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Thriving Fandoms in the COVID Era

We are currently undergoing the world’s largest behavioral transformation as people’s daily lives and emotional needs are being reshaped by the pandemic. During this period, we’ve seen consumers retreat to the activities that bring them the most joy and make them feel safe. Based on the importance of digital communities, Culture Group has identified three fandoms that are thriving in the ‘new normal’.  For digital natives, passion driven content consumption and social engagement remains normal, however the dominant personas we’ve identified below are emerging on marketers radars. Marketers in Asia must understand these fan communities and determine how to engage with them in an authentic manner in order to stay relevant.

The Stans Are Here

Fans of Korean pop idol groups such as BTS, BLACKPINK, TWICE, and EXO have long been stereotyped by the uninformed for being superficial. Nothing could be further from the truth as their beliefs run deep. Major K-pop fans, a diverse, often misunderstood fan group, came together to flex the power of purpose-based marketing.

K-Pop Stans in Action

Some examples that demonstrate the effects of their collectivism on a global scale include:

  • Stopping promotional hashtags from trending to give way to Black Lives Matter (Twitter)
  • Flooding the ‘iWatch Dallas app’ with K-pop fancams (Twitter)
  • Taking over #WhiteoutWednesday and #WhiteLivesMatter hashtags to drown out white-supremacist messaging (RollingStone)
  • Matching BTS’ USD1M Black Lives Matter donation with the #MatchAMillion campaign (BusinessInsider)
  • Sabotaging Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally by reserving stadium tickets and intentionally not showing up (Vulture, YouTube)
  • Drowning out the #SupportAntiTerrorBill with fan content to resist the controversial bill in the Philippines (Rappler)

Why This Matters:

K-pop Stans aren’t just passionate, they are young, organized and smart. These digital natives have everything they need to make informed opinions and they are not afraid to act, especially in support of what they love the most.  Win their hearts and minds, and their loyalty to your brand and consumption of your product will follow. 

Need more evidence? In 2017, South Korean students began a protest at Ewha Womans University with the ambition to topple the University president, which later uncovered other political scandals concerning South Korea’s President. The highlight of the protest was when the students sang “Into The New World” by K-pop girl group ‘Girls Generation’. The use of the song beyond entertainment to express the protestors’ socio-political cause is reflective of the power of K-pop in resonating with their daily experiences. It also tells of the great potential pop culture plays in society. The global K-pop hit “Gangnam Style” by Psy, is also laden with subversive messages about class and wealth in South Korea. 

Another example is BTS ARMY (BTS’ dedicated group of fans). Their fandom has become the economic backbone of the band’s humanitarian efforts since becoming UNICEF ambassadors, with fan efforts leading to more than USD2.1milion in BTS x UNICEF affiliated donations.

Now more than ever, K-pop Stans deserve attention from brands seeking to win the youth audience.

Watt’s Up

When they’re not busy voicing their opinions online and offline, Gen Z women in Southeast Asia are consuming literature at a blistering pace. The app keeping them engaged is ‘Wattpad’, a global literary platform and community of over 80 million readers and writers. Some of the biggest hits on Netflix and the big screen like “The Kissing Booth” and “After” originated from Wattpad’s user generated stories.  As the platform continues to discover stories destined for Hollywood, it’s worth noting that they now have a monthly audience of more than 80 million worldwide, with Indonesia and the Philippines being their two largest global markets. 

Wattpad isn’t just an app for writing and reading fan fiction, it has also become a destination for free entertainment, and a doorway to escapism for teens in emerging markets where freedom of expression may be repressed. 

