Marketing Gangnam-Style

Heard It Through the Gripe-Vine: Our New Abnormal

Philip Cu Unjieng

I’m with you in declaring that many Filipinos are geniuses in marketing and in creativity; but I’ll also be honest and say that if there’s one Asian country I’ll tip my hat to for not only talking the talk, but walking the walk as well, that would be South Korea. No matter where you turn, the South Koreans are excelling in turning their product and output into global phenomenons. We may be genius, but the truth is we’re still playing in a small pond, while they’ve mastered the frigging ocean.

All throughout the pandemic, I’d regularly see noted Filipino film directors and producers hosting webinars about K-Dramas; reviewing their production values, their storyline and narratives, and analyzing “why the global success.” I still remember Jewel in the Crown in 2003 and how it was successfully exported to more than 91 countries. Credited as one of the main proponents of the Korean Wave, I don’t think most observers back then would have predicted the crazy deluge that was to follow.

And yes, I’m referring to CLOY (Crash Landing On You). I would say it’s largely responsible for the success of Netflix here, and made Hyun Bin a household name - not to mention the local endorsements he snagged. And if CLOY is the mountaintop, there’s the whole mountain as well - as a slew of K-Dramas, all vied to be the next CLOY. And this doesn’t ignore the appeal of K-Action, K-Horror (Train to Busan in 2016), K-SciFi, and what have you. K-Entertainment is a permanent fixture on our cultural landscape - as I’ve seen several Filipino websites become crazy devotees of the K-Drama deluge. My old haunting ground at ABS, metro-style, has become obsessed with Korean content; and I’m sure that’s a calculated move, as the needed traction was being generated by that kind of content.

Bangtan Sonyeondan! Doesn’t ring a bell? How about Bangtan Boys? Still have your eyebrows raised? Well, what if just said BTS? Yes, those are what the letters BTS stand for. And what they also really stand for is the most successful musical act on the planet today. K-Pop has matured, grown up, and it’s now the envy of almost any nation, as it means astronomical revenues, tourists, and recognition/awareness for South Korea. And leading the K-Pop pack today would be BTS, who’s technically described as a boy band; but we all know, is so much more, thanks to their fiercely loyal A.R.M.Y. - fandom in extremis.

From the Korean master class in Marketing, BTS, and Jeju Island. (Photo of BTS and Jeju Island is from
And perhaps it’s not a coincidence that we refer to BTS fans as an army. If reports are to be believed, the Korean music industry is run like a military operation, it’s a well-oiled machine that knows exactly what it’s doing, and has evolved over the years - the first decade of this century gave us Rain and the Wonder Girls, for example. It’s a money-making factory that spits out its casualties, and those who can’t handle the pressure. Fame and riches in the K-Pop world has its price, but you can’t tell me it isn’t a milieu that takes very measured steps and processes, and can be proud of its track record. You may even call it formulaic, but if a formula spells this kind of success with a capital S, I don’t think that many will be griping. Even here in the Philippines, the services of the likes of BTS and Blackpink have been secured for massive endorsements.

Still not convinced about this Korean Midas touch? Let’s talk retail and the SKU categories of cosmetics and skincare. The Koreans are now setting the trends, dictating what are the sought for products. Remember the dewy, romantic look of a few years ago in make-up? To many jaded observers, it may have just looked like one came out of the water or had been crying; but high fashion took notice and bought the look hook, line, and sinker. Snail extract serum? Any true blooded fashionista and/or make-up aficionado of the last decade will have a slimy, snail product on their beauty shelves. K-beauty speaks volumes in terms of sales and R&D.

And if you want to talk marketing, I give you Jeju Island. Known traditionally for its tropical clime, and deep sea diving women (without any artificial breathing apparatus), the qualifier of Jeju on any beauty product has suddenly come to mean it has magical properties. And yet, if you research about the island, it’s got a dormant volcano, and truly not much else. Recently, I even watched a crime drama Korean film on Netflix, Night in Paradise, and a lot of the film’s action took place on Jeju Island - and from what I could see, it’s like a Korean Guam or Hawaii. But if you want to talk about united fronts, almost all Korean beauty brands now have products labeled Jeju, from Face Shop to Innisfree, and Fresh Skinlab. Jeju Aloe, Jeju Volcanic Lava serums and Clay masks - why have we never marketed Taal or Mayon in this manner?

So yes, I am green with envy, observing how well South Korea positions themselves in the global marketplace, and wishing our genius could produce results similar to what they achieve. Just saying…