On this Tsuki-Talk Prime Time interview feature, our very own Tsukimi Lune talks to Rudy Khaw, chief brand officer, and Izal Azlee, senior manager for content strategy at AirAsia. Both are the main proponents for AirAsia’s venture into the VTubing space, Project Kavvaii.
Project Kavvaii was first conceptualized March 2021 when the agency announced its auditions for their first-ever talent. On May 8, 2021, they debuted its first VTuber: Aozora Kurumi. Following Kurumi’s ongoing stride in content creation, Project Kavvaii has announced recently the opening of its second wave of auditions (which closed December 31, 2021).
You can find the transcript highlights of the interview below, but the full interview is available on Lune’s channel:
What is Project Kavvaii?
LUNE: You might want to give us a brief introduction on what Project Kavvaii is?
IZAL: Project Kavvaii, I think like when we were doing this, is somewhere we kind of [saw as an interest] at AirAsia. We saw the VTubing space, and we saw a lot of potential as well. We wanted to see how we can harness talents from across Southeast Asia, and give them a platform to help bring attention to that as well. I think if the VTubers from Southeast Asia get more traction, then there’s more interest for the culture within Southeast Asia itself.
LUNE: When I first saw Project Kavvaii, I was like ‘Oh AirAsia’s doing that thing!’ like, wow I definitely did not expect a company like AirAsia would actually pick something up like this.
Understanding AirAsia’s venture into the VTubing space
LUNE: [For Rudy], given that you’re in charge of AirAsia’s branding, which includes the reason for the brand’s change as the ‘Asean super-app’, can you tell us what led you to take the opportunity of like a VTuber representing your brand?
RUDY: I think for AirAsia, I think quite a lot of people know about, is that entertainment is something that has always been a part of the AirAsia brand. It has always been somewhat of a lifestyle brand, even Tony [Fernandes] himself, our founder, he came from the music industry. For us, I think the [first] idea was like [from when] we had Red Records, which we announced a couple of years back, which is a joint venture with Universal Music.
It’s also a platform for us to find artists in the Southeast Asia region to really promote ASEAN, because there is so much talent in this side of the world, with over 660 million population. When the pandemic came along, we started looking into other ways to engage with our existing consumers on the AirAsia Super App, and also airasia.com platform. One of the things that led us talking about the virtual space [was] we did a little bit research, we spoke to some people, we heard from some other people from our team as well about the VTubing community, how well-bonded everyone is and what a great space it is, and we checked it out.
We used to have sort of a virtual influencer that stemmed from our chatbot. Her name was AVA, but we kind of dabbled a little bit in that, but didn’t really bring it that much further. When the VTubing thing came along, we had looked at it and we were like “Wow, this looks like a really interesting space,” and it’s another way for us to kind of harness the power of what Southeast Asia has to do and has to give, like creating a platform for Southeast Asian talents just like Izal mentioned earlier.
Project Kavvaii’s point about the VTubing community
IZAL: To be very honest, I think one part [I really like] was all about the community, [and] this community has so much talent. If you want me to pinpoint one particular [favorite VTuber], every VTuber that we’ve come across or we’ve collaborated with, have their unique abilities and characteristics that make them ‘them’, because I think that’s what’s cool about VTubers: they are themselves, they are the persona they create, they are who they are. That’s why people love them in general.
We just love the VTubing community right now, that’s what I can say.
LUNE: I mean, I do really thank you guys for your work, because what you guys are doing not only helps out yourself, but also helps boosting the Asian VTubing community as a whole.
Why Project Kavvaii opened a new round of auditions?
LUNE: You have seen the rise of Aozora Kurumi, so much that Project Kavvaii actually opened audition for another VTuber or two. What was on your mind, like as you see the progress?
RUDY: For me, honestly, the first time we did the auditions and all that, and then we heard Kurumi, the first thing that came to mind was like “Wow, she’s got an amazing voice.” But to see how the community has accepted her, and also accepted Project Kavvaii, given the way we went about it, just to be very honest, the first thing we thought about was that as a corporate company, it’s kind of going out there, and people knows it’s just AirAsia as a brand. We did have a little bit of concerns like “would be accepted the same way as other VTubers or whatnot are accepted.”