Why This Matters:

Wattpad is thriving as a text based app in a video rich world. It celebrates literature that transcends gender, race, and socio-economic standing, while embracing pop-culture – from K-pop to anime and fan fiction. Wattpad empowers authors, serving as a self-publishing, marketing and distribution platform for their work, whilst also attracting literary agents interested in TV and film adaptations. Readers on the other hand find depth and emotional attachment to the stories they read through Wattpad’s interactive app ‘Tap’, and larger fan networks on Facebook and Twitter. 
A recent Wattpad study on Gen Z females in South East Asia found that:

  • Teenagers are spending less money, but they are loyal to brands that have helped communities and customers during the pandemic
  • This group is missing human touch but are staying connected through virtual sleepovers, quarantine diaries and other digital media
  • Gen Z have become less trustful of governments and brands
  • Teens would like brands to shift their advertising messaging away from COVID-19, to more positive and uplifting messages

Wattpad mixes empathy with engagement and entertainment, and it’s about time that brands pay attention to the app’s ever-growing community of diehard fans and innovative storytellers. If you want to win the minds of Asia’s Gen Z females, go to where they live. Increasingly, that’s within Wattpad.

We ❤️ Black and white library. Red heart emoji transparent | Stiker ...Makeup Junkies

One of the biggest industries impacted by COVID-19 is beauty and wellness. The pandemic has completely changed daily habits, disrupting both the supply and demand sides of the industry worth USD532billon. But for makeup junkies –  those who couldn’t live a day without cosmetics – the show must go on, albeit in a new, more self-aware way.

Makeup guru Ingrid Nilsen, who has 3.62million YouTube subscribers, recently stated in an op-ed for The New York Times that she can count the number of times she wore makeup on one hand during quarantine. She shared: “Life as I knew it evaporated and what’s left is the question: Why do I apologize for looking like me?”. For women all over the world, makeup has always been a tool to look better, to hide imperfections. But with the pandemic, millions of makeup junkies like Ingrid, are faced with the realization that the decision to put makeup on is more than just a necessity, it’s a new form of empowerment. An online survey by Lightspeed and Mintel confirmed that there is “no better time than now” for putting self-care and wellbeing at the forefront of beauty. 

Why This Matters:

Over the last few years, and even before COVID-19, brands and influencers have been advocating for self-love, inclusivity, diversity, and positive marketing messages. These troubled times inspired YouTubers like Patrick Simondac (Patrick Starrr), Bretman Sacayanan (Bretman Rock), Nikkie de Jager (NikkieTutorials), Patricia Otegwu (Patricia Bright), Em Ford (MyPaleSkin), Michelle Phan, and Shalom Nchom (Shalom Blac) to reach out to their viewers with positive content focused on embracing personal beauty rather than subscribing to traditions and standards. The majority of these influencers are members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as other marginalized groups, which are often the most difficult groups to reach effectively. 

Their viewers are evolving with them, becoming highly engaged in conversations about mental health and overall wellbeing. Makeup and beauty junkies will continue to find depth and meaning in their routines and shopping patterns despite not being able to go out. This is both a forward and inward-looking audience, and engaging with them through socially conscious, purpose based programmes would be worthwhile for brands seeking the right tone moving forward.

A New Era for Brands and Fans?

Fandoms are created through the expression of people’s emotion and passion. In this era of uncertainty, fans are embracing the comforts of popular culture at a greater scale than we’ve ever seen. For these reasons, it’s time for brands to embrace the power of culture and passion points to drive meaningful outcomes. Marketers looking to reach the Gen Z audience should evaluate what tools and resources do they currently have internally and within their agency roster, to appropriately understand and engage these communities. Do you have the cultural aptitude, commercial experience and creative vision to be authentic?

About Culture Group

Culture Group is a leading authority in the culture marketing conversation in Asia, and a new form of agency partner that serves as the creative and commercial bridge between brands and culture, pairing them to create business outcomes in Asia’s most dynamic cities. The agency was created with the belief that brands rooted in popular culture thrive commercially.

Culture Group combines consumer insight, cultural authenticity and commercial expertise to create brand experiences rooted in music, sports, streetwear, K-pop, esports, dance, art and sustainability. The agency has offices in Singapore (HQ), Manila, Jakarta and Shanghai. Key clients include Globe Telecom, Riot Games, Tencent, Cellcard, AIS and JS Unitrade.

    For more insights on how you can leverage on culture to power growth in your business, sign up for #CultureWire at

    For business enquiries and partnerships, contact Michael Patent at