Why South Korea Is The Ultimate Culture Marketing Maestro?

Why South Korea Is The Ultimate Culture Marketing Maestro

Imagine blending Western vibes with a unique local twist so seamlessly that it creates a cultural phenomenon. South Koreans have mastered this art, creating a vibrant mix that is trendy and relevant. It’s like a flavour explosion in business strategy—a masterclass for any brand that dreams of being culturally in sync while also raking in profits. Seriously, take note and get inspired.

A Brief Overview

South Korea is possibly the only country in the world dedicated to becoming the top dog in exporting popular culture. Their mission is to take K-pop, Korean dramas, and more to every corner of the globe. This clever strategy is all about boosting Korea’s “soft power.”

What’s soft power?

For the uninitiated, soft power is a nifty concept Harvard’s political expert Joseph Nye whipped up in 1990. Instead of flexing military muscles or flaunting economic might, it’s about shaping a nation’s image to win hearts and minds.

Think about how America got everyone hooked on Levi’s jeans, Marlboro cigarettes, Apple iPhones, Coca-Cola, and those blockbuster Hollywood movies. The secret sauce? Building an irresistibly cool image.

And now, South Korea is on a mission to do the same — and they’re doing it in style.

The General Outlook of the Current Pop Culture Marketing Scene in South Korea

The General Outlook of the Current Pop Culture Marketing Scene in South Korea

Who could ever forget when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” danced into our hearts and became the first YouTube video to hit one billion views? That was just the beginning! Fast forward to last year, and BTS’s “Dynamite” exploded onto the scene, making history as the first South Korean act to snag the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

And let’s not overlook Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece “Parasite,” which bagged four major Oscars and left the entire film industry in awe.

But it’s not just about music and movies. Korean dramas are having a moment, too—in India, their popularity on Netflix skyrocketed by a jaw-dropping 370% last year alone! And guess what? According to Duolingo, Korean is now the second fastest-growing language in the world. Talk about a wave!

The Korea Foundation reveals that Hallyu (the “Korean wave”) fan clubs have already amassed over 100 million members across 109 countries. So, to the sceptics, this isn’t a fleeting trend. It’s a full-blown, transcontinental phenomenon that’s here to stay.

South Korea has seamlessly woven Western culture with its own rich traditions, creating a cultural tapestry that every brand and country eager to stay relevant and thrive should study. It’s not just in one niche like Mexican telenovelas or Japanese anime; they’ve hit the jackpot across all entertainment areas — movies, TV shows, music, and video games. It’s genuinely mind-blowing.

The Meteoric Rise of Korean Influences Globally

The meteoric global rise of Korean influences in art didn’t happen by chance. It was a meticulously crafted strategy, not a stroke of luck (they save those plot twists for their dramas). Ranked first in the latest 2021 Bloomberg Innovation Index, South Korea’s ascent is anything but accidental. Their government was fully in the game, going above and beyond to champion creativity like no other.

Take a peek at South Korea’s 2020 budget—it’s the largest ever for the culture ministry.

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They poured a whopping 1.1 trillion won (about 983.5 million dollars) to nourish the virtual reality content market. They also splurged 40 billion won (around 35.7 million dollars) on a new VR content exhibition space in central Seoul.

Traditional content creators didn’t miss out either, with a hefty 113 billion won (101 million dollars) to help them flourish. And let’s not forget the 32.3 billion won (28.9 million dollars) set aside to help local filmmakers, cartoonists, and fashion designers make a splash overseas. Talk about investing in your culture.

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According to the ministry, the biggest draw for foreign tourists heading to Seoul is “Hallyu,” or the Korean Wave.

The Korean government is pulling out all the stops to create an entertainment paradise called “K-Culture Valley” in Goyang by 2024, with a whopping $1.2 billion budget.

Imagine a Hallyu-themed playground bursting with film studios, mouth-watering restaurants, exhilarating live music concerts, fascinating movie galleries, and shops selling all your favourite Korean celebrity merchandise.

South Korea has taken a page from Ireland and New Zealand’s tourism playbooks (think Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings), but they’ve upped the ante with their own “Hallyu Experience Program.” This delightful plan packs a punch with K-pop, makeup, styling, cooking classes, and even cool shooting locations.

How They’re Doing It

South Korea is one of the few modern nations directly pumping government funds into its vibrant start-ups. They’re not just about business; they’re all about culture, too.

By August 2020, the Korean Culture and Information Service had launched 32 impressive Korean Cultural Centers in 28 countries, spanning Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and America.

These centres are all about spreading the excitement of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Just look at India—this January, their 600-seat Online Korean Language Hobby Classes sold out in just 2 minutes! The level of organization and foresight in South Korea’s approach is something every country could learn a lot from.

They Even Have Hype Specialists

How many countries do you know that run their Culture Ministry like a slick, multi-billion-dollar corporation? Well, South Korea does. In 2012, the Culture Ministry of South Korea kicked things up a notch by forming an advisory committee of 19 top-tier cultural figures to boost the Hallyu wave.

