From the BTS Meal at McDonald’s to the members of BLACKPINK representing multiple luxury fashion houses, global brands are embracing the popularity and social media savvy of K-pop stars more than ever. But the artists are also using their influence to help develop and encourage new businesses from their home country of South Korea in an emerging business model that has received significant government support.
The special affairs unit of Korean TV and radio broadcaster Munhwa Broadcasting Company (better known as MBC) recently shared its insights and future plans developed from a new business model called “Connect, Follow to Create Synergy and Transformation” or “CAST” for short. After three years of research and testing, MBC shares that even with K-pop artists and rising celebrity profiles, they are willing to cooperate with Korea’s small and medium enterprises (also known as SMEs) and share their millions of excited fans for meaningful and collaborative partnerships.
In the CAST system, Korean wave stars and SMEs are paired one-on-one with celebrities who participate not only as models but also as creative directors involved in the planning, development and testing stages of products. The Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), which is sponsored by the South Korean government, devised the matching system after recognizing the difficulty of smaller Korean businesses in recruiting top stars.
“Stars using their influence to grow and expand SMEs abroad is considered a new form of donation,” MBC said in a press release. “The fact that world stars participated in the event for free attracted a lot of attention [and] the CAST project deserves attention as an unprecedented donation anywhere in the world in sustaining a true partnership for more than a year.”
Artists actively participating in the program’s 2022 iteration included long-loved girl group Apink, chart-topping boy band SF9, solo superstar Chung Ha, rising girl group Veekly, YouTuber beauty PONI, as well as models Irene Kim, Jung Hyuk and Song Haena. With eight SMEs selected by KOFICE to create the best synergy between both parties, the eight stars worked as creative directors to ultimately move forward with their endorsements and marketing once they approved the product.
The first test of the business model abroad was at last year’s HallyuPopFest in London, where approximately 60 small and medium enterprises from Korea were showcased on the same festival grounds with popular artists such as Kai, Chen, Hwa Sa, SF9, ASTRO, Veekli, Ke1per and others. These overseas fairs and product demonstrations are another part of the CAST system to strengthen local awareness for businesses and develop international demand through star visibility and product endorsements.
Looking ahead, KOFICA President Jung Kilhwa said that after three years of testing, the CAST model can effectively build “strong competitiveness” among new enterprises in 2023.
Not only does the CAST system show how Korean businesses can gain an edge in the global market, it shows that K-pop stars are very aware of what it takes to help their country’s economy grow in a healthy, meaningful way.