But it’s great to see how welcoming the community has been, and how Kurumi has grown in the number of followers across the past couple of months, the past half year. It’s been amazing.
For Izal, this is like a baby for him, and for the rest of the team. I know the team gets very excited every time they see new numbers. They come to me and say “Hey, we hit this number, now the videos got this number of views.” It’s really great to see the passion the team has.
LUNE: Those little bits of milestone that we reach is like a big step for this whole community as a whole. It’s really great to celebrate even a little bit of milestone. Even like me, even though I don’t speak out loud because I’m a tsundere, I really love that tiny bit of milestone. Even when someone gives encouraging words, me and my team would be all happy.
IZAL: Let me just add something, because like what you said, [all] milestones are important. The best part of it is when you see the community coming together to celebrate the milestones together, I think that was one of the reasons why it kind of pushes on as well.
I mean, we are based in Malaysia, right? But practically we are practically all across Southeast Asia, so the thing is that why we wanted to have these auditions to find two more because we see the potential that we definitely know, we see the potential in talent, and one that can go far. Kurumi is a very big testament to that, and it all boils back down [since her debut].
I’ll say thank you to Kurumi as well, because she’s been very hard-working and doing all these things as well.
Project Kavvaii on fan engagement and encouragement
LUNE: Not really a proper question, but what’s the best encouragement that you have gotten from fans, personally?
RUDY: The biggest encouragement for me was when A.K. Shimbun started, and I was like “Whoa.” And I got be honest, when I started looking at A.K. Shimbun and all the tweets and all that, I was just telling the team “Are you guys looking at this, like I don’t need to come to you for reports anymore.” That was encouraging because that showed me how much the community had supported us for what we are doing.
IZAL: For me honestly, it’s not so much personally that something that kind of having a direct impact on me, but I see how the community and even other agencies came to help Kurumi on doing her streams or supporting her on doing the collaborations. They were more than happy to say “Hey, you know what? We can do this” and I gave suggestions as well.
When we have our weekly meetings with Kurumi, she updates us on this [things], and I’m so thankful for that. Because when we came in, we didn’t want to be like “Hey, this is an AirAsia thing, and brand kind of thing.” We really wanted to be accepted within the community, and that to me is the biggest milestone.
How to utilize a VTuber’s talent across the community
LUNE: You did talk about having meetings with Kurumi, so I guess that’s one of the strategies you guys take. Are there any key strategies the agency has in mind to further bolster the talent’s reach across the VTubing community?
IZAL: I think it’s a learning process both on Kurumi and our side as well because we learned a lot from her and there’s a lot of things that I hope that teaches us. I know that she learns a lot from us as well, but I think that’s where the compromise and the partnership meet, the rapport that makes it better.
Sometimes, there are tiny disagreements, but the disagreement is a positive thing because for me, Kurumi wants to make it the best as she can, we want it to make it as best as we can because it is a common goal and objective.
For us, it’s about that learning process, and to be very honest, we’ve learned a lot from agencies as well. They come to us and say “Hey look, if you have any questions, come and ask us.” There were the ones that actually came on, and helped us with technicalities as well, and I think that’s great. So, I think it’s an evolving community that evolves together.
RUDY: I was just going to say that Izal essentially hit the nail on the head, and one of the other things is it’s also in terms of getting that growth in terms for the collaborations you’ll be doing, getting on shows and speaking to people like yourself, as well as in the past working with some other VTubers and recently a couple of games where a bunch of VTubers are playing together in the streams.
I think those are some of the other ways that we’re trying to go out with and get the right reach, as well as engage with the larger VTubing community.
LUNE: I mean, it do be like that, talking to a lot of people, making a lot of different friends. It’s not just for you guys like agency-meeting-agency, managers-meeting-managers, but also us VTubers, to which I’m really grateful that I have a chance to with Kuru-chan. She’s really amazing, so thank you guys for the chance to bring Kurumi in so that I can meet her.