Fast forward to 2015, they weren’t done yet. They partnered with the Korean Broadcasters Association to launch a task force powered by private players. Their mission? To transform the Hallyu surge into an unstoppable tsunami. Trust me; the ministry’s organizational genius is evident in its meticulous planning and execution.

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Look at the Content Policy Bureau, one of their many specialized divisions. It’s a powerhouse, with sections dedicated to Cultural Industry Policy, Film and Video Content, Game Content, and Popular Culture (yes, this covers everything from K-pop to fashion, mass entertainment, comic books, and cartoons). But wait, there’s more! They recently created the uber-specific Hallyu Content Cooperation Division.

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This nine-member team, according to The Korea Herald, focuses on “conducting in-depth research on Hallyu’s business environments and pursuing three main goals: diversifying Hallyu content, fostering other industries through Hallyu content, and creating a sustainable environment for Hallyu’s growth.” Now, how cool is that?

How South Korea Grows and Fosters Their Culture Marketing

How South Korea Grows and Fosters Their Culture Marketing

South Korea has this brilliant knack for balancing global relevance while fiercely holding onto its patriotic roots and local talents. Soju, Ramen, and Samsung are sneakingly present in their flashy dramas, catchy songs, and immersive games.

Speaking of K-Dramas, how about a fun game? Take a shot whenever you spot an Apple phone or see a character munching on a French snack! But wait, there’s more to marvel at. Have you ever wondered why those K-drama title tracks and K-pop hooks often have English words? It’s a clever move you won’t see much in Japanese or Chinese entertainment.

South Korean art skillfully intertwines everyday lifestyles—like never wearing shoes indoors, showing elder respect during a drink, dreaming of becoming a chaebol (those mega-successful family businesses), enjoying weekend fried chicken feasts, and the beloved after-hours soju-barbecue sessions. And hey, local brands get their spotlight, too.

Even if you’ve never set foot in South Korea, as a K-World fan, you’d instantly recognize Dal.Komm coffee chain or the prominent product placements of countless Korean beauty brands.

Remember seeing the KAHI Wrinkle Bounce Moisturising Stick or the Cellreturn LED Mask in “The King: Eternal Monarch”? Or Manyo Factory’s Bifida Complex Ampoule in “Crash Landing On You”? Their culture sneaks up on you in the most delightful ways.

Five Factors that Contributed to the Evolution of the Korean Wave

Lifting the Ban on Foreign Travels By Local Koreans

Perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, was a bold move by the Korean Government in the early ’90s: they lifted the ban on foreign travel for Koreans. Talk about opening up new horizons! Suddenly, a wave of adventurous Koreans packed their bags and took off to explore the West, with destinations like the US and Europe topping their lists.

Some went abroad to study, diving headfirst into new educational experiences. Others kickstarted their careers in prestigious companies, soaking in all the knowledge and skills they could gather.

When they returned to Korea in the late ’90s, they didn’t just bring souvenirs—they brought fresh perspectives on business a newfound appreciation for art, cinema, music, and innovative forms of expression.

This influx of Western-educated Koreans was like a breath of fresh air back home. They formed a vibrant pool of young, talented, and highly qualified individuals, all eager to make their mark and create something extraordinary in Korea.

Restructuring of Korean Chaebols

When the ban was finally lifted, Asia—and particularly Korea—was neck-deep in the treacherous waters of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Imagine a whirlwind of bad debt, panicked lenders, and region-wide economic uncertainty colliding simultaneously. That’s what it was like.

The Korean government borrowed a whopping USD 97 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December 1997 to navigate this storm. But here’s the kicker: they only needed USD 19.5 billion of that hefty sum and paid it all back by 2001—three years ahead of schedule.

Just a few years before this financial fiasco, Korea had grappled with severe poverty, and overcoming that challenge had made them resilient. They pulled out all the stops to repay the loan and bounce back, showing the world their tenacity and determination to restore economic stability in record time.

Increased Emphasis on Branding by Leading Korean Companies

By the mid-1990s, some of Korea’s big-name chaebols, like Samsung and LG, were already diving headfirst into the branding game. These giants weren’t just playing around; they focused on quality, sleek design, and clever marketing to make their mark on the global stage. Interestingly, their branding brilliance spilled over into other parts of the economy.

Everyone got caught up in this wave of excellence, pushing to churn out top-notch products for the world to enjoy. It was like a contagious quality fever that took the market by storm.

Boosting Infrastructure: A Korean Adventure

Imagine a world where everyone is seamlessly connected to the internet—sounds dreamy, right? Well, South Korea is making it a reality.

The government’s on a mission, pouring vast amounts of money into developing cutting-edge internet infrastructure.

They truly believe every Korean citizen will benefit from being plugged into the global community. But that’s not all, folks! South Korea is one of the few places on Earth where the government passionately backs start-ups, pumping funds into new ventures.

Believe it or not, in 2012, government funds made up more than a quarter of all venture capital in the nation. And if you think that’s impressive, guess where a third of all this venture money goes? The vibrant entertainment industry. Now, that’s something to get excited about.

Banning the Censorship Laws

Picture this: a world where filmmakers and artists can’t freely express their ideas, confined by rigid rules that stifle creativity.

