What a Lovely Big Shiny Purple One My Man Has!

whisen-air-conditioner-advertisement-han-ye-seul-song-seung-hun(Source: Korea Times, 25/02/2009, p. 20; see full advertisement here)

A classic case of sociologist Erving Goffman’s notion of “The Ritualization of Subordination” in depictions of the sexes together, although you don’t need to have heard of either to tell who’s the boss in this particular advertisement!

One slightly less obvious point of interest though, is Han Ye-seul’s (한예슬) use of the “bashful knee bend,” a common motif for women in advertisements, and which according to Goffman:

…can be read as a foregoing of full effort to be prepared and on the ready in the current social situation, for the position adds a moment to any effort to fight or flee. Once again one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm. Observe…that a sex-typed subject is not so much involved as a format for constructing a picture (Gender Advertisements, 1976, p. 45).

Which I read as it being used in advertisements to show women feeling safe and secure in the presence of their male protectors, in this case Song Seung-heon (송승헌). And why not? To claim that the depiction of that natural feeling is sexist in itself is absurd, but Goffman’s point was simply that the knee bend, and a host of other means of active/passive dichotomies in depictions of the sexes like that—such as men almost always being portrayed as taller than women, far more than in real life—were still overdone in advertising, and not exactly compensated by images of women as assertive, aggressive and/or as instructors, superiors and leaders either.

Or at least in 1976; as that last link explains and the advertisement on the right (source: popseoul) with Lee lee min ho levisMin-ho (이민호) makes clear, things have certainly changed a great deal since, having one person on a bed and/or lower than the other also being a common way of showing ranking. Which is not to say that—now that you have it in mind—you won’t still find many many examples of women with the knee bend in advertisements (or, indeed, in a bed).

But even more interesting though, is the fact that it is Song Seung-heon at all that is advertising the Whisen (휘센) air-conditioner, for actually I only noticed the ad because is the first Korean one for an air-conditioner that I’ve seen in which a man is the center of attention. Sure, that they’re dominated by women is no surprise, as it’s also true of their Western counterparts, albeit to a much lesser extent (but a difference one would expect given Korea’s deeply patriarchal society). But then bear in mind that the process of  modernization that electronics and electric appliances still epitomize—especially in a society as development-obsessed as Korea—has always involved “housewifization” and the nuclearization of the family, and so while it’s certainly true to say that owning one’s first washing machine in the 1960s in the UK, say, was also a definite signifier of status and upward mobility, Korean advertisements for the same should be placed in the context of a society where consumerism has been equated with national security, and in which the lowest numbers of women in the world work (for a developed society).  Hence not only are Korean examples almost hyperreal advertisements for modernity itself, but so far they’ve overwhelmingly featured female-centered narratives, Korean housewives’ need for the self-fulfillment that Betty Friedan saw that their purchase provided being all that more the greater here, and other manifestations of which would be an obsessive focus on real-estate speculation and on children’s educational achievements.

Which might sound a little to take in all at once, but I assure you, once you’ve seen a few examples like the one below then you’ll get a sense of how surreal they consistently are, and why this deserves explanation (and have also reminded me personally of how advertisements really are a reflection of the zeitgeist of an era). So, why the change in that particular advertisement?

My first thought was because it was for the “Luxury” (럭셔리) model, as the instant I learned that in fact a scene from science-fiction novel I read as a teenager came to mind, which opened with a conversation between a couple in which the woman explained to her fiance that, while women did the bulk of shopping, men still bought the important expensive things like houses and cars. As it happens, the couple were in a decidely backward parallel universe where, among other things, American women had never gained the vote(!), but obviously it still has echoes in real life, and indeed this logic does especially apply to Korea: for instance, while I’m not sure to what extent this tradition is followed, I’ve repeatedly heard that it is expected that before a wedding a new wife’s family must provide for the furniture for their new apartment, whereas the husband’s family must provide the apartment itself. Does the expense of this model then, draw it from the female realm to the male, thereby appealing more to the latter? Or is the advertisement still primarily aimed at women, this supposedly luxurious model possessing a male and/or sophisticated aura that other, cheaper ones lack? Or is there still some other factor that I’m missing?

Unfortunately, the K-pop blogs (see here, here and here) do little more than provide more pictures and links to related commercials, so I’d be happy to hear your own thoughts. And I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for mention of it in next month’s Korean advertising magazines.

9 thoughts on “What a Lovely Big Shiny Purple One My Man Has!

  1. I lol at the lee min ho completely gay pose. But as a woman, I find it strangely erotic and would like to ravish him as if he were a girl and I was the man.
    Apropos the purple advertisement (maybe you’ve already analysed but oh well, here’s one way to look at it), I can’t really see how a woman find it attractive unless they liked to be treated as a possession by the man. The way she wears purple and the air conditioner is also purple isn’t a coincidence, seems to be equating the conditioner and woman together, so that essentially, she is just another belonging. also the way he holds her is like one would carry a bag. His (distasteful) blue clothes also match the text suggesting that it is his voice speaking and therefore in control. He’s probably saying, ‘buy an air conditioner, get a really hot girl for free’, haha. just kidding, that’s pushing it.
    Even then, I think the ad target primarily women (in a really weird way, and because of the pastel colours, gay clothes and the happy family with air conditioner perspective) but I don’t really think it would attract men.


    1. Thanks teacup, and sorry that your comment went through to moderation: I’m still trying to figure out how that happened.

      I lol at the lee min ho completely gay pose. But as a woman, I find it strangely erotic and would like to ravish him as if he were a girl and I was the man.

      Hell, with that pose and those pastel colors and with his pretty face then I’d probably want to too, albeit after a lot of beers! Seriously though *ahem*, I do understand, and in hindsight I’m probably too dismissive of the effects of ads like these: men don’t always have to dress or act like “real men” to still be attractive in a heterosexual fashion.

      I’d echo all the points you made about the ad (although I don’t mind Seung-heon’s blue shirt myself, and come to think of it not only does blue usually go well with purple anyway, but it also goes well with the color of the text in the ad) and no matter how politically incorrect it is to say this (and a little out of character for me on the blog too) I do still think that Han Ye-seul being portrayed as his possession would not put all that many women off. Hell, given how the older I get the more I find that money, or at least the trappings of it, have an almost universal appeal to women, then the thought of being possessed by a rich man might even attract just as many too. Still, the “buy the product and get the hot girl” is definitely a motif of most advertisements aimed at men, so on the surface it’s really quite strange that you and I still think that it’s primarily aimed at women. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I’m not so sure that it’s the pastel colors and “gay clothes” either, which would actually be considered anything but by South Korean men. Perhaps, like you mention, it’s more because of the sense of domestic bliss alluded to, not usually used to market things to guys without children.


      1. I know this post is a gazillion years old; I feel like you must be tired of me commenting on stuff like this so frequently! [If this ever IS the case, PLEASE let me know to back off.] The stuff you bring up in your posts and the comments that follow have become an important part of my self-actualization process, it seems.

        “I’m probably too dismissive of the effects of ads like these: men don’t always have to dress or act like ‘real men’ to still be attractive in a heterosexual fashion.”

        This isn’t an ad, but I have spent the last week literally addicted to this music video:

        I’m not one to overuse the words ‘literally’ and ‘addicted,’ either. Like, the more I watch it, the more I want to watch it. All day at work, I couldn’t wait to come home and watch it again. I’ve watched it four times this evening. I’m confused by this. (I’m not confused about why it’s appealing to me. I can expound on that if anyone’s interested.) I’m confused as to the intensity of the appeal.

        I’m in my late 20s. I’m married. All my life, my focus in entertainment and advertisements alike has been female-oriented. Is there a pretty blond in this sitcom? Ok, then I’m going to watch it. Is there a snarky brunette in this movie? Perfect. Bring it on. When I enjoyed something for the sake of its male star, it was usually because of his quirky personality (Danny Kaye and Richard Karn are favorites). I’m not saying I wasn’t physically attracted to male entertainers, but I am saying somehow it managed to escape being a part of my every day life.

        Anyway, the last two years have seen a dramatic shift in my decision-making paradigm. Is the guy in this show a smoldering hottie? Sweet. Is the male lead in this film a sensitive yet strong soul? Great. Suddenly I’ve come to the point of habitually …appreciating… men I wouldn’t have noticed before. (I don’t want to ravish them, but they do remind me how awesome my husband is.)

        Moving right along: so for the first time in my life I’m into really masculine men… and for some reason I can’t get these cutesy guys in the music video* out of my head! Don’t know what’s up with that.

        As for the ad in your post, it’s visually stunning. I love the colors, the facial expressions, the physical posture. Without having analyzed why, I think I’d feel pretty positive about whatever product they decided to put next to that couple (I certainly didn’t immediately understand just by looking at it that it was an “air-con”). I used to do some modeling, and I learned pretty early on that an image was usually received better when all or most of my weight was on one leg. I think I sensed that part of the reason was because it made me vulnerable, but it certainly wasn’t forefront in my mind. I will say that it’s a whole lot easier for a girl to work her curves when she’s NOT standing her ground, ready to fight or flee…

        Oh! I almost forgot. Every time I scroll up and look at the image, it takes me a while to pry my eyes off of their shimmering footwear. (Not that I didn’t already know that I’m drawn to shiny things!)

        *I’ve noticed that over time youtube URLs can become defunct, so for the sake of latecomers like me, I’ll mention that the video linked above is of F.Cuz singing Wanna Be Your Love


        1. I’m not tired at all, and thanks for the interesting and honest comment, although I can’t really think of what to say in reply sorry. But now that you’ve said you’ve done some modeling work, then I’ll definitely be picking your brains sometime about the poses you had to adopt and why the photographers wanted them and so on!^^ (Those considerations are the elephant in the room with all the research I’m doing on ads at the moment)


  2. I think the rival air conditioner from Samsung has the better star and more successful ad. Yuna Kim’s Sing Sing song in the CF is popular. She has a fitting, cool image to endorse the product since she’s uh, an ice skater. Plus they didn’t sex her up. They actually made an age appropriate CF.


  3. Possibly, but while it’s more appropriate for a wider audience, it’s definitely a little clown-like too. I think each is ultimately marketed towards quite different consumer groups really.

    For everyone to compare, here is Yuna’s Samsung CF:

    And here is that for the Whisen one above:


  4. I have to politely disagree about the clown-likeness of it. I think it’s cute, catchy, and again, age appropriate for Yuna Kim. Clownish or not, the concept seems to be working because it’s a popular and easily identifiable CF right now. Can you explain the different consumer groups? Because I can’t imagine young kids or even teenagers buying giant air conditioners. Air conditioners are air conditioners and I don’t see one CF aiming for an exclusively different consumer group than the other. Families, newlyweds, young singles, I think all of these groups would prefer Samsung’s CF over Whisen’s CF.


    1. We’ll just have to agree to politely disagree. In hindsight, in my last comment I did overemphasize the differences between the two groups I think each air-conditioner is marketed towards – there’s considerable overlap really – but whereas the Samsung commercial comes across as cute overall the Whisen commercial definitely aims more for sophistication, and I can imagine many newlyweds and young singles that don’t plan to have children especially preferring to have the latter. Certainly air-conditioners are air-conditioners at the end of the day, but the whole point of branding is to get people who can afford to to pay more for essentially the same thing (think Levi’s jeans) and while Yuna’s commercial is “cute and catchy” both can in fact be off-putting for many people.


  5. Hmm to my understanding in Korea and in other countries like Egypt, the woman has to save a big dowry to get married. That includes a large lump sum to pay her husband’s family as well as to buy the household appliances for the new house.

    I got the impression that a lot of the purchases like a kimchi fridge, AC etc are large one-time purchases and that’s why they’re appealing to the ladies. And yes, I think the husband’s family I believe does pay for the downpayment for the apartment or the apt itself if they can afford it…

    I doubt many people can afford the whole apartment, though. I got the impression that if a guy could afford it, he would prefer if his wife didn’t work. There seemed to be a lot of younger couples with no children, but having kids might tip the scales so the wife would have to go back to work.

    I think 50 or 80K payment from the guy’s family is still normal in Korea since the apartment deposits may cost that much…Maybe that’s wrong. I only have 1 example. But I wonder how much the average girl pays her husband and his family.

    I’m too embarassed to ask anyone that. Before they set up a blind date do the parents find out how much the other party has saved? Or is it just that people don’t go on dates like that until they’ve saved enough?


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