Mar 27, 2024

From 'Boys Love' to Global Luxury: The Thai Effect

How the surging popularity of Thai dramas reshaped luxury brand marketing and propelled local celebrities to stardom within a mere three years.

Mile Phakphum Romsaithong and Nattawin Wattanagitiphat attend the Christian Dior Spring/Summer 2024 fashion show. (Getty)

The world of luxury is constantly evolving, and one captivating trend that has come to the forefront of influence is the rise of Thai entertainment. Thai dramas have captivated millions, transforming the influencer marketing strategy of luxury brands in just three years. How did this popular genre revolutionize consumer behavior and catapult Thai celebrities to unprecedented fame? To uncover Thailand's global impact, we engaged in an insightful conversation with Nichapat Suphap, the visionary founder of The Venture Management, a leading Thai talent agency.

The Origins of Thai Influence

Celebrity endorsements in Thailand have a rich history spanning over three decades. Thai consumers demonstrate steadfast loyalty to their favorite celebrities, often purchasing endorsed products regardless of genuine interest. The country's emphasis on aesthetics further drives this trend, with attractive packaging playing a pivotal role in boosting sales.

As per insights from Suphap, Thai celebrities earn significant incomes through endorsements—a notable contrast to the West, where earnings primarily stem from their professional work. Thailand's marketing landscape flourishes through these collaborations between stars and brands, showcasing a distinct aspect of the industry compared to its Western counterparts. With social media now playing a crucial role, celebrity endorsements wield enhanced power in influencing consumer purchasing decisions.

So, what distinguishes Thai celebrity endorsements from those in other regions? Enter the 'Thai Effect,' characterized by unwavering fan loyalty, the nation's aesthetic focus, and a unique marketing environment valuing celebrity endorsements. This phenomenon drives sales and shapes how brands promote their products within Thailand.

Casting of "2gether The Series". (Viki)

The Pivotal Pandemic: 'Boys-Love' Series

The global lockdowns and travel restrictions enforced by the pandemic significantly impacted various industries, confining people indoors. This phenomenon led to a surge in entertainment consumption, notably television series, as individuals sought ways to pass the time at home.

Among these shows, one genre that managed to break cultural barriers and capture viewers' hearts globally was Thai "Boys-Love" or “Y-series” dramas. These series captivated audiences with compelling storylines focusing on narratives of romantic relationships between male characters and sparked imaginations worldwide. These storylines held a particular charm, presenting much-needed companionship and connection that resonated with people dealing with isolation, thus catapulting "Boys-Love" stars into mainstream fame. 

The skyrocketing popularity of these dramas didn't just stop at cultivating a dedicated fanbase. It also propelled its stars from relative obscurity to dazzling heights of fame. Their newfound celebrity status was something even they couldn't anticipate; Suphap vividly illustrates the sudden rise to stardom: "The first time I took [Boys-Love series stars] to the Red Sea Film Festival … they weren't aware that it was this big. When they went to India, for example, it shocked them that they had this many fans." 

The Local Luxury Boom: Thai Shoppers and Designer Labels

The emergence of popular drama series unexpectedly influenced luxury brands in profound ways. Traditionally, luxury shopping thrived through physical boutiques, primarily in prestigious locations or airports, catering to travelers and tourists. However, this dynamic shifted drastically with travel constraints.

As a result, luxury brands swiftly adjusted their marketing approaches and distribution channels to align with the evolving landscape. Key transformations included expanding luxury stores from airports to urban areas, targeting local consumers unable to access overseas luxury shopping experiences.

Before the pandemic, most Thai shoppers sought luxury goods overseas or from duty-free outlets for tax refunds, given Thailand's higher prices due to import duties. With luxury brands diversifying into more brick-and-mortar establishments and Thai customers staying domestic, a new strategy emerged: focusing specifically on appealing to Thai consumers and thus tapping into Thai stars for brand promotion.

From Bangkok to Burberry: The Stellar Rise of Thai Brand Ambassadors

Bright Vachirawit attends the Burberry Spring/Summer 2023 show. (Getty)

In July 2022, Burberry's strategic move to enlist Thai actor Bright Vachirawit as a brand ambassador was a game-changer for the luxury fashion industry. This pioneering decision highlighted the brand's innovative approach to marketing and underscored the untapped potential within the Thai market. Bright Vachirawit, with his considerable fan base and influence, brought a fresh and vibrant energy to Burberry, showcasing the brand to an expansive Southeast Asian audience.

This move was soon followed by other luxury giants like Dior, Prada, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, who recognized the immense potential of aligning with Thai celebrities. In 2023, 70% of such partnerships were forged, signaling a significant pivot in the industry's approach to global ambassadorship.

The decision to partner with Thai celebrities has profoundly impacted the luxury market. These ambassadors have bridged the gap between global luxury brands and the Thai consumer, offering a localized appeal that resonates deeply with the audience's cultural preferences and values—the Autumn/Winter 2024 fashion weeks witnessed this shift, with Thai Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) experiencing a 225% surge in attendance compared to last year’s AW23. 

The effectiveness of these partnerships goes beyond mere visibility. The 12 Thai stars signed to luxury brands generated a staggering $106 million in Earned Media Value (EMV) for their respective brands in 2023—a testament to their powerful influence and engaging content. 

This figure is especially impressive, considering many collaborations were initiated within the same calendar year. Furthermore, Thai brand ambassadors have proven exceptionally active, delivering three times more content than their international counterparts. This prolific content creation has amplified the brands' reach and enriched the engagement with their audience, fostering a deeper, more meaningful connection.