That was Korea under strict censorship laws, which kept a tight grip on what could be shown on screen and shared with the public. For years, these laws shackled the creative minds of Korea, forbidding them from tackling anything deemed “controversial.”

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But then came 1996, a game-changing year. The Korean constitutional court decided enough was enough and struck down these oppressive censorship laws. Suddenly, a floodgate of opportunity burst open. Directors, musicians, and artists across Korea could explore a galaxy of new and daring topics.

This newfound freedom was like a breath of fresh air for Korea’s young and dynamic generation, sparking a creative renaissance.

And oh, what a renaissance it was! The country saw a surge of influential filmmakers, each bringing bold and innovative ideas to the forefront of cinema and music. The era of artistic independence had begun, and there was no looking back.

Boosting High-Tech Connectivity and Start-Ups in Korea

The Korean government is on a mission, and it’s nothing short of impressive. They’re pouring big bucks into supercharging the nation’s Internet infrastructure to ensure every Korean is plugged into the global community. The goal?

To unleash a wave of opportunities for all Koreans by keeping them connected with the rest of the world.

But wait, there’s more! Korea isn’t just focusing on cables and networks; they’re also throwing their weight behind the innovative minds shaping the future.

Unlike many other countries, Korea is heavily investing in its start-ups. In 2012, more than a quarter of all venture capital in the country came straight from government funds. Now, that’s what we call commitment!

And it’s not just tech start-ups getting all the love. A whopping one-third of this venture capital is earmarked for the entertainment industry. So, whether it’s the next big app or the latest K-pop sensation, Korea ensures creativity and innovation get the spotlight they deserve.

What Brands Can Learn from South Korea Culture Marketing Influence

What Brands Can Learn from South Korea Culture Marketing Influence

Know What Makes Your Brand Stand Out

It all starts with knowing what makes your brand stand out. Equally important? Know who you’re targeting. Korean brands reign supreme in the bustling world of global beauty, and Beauty of Joseon is a true standout.

This brand grabbed the spotlight with a clever global marketing strategy that blends traditional Korean medicinal ingredients with a contemporary twist. Traditional Korean culture and Eastern Medicine can be a little mystifying for many in the West, but that’s where the Beauty of Joseon shines.

They’ve mastered how to translate these concepts into modern, relatable skincare terms. Their social media presence is a delightful mix of sharing the Joseon Dynasty’s rich history and cultural heritage while breaking down those ancient ingredients into easy-to-understand, everyday language.

Your Brand Should Communicate a Fiery Lifestyle

Samyang nailed it with its global marketing strategy, spotlighting its legendary Buldak noodles. These aren’t just any noodles — they’re fiery, bold, and scream personality.

They created a lifestyle brand that vibes with American and Canadian Gen Z fans to match this energy. BorderX was the mastermind behind this transformation.

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They started with sharp social media style guidelines and then cranked the volume. The result? A bold, youthful, and playful aesthetic that’s just as wild and exciting as the Buldak noodles themselves.

Think of their social media feed as a lively, colorful canvas bursting with bold typography and vibrant hues. Whether it’s static images or dynamic motion graphics, you’ll often see their playful brand mascot, Hochi, front and center.

The magic doesn’t stop there—we love showcasing real faces that Gen Z can relate to, making the Buldak lifestyle even more exciting. And, of course, they keep the conversation light, fun, and approachable, peppering in some Gen Z slang to keep things fresh and engaging. It’s all about connecting in a way that feels genuine and thrilling.

Team Up with Global Influencers to Amplify Common Values

What is the secret sauce behind CJ CheilJedang’s Bibigo? It’s all about understanding their audience and riding the wave of Korean brand popularity. By 2020, Bibigo dumplings weren’t just a hit but a global sensation! Available in a whopping 70 countries with a staggering 1 trillion won ($890 million) in sales, Bibigo had burst onto the international food scene.

Their trick? They cleverly adapted the flavors to match local tastes. Think corn in China and cilantro in the US—intelligent, right?

But Bibigo didn’t stop at dumplings. The world was also catching on to other Korean delights like kimchi. And Bibigo played this to their advantage.

Their marketing genius shone through with a flashy partnership with the Los Angeles Lakers. What better way to grab American attention than teaming up with a basketball legend?

The message was simple and powerful: excellence and legacy, seamlessly fitting Bibigo into the Lakers’ storied history and lifestyle.

Considering America’s love for sports, Bibigo branded their dumplings as the “new favorite game day snacks.” Pair that with slick, sports-themed visuals and catchy soundtracks; you’ve got a winning strategy.

South Korea As Culture Marketing Maestro

South Koreans have this incredible, almost sacred respect for their culture, and it’s the foundation of an industry that could hit the trillion-dollar mark. Now, imagine you’re from a non-English-speaking country.

When you chat about your art on the global stage, do you switch to English or proudly stick with your native language, as many Korean celebrities do?

They don’t compromise accessibility for the sake of cultural exclusivity. Keeping your heritage pure and authentic is such a rare, beautiful thing. When you genuinely believe in and love what you’re offering, you don’t need to sell it.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.

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