Thailand’s Soft Power Strategy is Taking Shape, and it’s an Opportunity for Brands to Make Their Interests Heard

Thailand’s Soft Power Strategy is Taking Shape, and it’s an Opportunity for Brands to Make Their Interests Heard

Thailand soft power

 

In Thailand, “soft power” has been a buzzword for a couple of years, reflecting the government’s growing interest in presenting Thai culture on the global stage.   

The current Pheu Thai government has set particularly ambitious goals to accelerate Thailand’s global competitiveness by leveraging its soft power assets. Last year, it announced the One Family One Soft Power (OFOS) and Thailand Creative Culture Agency (THACCA) initiatives, which could open opportunities for Thai creative industries to thrive both within and beyond the country’s borders. 

Akin to the “Cool Japan” strategy and South Korea’s “Hallyu Wave,” these initiatives are designed as job creation engines with the hope of creating 20 million jobs in various creative industries by implementing skills training and encouraging hiring via funding and tax incentives, with some funding also going towards international events that promote Thai culture. 

The Thai government has set up a Soft Power Committee with 12 sub-committees featuring experts from each of 11 industries: tourism, festivals, sports, cuisine, film (divided into features and series), music, arts, books, gaming, design, and fashion. This lets local creative industries engage with the government and persuade it to promote them as essential representatives of Thai culture.  

Evidenced by the growing popularity of Thai entertainment and influencers, the T-wave is real – and a major business opportunity.  Here are a few ways those in the relevant sectors can join the rising soft power movement in Thailand: 

  • Consider the Thai Soft Power Committee as a Change Agent: With the advent of the Soft Power Committee, industries now have a channel to advocate for change.  For example, in the past, censorship has been an obstacle for Thai entertainment, as Ministry of Culture regulations have limited depictions of sensitive topics.  That could change soon, as a proposed amendment that would have subjected streaming services to the same strict regulation as local film producers has been replaced by a draft Film Act that encourages the establishment of an industry-led content rating system, removing most government restrictions in favor of freedom of expression.  
  • Utilize Cultural Diplomacy: The Thai government may be receptive to initiatives that promote Thai soft power through partnerships, events, festivals, and other activities that promote targeted industries. Brands should explore opportunities to partner with the government on cultural diplomacy activities outside Thailand to gain exposure and contribute to the overall soft power strategy. 
  • Contribute to Thai Tourism: Brands can contribute to Thailand’s efforts to woo more tourists to visit. THACCA has talked up a few big events for this year, including the month-long Songkran celebration, which will enable more foreign tourists to experience the lively Songkran spirit. Meanwhile, the recently announced 90-day Muay Thai visa is basically a rebranding of the extendable tourist visa, but it promotes the idea that Thai martial arts studios welcome foreign practitioners.  
  • Sponsor Events: Thai brands, especially those in the entertainment and beauty industries, can seek to sponsor T-wave events and tours. This can help those brands associate their products and industries with the success of T-pop influencers, entertainers, and actors, gaining recognition and prestige before an international audience just as the K-Beauty industry has ridden the Korean Wave
  • Tap Celebrities for Endorsements: Brands should seek out popular T-Pop influencers, entertainers, and actors for creative promotional campaigns and product endorsements. These celebrities are becoming cultural ambassadors who can help brands tap into their growing international fan base and contribute to the global spread of Thai culture. 
  • Amplify the T-Wave: Online platforms, streaming services, and media companies can ramp up global distribution of Thai content through various online platforms. Doing so may be viewed by the government as a critical action in meeting the nation’s soft power goals.
  • Raise the Pride Flag I: Thailand has promoted its LGBTQ-friendly image abroad for years, and the likely legalization of same-sex marriage stands to burnish that reputation. LGBTQ+ events are a popular platform for brands — one need only check the lineup of corporate logos sponsoring the PRIDE parades in 2022 and 2023. But Thailand could also become a destination for couples from countries without marriage equality.  Brands of all stripes should prepare for that wellspring of interest.   
  • Raise the Pride Flag II:  Thailand’s biggest entertainment export of late has been Y series, which depict same sex relationships across a wide range of genres, from high school coming-of-age stories to mafia drama. These shows gained fans during the pandemic who were desperate for escapism, and they help Thailand stand out from more conservative Asian cultures. While the genre originated in Japan, Thailand has become Asia’s largest producer of Y series in just a few years — with Japan as a top market. It’s a true homegrown success story of the sort that THACCA clearly wants to leverage, and there is considerable potential for more female-female romance stories in addition to male-male ones.  

Under President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea created a national branding strategy called “Global Korea” that was intended to be “future-orientated, multicultural and visionary,” and KOCCA was built on that premise.  

While Thailand remains in the early stages of its soft power initiative, Korea’s example is instructive — and provides both motivation and a model for the Thai government and industry leaders to embrace the soft power push. With the momentum already gained by the T-Wave, many business leaders now have cause to engage and support the Thai government’s soft power ambitions. 

