Xenophobia in Korea

May 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

The issue of race and ethnicity in predominantly homogeneous societies is an issue that has come up in my political science class, Politics of East Asia, time and time again. Korea and Japan both heavily subscribe to the “one blood” idea–that they are a people of one race, descended from a union between godly/otherworldly beings way back when. (I would argue that this is something China wants to do but has not succeeded in doing to the extent Korea and Japan have, given that China is home to over 13 distinct ethnic groups [not including Koreans living there] while Korea is home to Koreans and a small population of Chinese and Japan is home to the Japanese and a minority of Koreans and Chinese.) 

As the number of mixed-race marriages increases, however, Korea is now having to adjust to the presence of “multiethnic families (다문화 가족, or 다가족)” and figure out how to integrate them into society. (More on the challenges facing multiethnic families and their children here, here and here.) Yet there are many obstacles, one of which being Korea’s historical and present xenophobia and exclusivity. More on this issue from Korea Joongang Daily, “Giving Up On Xenophobia“:

Thousands of nonnative Koreans now live among us because of interracial marriages, jobs or for education purposes, yet Korea’s understanding and tolerance of other ethnic groups remain far below the global standard. In a survey on acceptability of a multiethnic society by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which was conducted on 2,500 people aged 19 to 74 nationwide, only 36 percent was positive about changes that make our society more diverse in terms of race, religion and culture. 

That’s less than half the average 74 percent approval rate in 18 European countries. The results of the survey suggest that many immigrants from different cultural backgrounds could be suffering from various forms of discrimination and prejudice in Korea due to their skin color or mother tongue.

Our evolution toward a multiethnic society is inevitable. We must remake our laws in various fields to support a society that accepts differences. We also should welcome foreign talents to raise our international competitiveness. We feel proud of the success stories of ethnic Koreans overseas even though they are no longer Korean citizens. We should encourage foreign residents to be successful members of our society.


Wired Seoul

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to imagine how tech-savvy, dependent on tech, high-tech, tech-based (you get the picture) Seoul is until you actually go there. I remember climbing the hill behind Yonsei’s campus and surveying the horizon–imagine my surprise when I saw at least twenty brightly lit LCD TV screens dotting the landscape! This medium of advertising is so prevalent, I bet Korean consumers (living in Seoul) are exposed to… oh, perhaps double? the amount of advertising that American consumers are exposed to, given that running commercials on TV screens are everywhere. I’m learning in my consumer behavior class about the decision-making cycle and how there are different methods advertisers/marketers use to get inside your head at each step–I’m started to think advertising is a field made for evil-minded geniuses. Good marketing is genius, yes–but so subtle and insidious as well. O_O I’ll write more specifically about what I’m learning in another post, but until then, and relevant to this topic, is:

a nice set of photographs from Time and

an article from Time, Asia’s Latest Miracle

Creative Marketing at Its Best: Let Busy Korean Consumers Shop for Groceries in the Subway

January 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is from 2011, but is SO AWESOME that it deserves to be blogged about again 🙂

Tesco’s supermarket chain in Korea, known as HomePlus, wasn’t doing very well compared to its competitors. One of their setbacks was the number of stores they owned, so in order to reach more customers without increasing the number of locations they brought in a (very cool) marketing campaign that brought the supermarket to the Korean consumer. Putting up advertisements in the subway that were pictures of the actual store shelves of HomePlus locations, people waiting in line at the subway could snap pictures of the QR codes below each product and get their groceries delivered to them–without ever stepping into the actual store.

I wish something this awesome could come to America as well, but there’s a few reasons why I think this could only have been such a success in Korea:

  1. Delivery service is amazing in Seoul. I used to joke with a friend that even if I ordered dinner, late, while at a Buddhist temple in the middle of the mountains, my jjigae (broad term referring to Korean spicy stew) would still find its way to me. Delivery in America, on the other hand? Depends on the city, and depends on the restaurant/bakery… and isn’t nearly as cultural a fixture.
  2. The subway is a very important part of almost every Seoulite’s life. Thus the exposure that HomePlus was getting was concentrated and large-scale–whereas America only has a few subway systems, so reach is less far. Also, most subway advertisements (large ones, at least) that I’ve seen in San Francisco and Boston are on the far end of the wall, across the tracks. So unless the ads were closer, or in/on the subway cars themselves, people have no way of getting close enough to scan the QR codes or peruse the 2D snack aisle.
  3. Korea is technologically very advanced, so the majority of people who have phones have sophisticated ones that are smart and have QR code scanners built-in. Smartphones aren’t nearly as widespread in America.

