report by Bain & Company and Tmall Luxury Division titled "China's Unstoppable Luxury Market" said mainland China's luxury goods market was expected to achieve 48% growth last year, reaching approximately US$53 billion, and further growth is expected through 2025.

Meanwhile, for BTS, Hitchmough said the rewards will be both financial and image-enhancing. "The appointment by LV of BTS as its global ambassadors is the latest in an ever-lengthening list of Asian artists and celebrities being selected to represent international brands," he said.

According to him, behind the more generic aspects of Asian and youth market exposure lay some more unique elements of K-Pop’s appeal to Western brands. These include an incredibly polished, wholesome and multi-faceted entertainment machine; a proven commercial acumen and mastery of social media; and a particular strain of structured, proactive and partisan fandom that was forged in South Korea and is now to be found increasingly in the markets of the US and Europe.

These ingredients should allow LV and BTS to go beyond traditionally narrow commercial objectives of brand association to create a more purpose-led, layered, experience-based partnership that leverages and feeds the enthusiasm, ethics and ideology of emerging audiences.

Hitchmough said this will likely extend beyond fashion cycles and product placement into areas of cause-related and events marketing which will extend the relevance and reach of the two brands and create an ecosystem for deeper engagement and multi-level monetisation.

Agreeing with Hitchmough on the importance of the Asian consumer was Superunion's managing strategy director for Singapore Ambrish Chaudhry who said after the much-acclaimed partnership with Osaka in January, the latest one with BTS is a further ode to the importance of Asia for global luxury brands. Hence, there is a need to ensure that LV's Asian customer base sees themselves represented through celebrities that not only look like them but are also creating a global impact.

(Read also: Analysis: With K-pop stars styled head to toe by brands, will your partnership even be noticed?)

Keeping a close eye on the Gen Zs

Aside from solidifying itself among Asian consumers, Sambal Lab's partner Jodh Dheensay said LV has positioned itself "very well" in the eyes of the younger audience and soon to be customers. "LV has tapped into the Gen Z market by endorsing someone which the younger audience sees as the future. So, LV has definitely connected with the Gen Z better than most of us," Dheensay said.

One reason why BTS has resonated so well with Gen Zs is that the K-pop group stands for more than just music. In 2019, the group was first on the list of top-rank global sustainable future leaders during an announcement from the UN-sponsored sustainable development goals association. Its fan club, ARMY, was also named the top sustainable group. Dheensay explained that such an achievement means a lot for the Gen Zs because while the K-pop group's music "intensely resonates" with the Gen Zs, the younger audience is also drawn to what the group stands for and is perceived for beyond music.

On a similar thread, Sedgwick Richardson's commercial director Larisse Lava said through their collaborations with music artists, luxury brands such as LV are shaping a new era of luxury consumers that thrives in a multi-dimensional environment, creative, passionate, and discerning. "This collaboration presents an opportunity for LV to connect to the younger Millennial and Gen Z consumers through digital integrations and creative team-ups, in a more engaging and memorable way," she explained.

In the past, only brands with strong affiliation to music dare to partner with musicians and artists - something that was very organic. But today, more of such non-endemic collaborations are coming to life.

BTS should reflect on how it can take a different, more ‘meaningful approach’ and partner with brands on something that it is truly passionate about - and help them to leave a legacy.

Music and brand partnerships are continuously evolving. Today, Lava said it is no longer enough to simply commission a band or an artist to front a campaign. The partnership has become much more about taking a more values-led approach to the work a brand does and inspiring passion and creativity.

"Luxury brands like LV should always put ‘authenticity’ at the core of their brand partnership initiatives. Mapping out affinity is the key to bringing out connections that are mutually beneficial and long-lasting. You will be surprised with the magic music branding and partnerships can make - what seems to be a contrasting mix can be the birth of a new era of luxury merged with contemporary culture," she explained.

Photo courtesy: BTS Facebook page

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