Business leaders and their brands would be well-served to consider the potential implications of Thai Soft Power initiatives for their companies and how they can align their interests with the Thai government’s goals. 

Korean entertainers and artists overcame various challenges in bringing about the K-Wave’s global success.  We believe Thai creators can do the same.    

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nattabhorn Buamahakul is Managing Partner at Vero Advocacy, a public policy advocacy and government relations advisory that specializes in helping companies and organizations Southeast Asia meet their public policy goals.

 

T-Wave

 

The world is going gaga over Thai influencers and entertainers. Now that the Korean “Hallyu Wave” has settled into a secure place in the global pop culture landscape, the Thai Wave (T-Wave for short) has emerged to introduce a new set of Asian cultural trends to audiences worldwide.  

As the influence of Thai entertainment stretches beyond its national borders, the T-Wave is captivating an international audience, inspiring cross-cultural exchange and a deeper appreciation for Thai artistry.

 

Introducing Thai culture through music

In April 2022, Thai rapper Milli’s historic performance at Coachella paved the way for Thai hip-hop music on the global stage — but Milli also ignited international interest in mango sticky rice when she ate a spoonful of the iconic Thai dessert between verses. Thai social media platforms were flooded with mango sticky rice recipes and memes, while online searches for “mango sticky rice” surged twentyfold, according to Google Trends. 

Following that viral moment, the Thai government pushed for the nomination of mango sticky rice to a spot on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Additionally, reports indicated a staggering 100-fold increase in the average sales of mango sticky rice in Bangkok by both traditional storefronts and food delivery apps like Grab Food. 

In another big moment for Thai music, 4MIX – a proudly LGBTQ+ band – is building a global fan base despite all their songs being in Thai language. Timeout names the band, which debuted in 2021, as part of a revival of Thai pop music (or T-pop) that is injecting fearless new energy into the scene. The band’s concerts in Mexico and Brazil last year drew massive crowds, and their debut single Y U Comeback has already amassed more than 17 million views on YouTube.

Is Thai pop an alternative to K-pop’s dominance? 

Thai pop music is rooted in cultural authenticity while also fearlessly embracing new sounds and melodies. Once dominated by traditional music played on local instruments, the music scene now echoes sounds and lyrics that resonate with a global audience. 

One of T-pop’ s strengths lies in its diversity. The genre embraces a wide array of musical styles, including hip-hop, indie, and experimental music, which helps it reach out to diverse demographics and inspire everyone to sing along. There’s also no shortage of talented singers and performers—from popular girl group 4EVE to indie pop star Phum Viphurit—recognized globally for their unique artistic visions. 

Thanks to the widespread reach of streaming platforms and social media, T-pop has been steadily gaining a global fanbase. Its success mirrors the trajectory of South Korean pop music while also offering a refreshing alternative for music enthusiasts. While K-pop is dominated by boy and girl groups, its Thai counterpart gives the spotlight to solo artists redefining the industry. It’s worth noting, though, that several Thai singers are now considered among the biggest K-pop stars, including Blackpink’s Lisa and GOT7’s BamBam, and their rise to international stardom has inspired Thai artists to aspire for global stardom. 

The surge in international attention has had a significant economic impact. In 2022, the Thai music industry surpassed the $100 million milestone for the first time, with global music labels Universal and Sony Music increasing their investments in the country. 

Series-Y and its bold defiance of social norms

Amidst Thailand’s traditionally conservative culture, the soaring popularity of the Boy Love genre – or Series-Y, as it is locally known – has emerged as a significant cultural shift. Breaking societal norms, these films and TV series have captivated audiences with their genuine and poignant portrayals of decidedly non-traditional relationships.

Series-Y content market was worth more than 1 billion baht (about 27 million USD) in 2021, with the key export markets including China, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Latin America, according to a report from Bangkok Post. And the business ecosystem linked to Y Series in Thailand is projected to grow by 30-40% per year.

The genre first gained significant recognition with the release of the critically acclaimed blockbuster “Rak haeng Siam” or “Love of Siam” in 2007. Widely regarded as a groundbreaking work, some consider it the pioneering Y-series. However, the industry witnessed a major turning point in 2014 with the series adaptation of the boys-love novel from Dek-D.com, titled “Love Sick: The Chaotic Lives of Blue Shorts Guys.”. This adaptation propelled the Y-series genre into the mainstream and captured the hearts of audiences both locally and internationally. 

But it was during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 that the genre saw a massive surge in popularity beyond Thailand. Bright Vachirawit and Win Metawin’s hit series “2gether” aired from February to May 2020, was Series-Y’s breakout show, amassing at least 100 million views on the now-defunct Thai streaming platform LINE TV. It found fans in socially conservative nations like China, Indonesia, and Latin America. The series also promoted South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines to try their hand at the genre.  