Regardless, this is a very cool example of culturally relevant and innovative marketing/branding/advertising. Check out the short and well-explained video!


Read more:

Digital Marketing Strategies: What’s Next in Consumer Marketing

Tesco builds virtual shops for Korean commuters


The style of The North Face apparel one wears makes you either a loser, a gangster, or head honcho–at least in Korean elementary and middle schools

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I can’t remember if this kind of posturing happened on such a scale while I was in elementary or junior high, but I did go to school in Utah so one could say I wasn’t exposed to the American average. Nevertheless, this CNNGo article gives a nice summary of what I’d previously only heard through the grapevine (aka my mom): The North Face jackets are in high demand among Korean grade-schoolers, and depending on what version they wear, their social lives and status are either happenin’… or stolen from them.

(No mention in the article of what happens to those who don’t even own a jacket, not even the “bottom” style, Nuptse 2. Are they “losers” too, only… tier 2?…)

Anyway, it is apparent that Korea’s intense materialist culture and need to save face via consumerism has reached the young and younger customer market by attaching social significance to poofy, feathery (and American! Most important) outdoor wear. However, my questions are

A) How and when did this trend start? and

B) Did The North Face’s branding/marketing/advertising have anything to do with it?

Also, the article never differentiates between boys and girls. Are girls wearing down jackets and getting bullied for it too? Somehow I doubt it… and that makes me go on to wonder if there is an equally vicious game among female students that isn’t as violent or obvious as the male one.

Korea’s love for American goods is definitely variable (beef, anyone?) but overall American brands are very popular and seem to have caught on well (i.e. Starbucks, Nike, TOMS, UGGS, Forever 21 etc.). But I’ve never heard of a foreign good being such a delineated consumer status symbol for school kids–and by feature, no less, not even by brand. And that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of analogous examples elsewhere in the world; but this kind of fad seems to have surprised everyone (reddit responses, hiexpat.com’s opinion, a tumblr blog post on the subject. Renewed violence over these jackets in the Korean news.)

In addition… it’s not like these jackets come in kid-size. I’m imagining black marshmallows with heads and legs sticking out, swaggering around the school…

Saturday Night Live… in South Korea!

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

SNL in Korea?! Is the American brand of comedy and satire translatable into the Korean context?

While it’s only a few episodes in, viewer ratings have been pretty solid so far, although general consensus is that the first show was good, the second show… not as good.

If you’ve seen the show, what do you think? And if you haven’t… do you think it will be a success?

I haven’t seen an episode yet but will loop back here and post my thoughts if I do.

Saturday Night Live Korea

Picture taken from here.

Read more:

WSJ “Live from Seoul! It’s Saturday…Really…”

Dramabeans’ Summary of Episode One

AllKPop’s Editorial of Episode One


1.16.2010 Add: Pictures of past SNL Korea hosts and this week’s new host

Common Mistakes Companies Make When Entering the Korean Market

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Even though I’m of Korean descent, I experienced strong cultural shock when I went to Korea for the first extended period of time in 2010. Then, when I went back in 2011, I thought I would be prepared for the trip but I again experienced culture shock, this time in the workplace. The lessons illustrated below are just one example of the differences between Korean and American (business) culture. Some lessons bear repeating, so if you missed this two-part article a few years back, here it is again. (Both articles by Tom Coyner, Soft Landing Consulting, 2008).

How Not to Enter Korean Market (Part I)

The basic story is that company A’s “Division Two” hired a local business development manager, ‘Mr. Kim’, but that miscommunication concerning job titles as well as American versus Korean labor laws (and termination procedures) led to the firing of Mr. Kim without due process.

Division Two’s Asia regional manager (let’s call him Mark), who had prior Korean work experience, came to Seoul from their regional headquarters and hired a bilingual Korean man (we shall refer to him as Mr. Kim) who had just turned 60 years old, though he looked and acted much younger. Mr. Kim was given the artwork for his business cards and told to produce bilingual cards in Korea.

A few weeks later, Mr. Kim was sent to Acme’s regional office for orientation. During that time, Mr. Kim showed Mark his business cards. To Mark’s chagrin, Mr. Kim’s card depicted him as president of Acme Services Korea. Mr. Kim’s real position was that of local business development manager ― a euphemism for salesman. Mark ordered Mr. Kim to recreate the cards with the correct business title. « Read the rest of this entry »

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