Perspectives: Thailand’s soft power strategy is taking shape, opportunity for brands to make their interests heard

Perspectives: Thailand’s soft power strategy is taking shape, opportunity for brands to make their interests heard

'Perspectives' is a Telum Media submitted article series, where diverse viewpoints spark thought-provoking conversations about the role of PR and communications in today's world. This Perspectives piece was submitted by Nattabhorn Buamahakul, Managing Partner at Vero Advocacy.

In Thailand, “soft power” has been a buzzword in recent 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 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 favour of freedom of expression.

Utilise 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 2024, 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 legalisation 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 the “Y series”, which depicts same-sex relationships across a wide range of genres. During the pandemic, these shows gained fans who were desperate for escapism, and they helped 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 that THACCA wants to leverage.

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 the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) was built on that premise.

While Thailand remains in the early stages of its soft power initiative, South 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.

Nattabhorn Buamahakul is Managing Partner at Vero Advocacy, a new public policy advocacy and government relations advisory under communications consultancy, Vero. Prior to joining the team, she garnered more than a decade of public affairs experience from firms including Asia Group Advisors and APCO worldwide.

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