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Southeast Asia’s e-commerce platforms lure shoppers with celebrity ‘star wars’

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South Korean K-pop bands BTS and Blackpink, and actors Hyun Bin and Jackie Chan, attract millions of shoppers to Southeast Asia’s e-commerce platforms.

Following the 9.9 online shopping festival that recently took place in Southeast Asia, e-commerce operators are beefing up their efforts for the next major e-shopping events that will take place before the end of the year, among them Singles’ Day, or 11.11—the world’s largest online shopping day, which is catching on in Southeast Asia’s growing e-commerce market.

Last year, Lazada saw USD 100 million in sales in the first hour of Singles’ Day, while Shopee set a new record with 200 million items sold within a day, up 30% from 2019’s sales during the event.

Major players, like Shopee, JD.id, and Bukalapak are also looking at other important “twin dates,” such as the 10.10 shopping festival or the 12.12 shopping bonanza, to lure users with attractive discounts and tempting coupons. To further increase buyers’ appetite, e-commerce platforms will also likely rely on their exclusive ambassador partnerships with renowned musicians and actors to try to set new records.

While Tokopedia doesn’t join the twin days frenzy, the firm also heavily relies on its ambassadors to regularly drive sales and during other shopping festival events, such as Ramadan and Tokopedia’s anniversary on August 17.

As Korean entertainment—which encompasses everything from music and movies to beauty and fashion—has taken Southeast Asia by storm in the past decade, e-commerce giants have not hesitated to invest in establishing brand ambassador partnerships with South Korean superstars. At the same time, e-commerce companies have localized their efforts by signing partnerships with established celebrities based in the countries where they operate.

Riding the Korean wave

Tokopedia appointed K-pop bands BTS and Blackpink as its brand ambassadors in 2019 and 2021, respectively, and it has been working with them since then. The e-commerce platform has featured the Korean singers in various marketing products and in other programs, including the company’s YouTube show Waktu Indonesia Belanja (WIB). Tokopedia will continue working with the two K-pop bands going forward, according to Ekhel Chandra Wijaya, Tokopedia’s external communications senior lead.

“As the first brand in the world that is collaborating with two mega global stars from South Korea at the same time, we believe this synergy can bring Indonesia’s name to the global stage,” Wijaya told KrASIA.

BTS’s exclusive music video of the song Butter, in partnership with Tokopedia. Screencap from Tokopedia’s YouTube channel.

Wijaya didn’t reveal how much Tokopedia spent on these entertainment household names, but it is safe to say that the firm has invested a hefty amount of cash. BTS is one of the most expensive spokesmodels in the world, according to The Korea Timeswhich detailed that to hire the boyband, companies must pay between KRW 3 billion to KRW 5 billion (USD 2.5 million to USD 4.2 million) for domestic endorsements. Although the price for international agreements is unknown, industry sources have revealed that McDonald’s paid around USD 9 million to BTS for a menu endorsement in April.

Shopee has also established various marketing initiatives featuring Korean artists. For instance, K-pop bands Twice, Secret Number, and Stray Kids recently performed on ShopeeLive and Shopee TV Shows during the 9.9 festival. In Indonesia, the 9.9 show was also broadcasted on different television channels like RCTI, SCTV, Indosiar, ANTV, and MNC TV.

Meanwhile, Lazada announced Korean actor Hyun Bin as the first regional ambassador for LazMall in August. Lazmall is a curated selection section of the Lazada marketplace featuring international and local brands from authorized distributors.

The firm also worked with actor and singer Lee Min Ho for last year’s shopping festival. “Hyun Bin’s personality and dedication to his craft highly resonate with LazMall’s brand promise of authenticity, quality, and a trusted online destination,” said Lazada Group CMO Mary Zhou to KrASIA.

Localized ambassadors for each market

Besides South Korean idols, the region’s e-commerce platforms have also partnered with other international brand ambassadors. For instance, actor and director Jackie Chan was the main face of Shopee during this year’s 9.9 shopping festival. The firm also works with local celebrities and influencers for each market, including actor Joe Taslim and comedian Tukul Arwana in Indonesia, actress Kris Aquino in the Philippines, and football coach Park Hang Seo in Vietnam.

“Shopee works with both international and local celebrities to bring exciting and entertaining experiences to users across the region,” Shopee regional marketing lead, Huiyan Pan, told KrASIA. “We have very diverse users, and we partner with different celebrities they can relate to. This helps us form deeper connections with our users,” Pan added.

Jackie Chan is Shopee’s newest international brand ambassador. Screencap of 9.9 advertisements on Shopee Indonesia’s YouTube channel.

Boosting traffic

Companies hire brand ambassadors to build public awareness and credibility for their brands. Through well-known spokesmodels, companies expect to develop stronger connections with their audiences and potential new customers, which will then be converted into transactions and sales.

Choosing the right ambassador can create hype around a brand and boost transactions instantaneously. For example, McDonald revealed in its earnings report for Q2 2021 that its partnership with BTS and the launch of the BTS Meal, which features the boyband’s favorite orders, including Chicken McNuggets, fries, and Coca-Cola, has helped the American fast food company to increase worldwide sales by 41% in the quarter. Thousands of customers filled up McDonald’s stores in 50 countries around the world as soon as it was released, while the partnership merch sold out in just a day. In Indonesia, dozens of McDonald’s stores selling the BTS menu were forced to close in June after a major influx of customers, amid fears of coronavirus communal transmission.

Tokopedia’s Wijaya said that the ambassador marketing approach, especially with South Korean superstars, is well received by Indonesian audiences due to the popularity of K-pop culture in the country. BTS and Blackpink’s performances on Tokopedia Play and YouTube platforms have been watched more than 15 million times so far, said Wijaya.“Korean cuisine such as tteokbokki has also become one of the most popular products recently on our delivery program Tokopedia Nyam,” he added.

Similarly, Shopee spokesperson said that their international and local celebrity efforts have made a big impression among shoppers in Southeast Asia. For example, Shopee’s 11.11 YouTube commercials featuring different Southeast Asian celebrities have been viewed more than 130 million times since last year. The company’s recent ad—featuring Jackie Chan—racked up over 5.8 million views since August 23 on Shopee Indonesia’s YouTube channel. The partnership with Chan might have also helped the company sell 1.8 million items in just one minute during the recent 9.9 sale event.

While company representatives did not disclose particular details about their upcoming events, the e-commerce “Star Wars” of Asian superstars is likely to bring more surprises to Southeast Asian shoppers.

KrASIA is a digital media company reporting on the most promising technology-driven businesses and trends in the world’s emerging markets.

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