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'Priceless Investment': How Much Did Hyun Bin Help Smart?

The Hyun Bin Phenomenon is real.
IMAGE Smart
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When Korean superstar Hyun Bin was announced as the newest endorser of mobile firm Smart Communications, a company official described the Crash Landing on You star as a “priceless investment.”  

In a recent annual stockholders meeting of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), the listed parent firm of Smart highlighted that this investment is a “smart” one, too.

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The company presented figures that measured the rewards of puling off a marketing coup featuring one of the hottest stars in Korean dramas, which are well-loved by Filipinos, during a pandemic. 

From around May 27 to June 3, Smart’s social media platforms reached 40 million people, garnering 3.1 million Facebook engagements and 0.5 percent Facebook follower growth.” Those are supposedly higher than rival Globe Telecom’s 2.1 million engagement and 0.2 percent growth, respectively, in the same period.  

The Hyun Bin phenomenon

Overall, Smart’s new marketing campaign materials with Hyun Bin in them also generated 20 times higher positive engagements, while social media shares—a measure of how customers are engaging with Smart—were 55 times higher. 

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The “Hyun Bin phenomenon” among Filipinos started to kick in days before the official June 1 launch of the new marketing campaign. Most Filipinos were then still locked down in their homes to stem the spread of COVID19. 

When Smart posted Hyun Bin’s video greeting to his Filipino fans, “‘love’ and ‘like’ (reactions) dominated” the telco’s social media platforms, the telco reported in a prepared video during the stockholders meeting. That video alone “subdued the angry reactions (against Smart).” 

In that May 28 video greeting, the 37-year-old actor said: “Hello Philippines, I am Hyun Bin. I am glad to be part of the Smart family. I am going to show you my best in my new campaign with Smart. So please keep an eye on me and Smart. Mahal ko kayo, Smartees!” 

Smart complemented that with full-page ads in three major broadsheets and LED billboards splashed along Edsa, a major thoroughfare in the capital. 

Those moves propelled Smart to “prevail over competition in online mentions,” the telco said, flashing a chart showing that it was mentioned over 10,000 times on May 28, while its main rival Globe’s reportedly hovered around 2,500. 

Photo by Smart.
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Overwhelming response

When June 1 rolled around, Smart officially launched its new marketing campaign, “Simple, Smart Ako,” via an online press conference attended by 91 media representatives, bloggers and other community partners. 

The response was “overwhelming,” noted Alfredo Panlilio, CEO and president of Smart Communications and PLDT’s chief revenue officer. On June 1 alone, the ad campaign reached 12 million on Facebook and 3.4 million on Twitter, while the YouTube video garnered 730,000 views. 

Smart also released two accompanying videos. One was a compilation of the behind-the-scenes of the day-long shoots for the print ad materials, as well as the video commercial. The video ad, which features Hyun in a sports car blazing through Seoul’s streets as a reference to Smart’s speedy internet speeds, reached five million viewers. 

The second video was an exclusive interview with the celebrity who was not in town during the Philippine launch due to travel restrictions. That reached three million on June 1 alone.  

Trending on Twitter, the hashtag #SmartAko had 20.8 million impressions, way more than the 12 million the company expected.

In terms of post-launch publicity, Smart monitored 186 media releases, which it assessed were worth P55.2 million. Bulk of this value was attributed to TV exposures from the six broadcast groups represented during the June 1 launch. TV’s P25.4 million value was a hairline away from the P24.1 million generated from online coverage. There were 160 online news and entertainment journalists and bloggers who attended the digital launch, PLDT said.  

Print and radio accounted for the rest. Smart reckoned that the 16 mentions on print publications were worth P2.5 million, while four radio broadcast exposures were valued at P3.1 million. 

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The publicity values of the Hyun Bin ad materials even “dethroned” Smart’s previous runaway winner, a Smart Music Live Youtube video, which earned P50 million in media values.

“Brand love came naturally,” PLDT stressed to its shareholders. 

Hyun Bin and business goals

The new ad campaign was mentioned at the PLDT event even if the audience were not all Hyun Bin or K-drama fans. 

The audience at the event were individuals and institutions that invested in PLDT. These shareholder meetings are one of the events the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange require firms that received other-peoples-money to hold once a year. 

It’s a chance for investors to hear directly from the company board members and management officials how they have steered the company during the year past, as well as what their plans are for the future. Savvy firms use the occasion to highlight their cash cows or key personalities that helped them achieve business goals. 

Panlilio told stockholders that revenues from the PLDT’s wireless businesses, which are operated by mobile arm Smart, have been on an uptrend even before the COVID pandemic struck. In 2019, PLDT’s overall service revenues grew eight percent to P157.5 billion, driven mainly by consumers growing dependence on data-based products through Smart’s LTE network. 

Photo by Smart.
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Smart’s flagship Giga Life data packages for its prepaid mobile subscribers accounted for over 40 percent of top-ups in 2019, PLDT noted in its annual report. These bundles allowed subscribers to customize their data and content subscription depending on their lifestyle preferences. Smart classified these into Giga Video, Giga Music, Giga Stories (social media), Giga Games (for e-sports, etc), and Giga Work (for online collaboration tools for work and school). 

Throughout the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) mode in Luzon since mid-March, “we saw a rapid adoption of online and digital services” via these Giga Life packages, Panlilio said. Overall data usage spiked 25 percent. 

These spikes came after years-long pivot away from their previous cash cows: text and calls. “The combined Giga services across our wireless brands led to a renaissance in our business…Data now contributes 70 percent of our business,” Panlilio stressed. 

The new marketing campaign featuring Hyun Bin was a result of PLDT’s “soul-searching,” he admits. “We needed to do rediscover and reignite the soul of the Smart brand. At the end of the day Smart represents technology, tools that make life easier and simpler.” 

The new campaign, "Simple. Smart ako." (It's simple. I'm Smart.) replaced Smart’s previous “Live More" campaign.  

The PLDT and Smart officials, some of them recent recruits to Korean dramas on streaming services, such as Netflix, noted spikes, too, in Giga Videos. Subscribers binge-watched online content, such as Crash Landing on You. 

The K-drama’s final episode aired in February, but when the ECQ commenced in March, there was a resurgence in interest in it. Hyun Bin played the North Korean soldier Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok who was partnered with a South Korean tycoon. 

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It’s a love story. And brand love in these COVID times is exactly what Smart wants.  

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