I month or so ago I attended a meeting of AMCHAM (the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea) in Seoul where they were having a panel discussion about how advertising works in Korea, having brought in three Koreans and one American working at advertising agencies in Seoul. Since one of my main areas of interest is the issue of how non-Korean firms can succeed at entering the Korean market, I went to learn some insights into the types of approaches foreign companies would need to take when advertising to Koreans.
It was an interesting discussion and I stood up to ask why the following seemed to be so characteristic of advertisements in Korea:
- The extreme use of celebrities to endorse products, many of them far outside any area in which they could claim expertise, and how a certain few celebrities seem to take a disproportionate share of the limelight at any given time.
- The repeated themes of nationalism (which I wish I had phrased as “patriotism”), such as when the recent economic hard times hit, many chaebol hit the airwaves with feel-good messages about how far Korea had come in such a short time and how they would overcome the current challenges too.
- The apparent unspoken rule against negative advertising of any type.
The panelists didn’t dispute my observations and commented that these characteristics typify advertising in Japan and China, too. It was noted that the nationalistic themes are less pronounced now than they used to be. And the usual group-think explanation was also mentioned.
And one panelist recommended I read the book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why by Richard Nisbitt, asserting that it has profound insights into the differences between cultures which can explain many differences, too.
I purchased the book and just started reading it this week, and I’m finding myself with strong opinions already about some of his observations. Look for my further ideas in an upcoming post.