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'Kudasai' girl Devin Halbal for dummies: 101 on her virality formula

'Kudasai' girl Devin Halbal for dummies: 101 on her virality formula

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MARKETING-INTERACTIVE readers kudasai. Highly popular travel content creator Devin Halbal has been the talk of the town as she embarks on what she calls her "summer tour" around Asia.

Strutting around in funky outfits with a selfie stick, ending her sentences with the word 'kudasai' (which means 'please' in Japanese) and coming up with seemingly random (but apparently influential) phrases such as "I'm a butterfly", Halbal is social media's new it girl.

Don't miss: AirAsia onboards 'kudasai' girl Devin Halbal as part of new campaign

According to media monitoring company Meltwater, Halbal has seen a spike in mentions since the beginning of June when she started her tour in Asia in partnership with Malaysian airline carrier AirAsia which onboarded the influencer for its 'Go Somewhere Different' campaign. 

"Halbal is utilising Kuala Lumpur as a transit point en route to Almaty, and through this collaboration, we aim to highlight our connectivity and promote new destinations to a broader audience seeking to explore hidden gems in this region, all while benefiting from AirAsia’s affordable flight options," said Amanda Woo, AirAsia's group head of commercial in a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. 

Halbal is currently in Malaysia for her summer tour and will be headed to Almaty, the Philippines, Thailand and Japan in the coming weeks alongside AirAsia. 

Halbal said in an Instagram video a week ago:

Thank you so much AirAsia. AirAsia kudasai for sponsoring my summer tour.

She has since been spotted in iconic places such as KLCC and near the Petronas Twin Towers. 

Media intelligence firm, CARMA also picked up that words associated with the influencer include 'kudasai', her signature phrase, 'love' and 'positive'.

Replicating the virality formula

As a creator, Halbal's strategy is pretty uncomplicated. However, it clearly works when you consider the throngs of fans that trail after her at every meet and greet, all eager for a photo or to be included in one of the influencer's iconic videos. In fact, some of her meet and greets have gotten so packed that at one point, in a meet-up at Jeju Island, Halbal needed a police escort. 

So, what is about Halbal's strategy that has managed to break through and crack the ever-changing formula to virality? According to Sunny Johar, managing director at KRDS, while there is no specific formula for virality, previous stars such as the "tube girl" have gone viral for very niche activities.

"In the case of Halbal, her authenticity, playful personality, cultural curiosity and high entertainment factor resulted in her initial success in the US. Within Asia, her fame elevated as she showed people a more unique way to travel and engage with different cultures," she explained. 

Johar added that Halbal's success is also a great example of what happens when influencers make an effort to connect with their audience.

"Her original 'sushi kudasai' video went viral during her time in Japan, resulting in comments from people all over Japan inviting her to different parts of Japan to meet them," said Johar. "Unlike most influencers that go viral, she actually did embrace this with unofficial meet-and-greets all over Japan," said Johar, adding:

This catapulted her from an internet persona to a real-world phenomenon, and the algorithm started boosting her content within Asia.

The shift in influencer marketing

Understandably, influencer marketing in Southeast Asia (SEA) has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past two years.

The biggest change lies in the rise of micro and nano-influencers where brands are recognising the power of smaller creators. This shift reflects a growing consumer desire for trust and real connections. 

In addition, consumers in SEA are savvier and crave genuine connections, leading to influencer marketing campaigns prioritising transparency and "deinfluencing". This is according to R3's authenticity and transparency in SEA influencer marketing report where it explored trends, local nuances and its impact on the direction of influencer marketing in the region. 

True enough, a big part of Devin's success is how authentic and unapologetic she is, said Johar, adding: 

For a brand to replicate this success, having a strong set of core values rooted in authenticity is critical.

"Second, dropping barriers and engaging meaningfully with their audiences is one of the easiest ways for a brand to be more successful and loved," explained Johar. 

The need for authenticity

Agreeing with her point, Jeffrey Lim, founder and managing director at 8traordinary said that while there are many factors contributing to her popularity, the key is her authenticity and her "audacity" in sharing what she believes and stands for that is helping her draw in a like-minded community. 

"Other factors, such as the ability to weave in internet catch phrases, pop culture and even localising her content through colloquial conversation, makes her relatable," said Lim, referencing Halbal's frequent use of local favorites in her content such as Nasi Lemak and MILO. 

"It is never easy to create something unique that no one has yet everyone wants, hence it’s not easy to get this formula right," said Lim.

He explained that when looking to potentially replicate Halbal's success, brands should recognise that they need to be true and authentic to its mission and cause, but yet, constantly seek ways to serve and communicate with its customers and target their audience in the most relevant way to achieve this mission.

This is especially important because as it stands, customers in Singapore don’t think businesses are authentic or empathetic with 40% of Singaporeans experiencing poor service due to the sentiment that 'customer service is not listening to me' – a 19% increase from three years ago.

Moreover, 33% of Gen Z respondents believe that organisations deliberately make it difficult to seek help, with over half of customers in Singapore claiming to have lost faith in businesses' ability to resolve their issues.

This was according to ServiceNow's inaugural Customer Experience research. The research aims to address Singapore's billion-dollar customer service gap where an estimated SG$1.24 billion in wages is lost due to slow and poor service. 

Related articles:
Study: 97% of brands identify content creators as influencers
Report: Local nuance and trust needed for influencer marketing in SEA
#BlockOut24 for dummies: 101 on the movement forcing influencers to take a stand

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