Project Kavvaii’s first impressions on Kurumi
LUNE: And talking about Kurumi, what was your initial impression of Kurumi?
RUDY: Oh, that’s an easy one, and I think I kind of mentioned it earlier. First thing, I was like “Wow, this girl can sing,” and I think everybody who heard her first karaoke stream or even her teaser in her debut stream, where she did a bit of singing, everyone was like “Yoooo, what is this?”
IZAL: For me, to be honest, when we opened the auditions the first time, where we got a lot of entries, it was really important for us to look for someone that we think that could work well with us, and then when we met Kurumi, we were like “Yeah, that’s what Rudy said (about singing).” The audition tapes came in, and we heard her singing, we’re like “Yo, what is this?” And then the vibe, we vibe together.
When we were preparing for the debut stream, the amount of work that she put in, because we were on it every night like getting it right. We knew at that point like “Yeah, this is it: this was the right choice.”
RUDY: Just to be transparent, we had no idea what we would do so. (laughs)
LUNE: I mean, I’m pretty sure that when you guys had your first audition, you pretty much didn’t have anything to expect, right?
RUDY: I guess you’re right in that sense, because we know we’re going to set up somethings, and it’s going to be the first idol and talent for Project Kavvaii. We didn’t really set expectations, [and] I wouldn’t say we 100% knew what we’re looking for, but I think collectively felt like as long as somebody that felt comfortable with and had a lot of potential. Then, we would all agree on that.
Kurumi as AirAsia’s brand representation
LUNE: In what ways do you think a VTuber like Kurumi best represents AirAsia’s image?
RUDY: I think it’s [all about] relevancy being one of them, but also being able to engage with a younger audience, [as well as] being able to engage with the Internet, everything’s important on the Internet nowadays. I think [there is] that ability to bring the brand into a totally different space where we can engage with a new set of audience in a different way to build a brand.
I think that was something that we felt especially from a VTubing space, and this project that we’re doing gave us that opportunity to do something different. I mean, I don’t think any airline right now is doing this. Even super apps, if you wanted to talk about other super apps in the region, I don’t think any of them are doing this.
Obviously, Netflix did it (the VTuber thing). When Netflix announced theirs around the same time as us, we were a little bit worried, not gonna lie. But if you look at the way Netflix approached it and the way we approached it, you would see that there are two different strategies and ideas behind it. I would like to think that the way we approached it was in a much more authentic way, because that is what AirAsia is as a brand as well. We’re all about being authentic and being a “people’s brand”.
So, for us to create this platform gives talents the opportunities to shine and show what they can do, for example, of what we have with Kurumi and other talents. That’s one way for us to kind of grow what the brand stands for as well.
LUNE: I do agree on the part where you [stated that] Kurumi can actually bring in a different audience group, especially younger audiences to notice AirAsia as itself. I think that’s a really good call.
Impressions among Kurumi’s growing community
LUNE: We’re talking about Kurumi earlier, and we cannot forget about the Kurumates. What are your impressions of Kurumates and the overall VTuber community that welcomed Kurumi as well?
IZAL: The thing that kind of cemented that mindset of “Hey, this is a community like no other” is when Kurumi went on an eight-hour stream for Resident Evil VIII, and the Kurumates stayed! I mean, age is catching up on my end, I fall asleep quite early, but they (the Kurumates), they were really on it. But the support that they give, the motivation, and when we recently have been receiving a lot of gifts for Kurumi, it’s very overwhelming. No one else in the office receives more package than Kurumi, I can be very honest with you, and it just keeps coming.
I’m so appreciative, and I really thank everyone, every Kurumate, every Jetsetter, everyone out there: thank you so much for doing this, because it will be nothing without you.
I do want to say that the VTubing community that has accepted Kurumi, like you guys as well, has been very accommodating, and really like highlighting her as well and Project Kavvaii as well [including] MyHolo TV, MUSE [who] have been a great help as well. I mean, there’s so many for me to name right now, but I consider ourselves lucky that everyone that has come in contact with us or we’ve come in contact with has been so helpful and so welcoming.
