An example of K-pop digital marketing is boy band 2PM's "cover
dance" campaign for Coway water filtration devices. A YouTube video
features the group teaching the routine step by step -- "One and
two, then you get some water" -- then spelling C-O-W-A-Y in human
letters. They also encourage fans to upload their own versions. The
product's current target is women ages 30 to 50, but "we wanted to
rejuvenate our brand image to a more bright, younger, dynamic image
to appeal to the younger generation who may become our customers,"
CMO Peter Kahng said. The brand's ad agency is Cheil.
Fan submissions came from Indonesian Muslims in headscarves to
Mexican teens using their country's flag as a backdrop. Several
videos are from Thailand, where Coway plans to launch a marketing
campaign this summer and host a fan meeting with a 2PM member who's
"We've not spent any advertising money to promote this
[cover-dance campaign.] We just used YouTube and we think it's
fantastic that people from Indonesia know about this and even write
Coway on the walls to promote our brand," Mr. Kahng said. (Most
social-media campaigns, however, do require some promotional
Unlike in Japanese pop culture, which often features young girls
in school uniforms, Korean stars project stronger, more independent
personalities. They're not as sexualized as Western celebrities,
though long shapely legs seem to be a prerequisite for Korean
starlets. The music is club-friendly, and lyrics often include a
few words of English for more international appeal.
Korea's entertainment industry began taking off around 2000, as
Seoul looked to culture to help lift the country out of Asia's
economic crisis, said Eric Cruz, who worked for Wieden &
Kennedy in Tokyo and is involved in the region's music and
"Just as Japan started exporting its culture through manga,
Hello Kitty and anime, Korea also started looking at its own
culture and looking at things it could capitalize on," said Mr.
Cruz, now executive creative director at Leo Burnett
& Arc Worldwide
One thing that made Korean entertainment, especially TV dramas,
stand out in Asia were emotions conveyed openly. Unlike other Asian
cultures where subtle forms of expression are the norm, Koreans are
known to be passionate and hot-tempered, Mr. Cruz said.
"They're kind of known as the Italians of Asia," Mr. Cruz said.
They're one of the more expressive cultures, more explosive in how
they express themselves. It's also the way they carry themselves,
and they're more into fashion."
Still, the themes of popular Korean TV dramas hew closely to
Asia's generally conservative culture. Unmarried adult characters
still live with their parents, and there's little violence or sex.
Plotlines are aspirational, with the polite, long-suffering girl
doing the right thing and triumphing in the end.
Marketers found TV programs to be a strong platform to promote
products from cellphones to cosmetics. In "The King 2 Hearts," a
South Korean prince eats pink heart-shaped Dunkin' Donuts on dates
with his girlfriend, a North Korean Special Forces officer. He
tells her that in South Korea, it's normal for couples to eat
donuts when they go out.
"Dream High," about teenagers becoming pop stars, was designed
from the beginning to be marketing-friendly. Its website has a page
listing details of the clothes, shoes and electronics used by the
Pop stars are also frequent brand ambassadors, such as Sandara
Park from 2NE1, who promotes, among other things, Nikon cameras. A
recent campaign shows Ms. Park and her bandmates horsing around,
staging a photo shoot with a hair dryer for a wind machine and
using a Nikon Coolpix compact camera. "Our intention was to
increase attractiveness as well as purchase decisions," said
Dongkook Kim, brand manager of Nikon Korea. The company said that
since Ms. Park's campaign debuted, Nikon has grown to a firm No. 2
in the market with a 23% share, trailing only Samsung.
More broadly, Korean entertainment has apparently improved
perceptions of "Brand Korea," which not so long ago was associated
with shoddy knockoffs. A 2011 poll of foreign consumers conducted
by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency found that if
products from the U.S., Japan or Germany are priced at $100, then
Korean products are valued at $76.60. That's up from $66.30 in
Respondents who said they'd experienced Korean culture (such as
music or TV) in the past year tended to have a favorable perception
of Brand Korea.
Perhaps the most telling indication that the Korean Wave
resonates deeply with consumers is the increasing number of foreign
tourists, many of them Chinese, going to Korea for plastic surgery
to look more like their favorite idols. "Nearly all of them said
they want the face of Lee Young-Ae," an Agence France-Presse report
cited Seoul plastic surgeon Joo Kwon as saying, referring to a
popular Korean actress.