Bringing Fans and Celebs Closer Through OOH

Raoul Buencuchillo, President of one of the country’s leading Out-of-Home (OOH) firms,HDI Admix, recently spotted some interesting advertising trends for OOH in 2021. He noted that since all the ad clutter is now online, people are attracted to the idea of putting their personal messages on billboards, allowing them to express themselves in a bold and inventive way. More specifically, the Asian drama and idol craze has been intensified during the pandemic and more people have become fans of idols like the K-Pop idols from the band BTS or the band EXO. Fans have been using billboards to greet their idols and to interact with them in a meaningful and accessible way. Fans also use OOH advertising to gain the attention of large organizations and companies in order to have their voices be heard in a more impactful way. The opposite is also true. Artists, band members, and celebrities in general use OOH advertising to interact with fans, announce upcoming events, and create buzz around whatever it is they’re launching. OOH has become such a great platform for fan/celebrity interactions because of its bold and  public nature that’s hard to miss by either party. Not only that, but it creates quite the ricochet effect by involving everyone who views or interacts with the ad, not just those who are directly involved in the campaign.

The Korean pop music scene has become quite the sensation in North America over the last five or so years. With bands like BTS, Blackpink, EXO, and Seventeen becoming international sensations, the desire for fans to get their attention and interact with them has become increasingly overwhelming. What fans have found to be the most effective way to reach their idols, even more so than reaching out to them through social media outlets, is by using OOH advertising. Digital OOH (DOOH) ads and billboards seem to be used the most by fans and have been successful in gaining their attention.

An image of a large digital OOH billboard celebrating the band BTS.

A couple years ago, a group of Korean music enthusiasts funded a digital billboard series promoting their favourite bands and artists. On any given day, passersby would be greeted by the face of a K-pop star right in the heart of Times Square, New York – most frequent of them being the groups BTS and EXO. It began as a trend a few years back with a handful of ads appearing here and there, but quickly became a full-scale phenomenon with fans from all over the world investing in some of the world’s most expensive ad space to share their support and their love for these artists. These super fans aren’t messing around when it comes to supporting their favourite artists – in Times Square, a prime-time, 15-second per hour billboard spot costs roughly $30,000 for one week! However, they know that the campaigns will gain a lot of attention, including the attention of the K-pop stars themselves, with celebrities often expressing their appreciation and support through their social media accounts. Lee Taeyong, from the K-pop band NCT 127, stopped by the NASDAQ sign in June to pose in front of the ad celebrating his 22nd birthday.

An image of a Digital OOH billboard in Times Square celebrating the K-Pop band MAMAMOO.

The same kind of fan hysteria goes for the K-Pop girl group called MAMAMOO. Super fans of the band used Times Square as their platform for creating a DOOH advertisement supporting the K-Pop group. It was the first time that a K-Pop girl group had been featured on such a large scale. The project was organized by the Chinese fan group called Fanmaum, that coordinates K-Pop related support projects including this one in Times Square. What’s so spectacular about this DOOH campaign was the scope of the display that reached 4,638 square feet, located in the heart of Times Square on Broadway, and usually hosted by Good Morning America, The Ellen Show, and ESPN. It’s extremely impressive to see a fan group pull together this kind of support on such a large scale and for (I’m sure) a considerable cost.

An image of K-Pop Square in Seoul with a huge digital OOH billboard.

Since K-Pop originated in South Korea,  where the fandom is the largest and most prominent, it’s also where they create the biggest and most extensive OOH campaigns to promote K-Pop stars. Back in 2018, KITA, along with Gangnam District, wanted to develop K-Pop Square located in Seoul. So, they figured they would create a digital billboard four times the size of a basketball court that displayed different K-Pop videos. The SMTown Media Facade is made up of curved screens and installed on the outer walls of the SMTown Coex Atrium. The billboard is the largest high-definition OOH advertising screen in the entire country, reaching 80 meters long by 20 meters high. Along with the K-Pop videos, media artwork and public content were displayed on the giant billboards. The whole point of the campaign, besides showing appreciation for the K-Pop stars, is to develop the square into a Korean version of Times Square. They want to combine art, culture, and advertising media into one centralized, bustling space that will attract people from all over to come and see. I’d say with a display of this scale, KITA is definitely on the right track to create quite a spectacular square for themselves.

An image of a billboard in the subway supporting the band LOAE.

Subway billboards are also an extremely popular medium for fans of K-Pop stars in South Korea. At Hongdae Station, which has more K-Pop-inspired ads than any other station in the South Korean capital, fans will stop and take photos of the colorful ads that have also been placed there by fans to celebrate their idols’ birthdays or anniversaries. In 2018, the number of subway ads in Seoul Metro reached 1,576, a sharp increase from previous years. Evidently, it’s become quite the tradition among K-Pop fans to fundraise and show support for their favourite K-Pop idols through billboard ads. Again, in return, K-Pop stars will show their gratification by showing up to specific billboards and taking selfies with their fans. Other than the obvious exposure these billboards bring to K-Pop stars, they also provide a source of income for Seoul Metro, which loses billions of dollars each year despite accommodating millions of passengers. Depending on the location, placing an ad for 1 month in the metro station can cost anywhere from 1.5 million won to 4.5 million won (which is approximately $1,300-$1,4000). The ads have brought in a new source of revenue for the Seoul Metro system, which has made a positive impact on the city and brought an even more positive light to the K-Pop stars that are involved.

Three separate images that each display billboards for the show 'Anne with an E'.

Fans of television shows and movies have also turned to OOH advertising in the past in order to show their appreciation for their favourites. Recently, fans have also used billboards to attempt to revive shows that have been cancelled. The CBC/Netflix drama series called ‘Anne with an E’ wasn’t renewed for a fourth season in November and the creator has also confirmed that the show will not continue. However, a viewer-created group called AWAE Fan Projects, spent $1,000 on five digital billboards last month in Toronto’s downtown Yonge and Dundas Square in order to try and entice Netflix to renew the show. The campaign ran for four days and featured fan-created artwork depicting the main character of the show with the caption, “Save ‘Anne with an E’”. The group is also hoping to put up similar displays in Times Square in the near future. Nothing has been solidified yet from the DOOH ads, however the responses and the attention that the billboards are getting online is fairly promising.

The last word

Whether fans are engaging with their idols or vice versa, OOH has been the best medium for both parties to efficiently interact with each other. Additionally, a public display like an OOH billboard, allows for anyone to interact with it, creating more engagement than any other exchange that both parties would normally have. The OOH medium also allows fans to reach out to streaming platforms and services with the opportunity to actually be heard, giving them their best bet at a response. Due to its public, widely visible, and powerfully impactful capabilities, OOH is an exceptional medium for celebrity/fan interactions and is exactly the kind of medium that makes these messages fun, exciting, and memorable for all.

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