If you want me to talk and praise the community, I can go all night long and it might be the same thing repeating again, but I cannot express enough how grateful we are for that.
LUNE: It is through this viewership that we get to see that actually there’s a lot of people that have different lifestyles than us. There are people that just watch it all, like me: I have viewers that are across the globe, so this is actually during their work time or they just woke up. It’s really nice to get to know a lot of different people, especially the support that they’ve given us, which is genuine.
Tapping the growing fanbase as potential customers
LUNE: How much potential does AirAsia and Project Kavvaii see among Kurumi’s fan base as potential passengers/customers of AirAsia?
RUDY: I think not just being passengers for the airline, but also being users of the super app, right? I think it’s definitely there, and I would say quite a fair bit that the Kurumates are also users of AirAsia already, because I remember how one of us people were talking about being in the elevator, so obviously you know the elevator joke, it’s break time.
People just started talking about things related to AirAsia such as Santan Food. So, during the ‘elevator time’, they discuss going to the [food stall], have some Santan Food, have some nasi lemak. It’s great to see that fans were so open to just connecting it to the brand, as if being accepting of it, because a lot of people are like “Oh no,” like it’s another brand thing. We don’t want it to be so corporate, but it’s great to see the kind of fans that we have.
And because it already exists in the community, the more Kurumi’s fan base grows, I think there [is an] opportunity for us to bring our brand across the fan base, with the help of the Kurumates who are already AirAsia users.
Project Kavvaii being the way to get introduced to the VTubing community
LUNE: Do you have any friends that were not VTuber viewers that—because of you guys pushing Kurumi— [convinced them] to start watching VTubers?
IZAL: In my household, my kids are like “Oh, it’s time for Kurumi to stream!” and then every time we have those weekly meetings, they’re like “Oh, are you talking to Kurumi?” Somehow, they started watching more VTubers as well, but being busy, I don’t see it all the time, but they do. The awareness of VTubers among our peers and our friends have definitely risen.
RUDY: More people are taking note of the VTuber community, everyone’s talking metaverses and all that kind of stuff, but VTubing communities are already here.
IZAL: Also, another thing: like when we first started on this VTubing journey, everybody was like “Oh, what’s Rudy/Abby [staff member] doing that kind of thing?” but they have come to accept it.
Our first objective was to be accepted within the community, and to be embedded well, that we never forced anything. But, when we suddenly came forward with the 20th AirAsia anniversary celebration, we said “Hey look, why don’t we do like something,” we didn’t need to explain it anymore on a company level: everybody understood what VTubing is, and what Kurumi was. There were no questions, and they’re like “okay, here’s what you can do.” That’s why during the giveaway, we had a lot of stuff to give away to the viewers.
LUNE: Wow, proud moments, the ‘proud dad’ moments! I mean, I am really proud of you guys, and it’s really nice to see you guys being well-accepted into the community. At first, I was actually a little bit worried, since obviously it’s your first time doing this, but then it’s really surprising that Kurumi is blending in with the brand so well, and especially the community as well.
IZAL: A lot of that credit actually goes to Kurumi herself, because she really puts in the time and effort into doing the research and everything. Like what I said, we do research on certain parts, and she comes in with research from certain parts as well, and I’ll say that she does a very good job of trying to be accepted by the community itself.
Takeaways on brands entering the VTuber space
LUNE: Are there any key takeaways AirAsia and Project Kavvaii has learned upon this entry into the VTuber space?
IZAL: Well, there are quite a few. But for me, the key takeaway which I think goes with the generation as well and it isn’t just the VTubing space nor this current young generation that matters. Because I think the VTubing community cuts across many generations as well at the same time.
For me, the takeaway is that we have to be earnest, and we have to be honest at the same time in what we do. In addition, try to embrace the community itself first and what it stands for, as well as what it should be, because like I said: we didn’t want Kurumi to be like a brand thing, and we didn’t want to be a sellout. We wanted to be legit, we wanted to show like “Yeah, we are into this for real.” I think I would like to believe that it’s true, that genuine sincerity that we have at least, that is why we are being accepted as much as we are.