The Audience: A Captive Consumer Market

Thai stars' social media success secret lies in their dedicated fan bases. These fans are not just spectators; they form a deeply engaged community. Their unwavering enthusiasm sets them apart, directly connecting luxury brands to their target customer's minds. This loyalty is a cornerstone for enduring customer relationships, boosting sales, and nurturing an exceptionally passionate luxury consumer base. The true measure of the stars' influence is evident in their audience's wallets – a financial commitment fueled by profound emotional allegiance to both the celebrity and the brand.

Thai dramas wield undeniable influence in the luxury market – evident through concrete metrics like sales performance, brand visibility, and market expansion, all attributable to the 'Thai Effect.' Yet, the most significant aspect of success transcends quantifiable data; it resides in the enthusiasm and steadfastness of a consumer base that heralds a new era in luxury consumption.

The rapid investment in Thai stars by brands can be attributed to one key factor – the tremendous impact fueled by their faithful fans. Suphap describes that hundreds or thousands of supporters show up for their beloved celebrities at events such as Fashion Week. These fans are so dedicated that “they care to come, they care to camp out outside. They care to stay in the rain, snow, or whatever just to see this person,” with some even flying to locations to support their favorite star.

How Brands Can Tap Into the Thai Market

For those not in the luxury sector or fashion industry and looking to tap into the Thai market, here are seven practical methods to kickstart your influencer marketing strategy with Thai stars without a lavish budget:

  1. Cultural Alignment: Align brand messaging and aesthetics with the cultural nuances and preferences of the Thai market to resonate deeply with local consumers.
  2. Celebrity Partnerships: Forge partnerships with Thai celebrities with a solid fan base and social media presence to leverage their influence and reach. Look for untapped Thai stars by keeping an eye on emerging Thai dramas, especially the rising “Girls-Love” genre or Thai musicians. 
  3. Fan Community Engagement: Actively engage with the dedicated fan communities of Thai celebrities through social media and exclusive events, fostering a sense of belonging and loyalty.
  4. Localized Content Creation: Develop content that speaks to the Thai audience by incorporating local themes, settings, and languages, making it more relatable and engaging.
  5. Event Participation and Sponsorship: To increase brand visibility, participate in and sponsor events popular among Thai consumers, such as fashion weeks and fan meet-and-greets.
  6. Exclusive Collaborations: Launch exclusive collections or products in collaboration with Thai celebrities to create buzz and drive demand among their fans.
  7. Social Media Amplification: Leverage the high content output of Thai brand ambassadors by amplifying their posts across brand channels to maximize reach and engagement.

By adopting these strategies, brands can tap into the immense potential of the Thai market, leveraging the influence of Thai entertainment and the strong connection between Thai celebrities and their fans to enhance brand visibility, engagement, and loyalty.

Thailand's Cultural Boom Redefines Future Markets

Thailand's luxury market is on an upward trajectory, fueled by the global recognition of its celebrities. What was once a minor player in international luxury has now transformed into a powerhouse, attracting global brands eager to capitalize on its remarkable growth.

More than just a marketplace, Thailand's luxury sector represents a cultural revolution. Originating as a response to a global crisis, it has evolved into an illustration of how culture can reshape business practices. A crucial lesson for luxury labels worldwide: tomorrow's success lies in collaboration, culture, and individual connections.

Thai Stars Ranked By Visibility (Earned Media Value)

EMV from luxury fashion collaborations (2023-2024)

  1. @apo555: $48.2M EMV | 17.56% ER
  2. @milephakphum: $32.2M EMV | 14.13% ER
  3. @tontawan: $30.1M EMV | 8.29% ER
  4. @dew_jsu: $27.9M EMV | 5.46% ER
  5. @winmetawin: $26.2M EMV | 4.85% ER
  6. @bbrightvc: $26.1M EMV | 5.7% ER
  7. @davikah: $23.2M EMV | 1.13% ER
  8. @gulfkanawut: $21.2M EMV | 7.83% ER
  9. @tenlee_1001: $19.2M EMV | 5.78% ER
  10. @kimmy_kimberley: $18.2M EMV | 1.85% ER
  11. @baifernbah: $17.7M EMV | 1.96% ER
  12. @hirunkit_: $16.9M EMV | 4.94% ER
  13. @urassayas: $16.1M EMV | 1.95% ER
  14. @tumcial: $16M EMV | 3.86% ER
  15. @thanaerngnin: $15.1M EMV | 3.44% ER
  16. @gemini_nt: $12.6M EMV | 18.97% ER
  17. @pp.kritt: $12.2M EMV | 5.42% ER
  18. @blue_pongtiwat: $11.1M EMV | 5.73% ER
  19. @fourth.ig: $10.1M EMV | 20.23% ER
  20. @chen_rcj: $9.69M EMV | 6.19% ER
  21. @fforce_: $9.06M EMV | 9.08% ER
  22. @supassra_sp: $7.86M EMV | 1.04% ER
  23. @phuwintang: $6.83M EMV | 6.51% ER
  24. @gun_atthaphan: $6.76M EMV | 3.21% ER
  25. @bellacampen: $5.86M EMV | 1.23% ER
  26. @mewsuppasit: $5.59M EMV | 3.54% ER
  27. @kasibook_: $4.63M EMV | 10.22% ER
  28. @ppnaravit: $4.22M EMV | 6.79% ER
  29. @biblesumett: $1.88M EMV | 8.47% ER
  30. @dunknatachai: $1.55M EMV | 7.66% ER
  31. @net_siraphop: $537K EMV | 10.31% ER
  32. @mixxiw: $448K EMV | 10.31% ER
  33. @theearthe: $328K EMV | 3.31% ER

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