Will Brands Buy Into 'Gangnam Style'?

Psy Is a Hit in South Korea, But Whether That Translates to Marketing Deals in U.S. Depends on His Staying Power

By Published on .

Gangnam style

"Gangnam style" has swept the world, but marketers have been slower to embrace it -- outside South Korea, that is .

Psy, the Korean pop star behind the over-the-top video with 283 million YouTube views (and counting), is a veteran pitchman in his native country, involved in marketing products such as Cass light beer. And since his song took off this summer, the colorful 34-year-old and the catchy beats of "Gangnam Style" have been attached to campaigns in Korea including LG's mobile service, Samsung kimchi refrigerators and an energy tonic drink. And The Korea Times reported that he's in talks to do marketing work with about 10 companies in Korea in categories from apparel to beverages, citing an unnamed official at Psy's local management agency, YG Entertainment.

In the West, however, Psy's marketing potential is less clear as it's uncertain whether Psy is a one-hit wonder.

"It's hard to go from a novelty hit to being a mainstream success, said Mark Russell, author of "Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music and Internet Culture." Such a marketing relationship might make sense, he said, "for some product that 's going for a lighthearted brand image and a parody theme campaign" or a brand with a humor-driven message, such as Unilever's Axe.

Psy just returned home after a U.S. tour that included appearances on the MTV Video Music Awards, "Saturday Night Live," the "Today" show and "Ellen," where he taught his moves to Britney Spears and shared his motto of "Dress classy and dance cheesy." 

Working in his favor is his deal with Schoolboy Records, run by Justin Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, who helped make the Canadian teen singer a social-media sensation and pitchman.

"We have seen quite a lot of interest from big brands, largely international ones," said Brad Haugen, CMO of Scooter Braun Projects. Marketers are impressed that Psy's music, without being culturally specific, is "musically relevant. His whole vision is to be a global artist."

Mr. Haugen said the obvious categories for a Psy marketing assist are cars, packaged goods and electronics, and that the first U.S. deal is a few weeks away. He said Psy will be back in the U.S. in a couple weeks for more promotion and performances.

"We absolutely don't think he's a one-hit wonder," he said. "He's a star."

Beyond ads, Psy has snagged a deal to collaborate on a collection with New York fashion brand Jill Stuart, but it will only be available in Asia, according to blog Fashionista.


S.J. Kimm, regional president of Cheil Worldwide Southeast Asia and the Seoul-based agency network's K-Pop expert, told Ad Age via email that everyone in Korea is surprised that a singer who doesn't fit the usual mold of the coiffed, beautiful pop star is the one to become an overnight international success story. But he thinks Psy's appeal is universal because he's "smart, funny, talented, yet sincere."

That said, "unless he had several hits and broadened his image, it's hard to see the average marketer going for it," Mr. Russell said.

In Malaysia, fans aren't waiting for marketers to get onboard. An online photo shows a bag of "McShaker Fries," supposedly from McDonald's, with instructions to shake the bag "Gangnam Style." McDonald's, however, wasn't behind the meme. "Our original McShaker Fries bag has not made any reference to the "Gangnam Style' and McDonald's is not in any way associated with this creative interpretation," a McDonald's Malaysia spokeswoman said.


Contributing: Laurel Wentz

Most Popular
In this article: