Commuters using the Victoria Line this week are in for a K-Pop-themed treat, as theyre being greeted with a unique ad featuring Jungkook from BTS.
The eye-catching duo of posters, which describe the idol as a soul singer and excellent dancer, are not an official campaign, but part of an ongoing global birthday event paid for and organised by his fans.
These expensive birthday billboards are common in the K-Pop world, where gifts for idols are on a whole other level. Every year when an idols birthday rolls around, thousands of pounds are spent by fans on billboards and bus ads bearing a happy birthday message. More still is spent on designer clothing and accessories, furniture, and the latest gadgets for him or her. Gifts are usually presented en masse, in coordinated wrapping paper, boxes and bags.
These birthday events are the result of months of planning and coordination by Korean fansites. Every Korean idol has them – people who lug around telescopic cameras to concerts, fan meetings, press events, and airports. They always seem to know exactly where an idol will appear, and theyre adept at getting the perfect shot. Their photo websites and social media accounts are popular with other fans, and their identities are usually a well-kept secret.
In the months leading up to an idols birthday, fansites announce their plans on Twitter. They ask for donations, typically in set amounts (e.g. £10, £20) and in return each donor will get a gift set of postcards, glossy photo books and stickers. The bigger the donation, the bigger the gift set, and anyone who donates money may also send a personal letter and gift to be presented along with the main gifts.
After the donation deadline, the fansite master buys gifts, and carefully photographs everything. Gifts vary from the practical to the outrageous. While some idols receive phones, cameras, and furniture, Jungkook was given a 50g gold bar last year for his 20th birthday. Designer brands are highly prized in Korean gift giving and usually make up the bulk of gifts. Idols often wear these designer gifts at public events.
Paid advertising like Jungkooks Tube ad is the other way fansites use the money. Every day, digital billboards in major Seoul metro stations like Hongdae, Gangnam, and Myeongdong display birthday messages and pictures from fansites who paid exclusively for the spot. This activity is growing in popularity outside of Korea too.
Jungkooks Tube ad was organised by Jungkook China, a group of five Chinese fansites working together, and its just one of many they have paid for around the world in the run-up to his birthday.
Fansites may also organise unofficial fan meeting events like photo exhibitions, and idols sometimes respond by visiting events and billboards in person.
The birthday billboard ads are likely to grow in number as some labels have begun to restrict or ban expensive gift giving.
Earlier this year Big Hit, the label that manages BTS, stated they will only accept fan letters and will return any birthday gifts. Theyre not the only ones, and in response, some fansites have given money to charity in their idols name instead.
Fansites of boy band TVXQ, for example, have funded several libraries in the bands name. Regardless of the cost, K-Pop fansites are determined to share their birthday wishes for idols on a grand scale.
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