By Mirafat Samoh
Think about what happened to the Nation Multimedia Group. Went too far on the side of ultra-royalism and ultra-nationalism? The younger generation called for a boycott of its advertisers. Brands scrambled to apologize and make amends. Soon enough, the pro-government media group had to change its editorial board.
Look at young actress Focus Jirakul. She came out on the side of pro-democracy. Because of this, her moderate-by-celebrity-standard social media following shot through the roof, as has her stardom. Words have it; she is gaining more sponsors than ever. Why?
She’s now an influencer with a large and loyal following who have a prized asset in a capitalist economy: purchasing power. Also, they are at an age brands love: young people are more willing to spend.
Street protests can move people’s mindsets and effect changes in the long term. But economic power can move the needle and affect changes in the shorter term.
The protestors would be wise to make it a strategy.
Certainly, it’s democratic instead of what the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) did in 2014. Which was to bring a bunch of angry people to your office building and say, “Give us money.”
When you go to a BTS or MRT station, you would often see advertisement displays of smiling K-pop stars, with words wishing happy birthday to them.
Each advertisement on the MRT is between 19,500 and 60,000 baht per month. On the BTS, it’s 25,500 and 300,000 baht per month. Depending on the size, the number of displays, and the station location.
Who paid for these advertisements?
The tweeny K-pop fans.
Among the most active Thai K-pop fans is a group called A.R.M.Y.THAI. They are the fandom of the K-pop group BTS, which stands for the Korean expression, “Bangtan Sonyeondan,” translated as “Bulletproof Boy Scouts.”
They are the people behind the Twitter account @BTS_Thailand, with 389.4K followers, from grade school students to office workers.
Normally, they would buy ad spaces at the BTS or MRT stations, like other K-pop fandoms. But not this time around.
Because both the BTS and MRT have complied with the government’s “request” to shut down operations to prevent pro-democracy protestors from traveling to rally sites, A.R.M.Y.THAI thought it best to take their business elsewhere. Furthermore, instead of giving money to the corporate world, they wanted to support those in need.
Happy Birthday BTS JIN & V
So this month, you may see 15 different tuk-tuk taxis, especially in the Siam and Sukhumvit zones, driving around with the display:
Happy Birthday BTS JIN & V
Each tuk-tuk taxi costs between 1,100 and 1,400 per month.
This is just one way a group of K-pop fans uses their purchasing power to make a political statement. But it’s not just about fandom. A.R.M.Y.THAI also runs charity projects and blood donation campaigns.
Of course, here we are talking about a few hundred grand. But think about all the millions of pro-democracy supporters out there.
If someone could consolidate and formulate a strategy behind the purchasing power of the pro-democracy young generation, tycoons and generals would be sweating in their mansions.