RUDY: I was going to say like one thing to sum it all falls down under one word: authenticity. One thing we learned about engaging with the VTubing community tells us that being authentic with who you are as a brand and who you are as a talent, who is also a brand such as Kurumi.
I think it plays a big part in engaging with the audience correctly, and ever since the first few months, you know we were like “Okay, first couple of months, let’s make this separate in terms of Project Kavvaii and AirAsia: and let’s not and try to force anything, let’s not try to be a hard sell.” But it was amazing, because we were authentic about it, we didn’t want to try to make things so commercial to a point that the community itself kind of brought us into it naturally.
We didn’t push ourselves to the community, like just from the Kurumates itself they started talking about AirAsia. So, for us, that was one of the key takeaways: let’s not try to be something that we are not meant to be. I think whatever we’re doing is exactly right, we’re not trying to be something else.
LUNE: I think personally, it’s really important to have Kurumi to have her own identity and not as “AirAsia’s VTuber.”
On woes and troubles: Project Kavvaii’s stance
LUNE: Talking about all these takeaways and everything, are there any troubles that you guys face while trying to push Project Kavvaii?
RUDY: Not a lot of troubles, but just people having a hard time understanding it. It wasn’t a bad thing; it was a small issue like people didn’t get why we wanted to go into this space. That’s actually one of the reasons why it’s literally called “Project Kavvaii”—because it started off as a project, and we’re like “Okay, let’s test it out,” and then you know, it kind of grew.
Like Izal said before, the recent 20th AirAsia anniversary celebration that we celebrated, and we did a stream with Kurumi regarding it. As soon as we said “we’ve got a special stream we want to do,” everyone in the company was like “Oh yeah, we know what that is.” It’s amazing how our colleagues and other Allstars [term for AirAsia employees] started to get into it as well and supported what we’re doing.
I think the toughest thing was getting people familiar with it, and also audio problems man~.
IZAL: Oh yeah, audio problems! So, Rudy and I are both musicians and throughout our lives, we’ve never encountered so [many] audio frustrations until we did this. But yeah, that’s what it is.
I think one of the main struggles as well is that between Kurumi and ourselves: we are our own worst enemy sometimes. Because we want it to be right, we wanted it to be good, and it’s not for us but also for the Kurumates watching. But sometimes, I realize that whenever there are ‘scuff streams’ or whatnot, they are so supportive and they’re so accepting of it.
I came from a world of TV and media, and it meant that it had to be perfect all the time. But the Kurumates taught me like “Hey look, you know what? It’s okay, were here to enjoy this.”
RUDY: Everyone laughs at technical issues.
LUNE: Yeah, if it ain’t scuff, it ain’t a VTuber stream.
Advice on brands going into the VTuber space
LUNE: If you could give one piece of advice to brands looking to tap into the VTuber scene, what would it be and why?
RUDY: If any brand really wanted to tap into the VTuber space, I would say lead with the talent, not the brand. The same way we worked it out with our first few months that we realized that we had a lot of talent, and then we setup right away to showcase talent to Southeast Asia which is led by Kurumi and not AirAsia. So, leading with the talent will lead to being accepted by the community as well and then you can get growth there. Like, “Hey Netflix, want to collaborate with us and something?”
LUNE: Is there anything that you would like to tease for fans of Kurumi and Project Kavvaii?
IZAL: All I want to say is that if you had enjoyed her ‘Villain’ cover or her ‘Butter’ cover: just stand by.
After this interview, Kurumi released new covers for her ever-growing fanbase. The first is “Say So” by Doja Cat, and the second is “Mirror, Mirror” and is performed alongside Thai VTuber Hoku from Polygon Project.]
Thank you for reading through the rest of this Tsuki-Talk Prime Time feature interview with Rudy Khaw and Izal Azlee from Project Kavvaii. Follow Tsukimi Lune on social media for the next Tsuki-Talk Prime Time schedule.
More interviews from Tsuki-Talk are up on YouTube. Don’t forget to visit the Interview section for more stories from the people in the anime culture.
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