Here are a few Y-series actors who have gained extensive fan bases worldwide:

T-Wave BL actors

This phenomenon signals greater acceptance and empathy within Thai society regarding diverse identities and narratives. Internationally, the genre owes its success to the availability and accessibility of online streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube. These platforms bring the series to audiences far and wide, especially in China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, creating a thriving community of fans interested in learning more about Thai culture and language.

Why Series-Y is a well-loved genre 

Thai Series-Y has become a global phenomenon, captivating diverse audiences with its engaging storylines that resonate deeply. Their authentic depictions of homoerotic relationships between male characters prove that romance, drama, and self-discovery have no boundaries. 

Moreover, many Series-Y are highly regarded for their production quality, featuring impressive cinematography, direction, and editing alongside the engaging performances of the Thai actors. 

Beyond their entertainment value, Series-Y creatively incorporates elements of Thai culture into their narratives, providing viewers with a fascinating cultural experience that highlights the uniqueness of Thai culture while promoting mutual understanding transcending geographic and language barriers. 

A Guide for Brands to Tap into the T-Wave 

There is a wave of interest and curiosity in Thailand’s culture and entertainment industry that brands shouldn’t miss. Here’s how you can successfully embrace the vibrant energy of this cultural phenomenon. 

Understand the Audience: Conduct market research to understand the target audience of the T-Wave cultural trend. This will help the brand tailor its content and marketing approach to meet the preferences and interests of audiences and consumers. 

Align with Brand Values: While it is easy to jump on the bandwagon, it is important to ensure that the content aligns with the brand’s core values and principles. This will help maintain consistency and authenticity in the brand’s messaging, rather than appearing as mere opportunism. 

Promote Diversity and Inclusivity: The T-Wave’s popularity can be attributed to its fearless take on diversity and inclusion, especially considering the prevalent discrimination and barriers to LGBTQ+ rights that the community still faces. Highlighting this fact – and incorporating it into the brand’s own culture – will draw consumer attention. 

Leverage Social Media and Online Communities: Much like the Korean Wave, it is the Internet that sets the T-Wave ablaze. It’s easy to find pockets of international T-Wave fans worldwide through social media and dedicated online communities. Chinese fans, for example, are said to be dominated by millennial females who can offer long-term support for their favorite actors and shows. 

Look out for promotional opportunities with T-Wave stars: Thai idols are cementing their well-deserved spot in show business, concert stages, fashion shows and brand partnerships. At the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week, luxury fashion house Dior’s star-studded guest list included the ever-so-classy Tu Tontawan and Series-Y favorites Apo Nattawin and Mile Phakphum. The Thai stars’ attendance generated significant buzz, earning Dior more publicity and media value. 

Engage with Influencers and Content Creators: Besides the artists themselves, brands can collaborate with influencers and content creators who have a strong affiliation with the T-Wave, similar to collaborations with game streamers. Their endorsement can help the brand reach out to the growing T-Wave fandom. 

Monitor Viewer Feedback and Adapt Content: Pay attention to viewer feedback and adjust content based on their preferences. This shows responsiveness and a commitment to meeting viewer expectations. 

Maintain Transparency and Authenticity: Be transparent and authentic in your brand’s approach to producing and promoting the thriving cultural trend. This builds trust with viewers and helps maintain a positive brand image.

 

Vero Case Studies 

It’s an exciting time to ride on the T-Wave. Recognizing the impact and growing influence of this cultural phenomenon, the Vero team has crafted campaigns spotlighting some of Thailand’s well-loved Series-Y stars. 

Gucci Beauty x Joong

T-Wave Joong

Vero recently worked with Thai mega-influencer Archen ‘Joong’ Aydin, who has 2.1 million followers on Instagram, on a pop-up event campaign for Gucci Beauty and King Power, which aimed to build enthusiasm for duty-free shopping. Joong’s throngs of fans attended the event daily, organically creating their own trending hashtag (#GuccibeautyxJoong), which accumulated over 8,800 tweets throughout the event.    

Joong starred in the hit Series-Y “Star in my mind” with Dunk Natachai, which immediately catapulted the two actors into super stardom. The series received positive reviews from fans all over the world, eventually leading to international fan meets called “Shining JoongDunk.” 

Nestle x Max and Nat

T-Wave

Vero collaborated with renowned Series-Y stars Max and Nat to endorse Bear Brand UHT Enriched Honey  

Throughout the one-month campaign, the video acquired a total of 58.2M impressions, 47.5M reaches, 615K engagements, 23M views, with an Average ER of 12.28%. Remarkably, 92% of the comments were positive, with fans eagerly expressing their enthusiasm to create their own DIY Bear Brand drinks. The stars engaged in lively interaction with their fans, while the giveaway attracted an impressive 300 participants, amplifying the brand’s presence and impact and proving the actors’ massive influence.  

Ready to ride the rising T-Wave? Let’s talk about collaborations and marketing opportunities in Thailand here.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Based in Bangkok, Raveepas Yenprapine is Vero’s IMC Strategic Planning Director. He leads some of Vero Thailand’s prominent accounts, including Nestle, Unilever, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.