Branding Korea: A Promising Fresh Start?

Bandhobi Movie Mahbub Alam

Look familiar? If not, then on the left you have Mahbub Alam, co-star of the recent movie Bandhobi (반두비), which challenges many Koreans’ stereotypes of and prejudices towards workers and immigrants from developing countries. Here he is in a public service commercial from the Korean Broadcast Advertising Corporation (KOBACO) below, and while it won’t change the world, in terms of the time and money invested at least it will probably prove much more effective at promoting Korea overseas than all the millions lavished on the “Korea Sparkling” slogan.

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In Korean, the commercial says:

우리는 달라졌지만…더 달라져야 합니다.

우리는 가까워졌지만…더 가까워져야 합니다.

우리의 가슴은 뜨겁지만…더 뜨거워져야 합니다.

Korea보다 더 자랑스러운Korean

코리아 브랜드 당신이 만듭니다.

And in English:

We are very different…but we need to be more different.

We are closer…but we need to be closer still.

We have warm hearts….but they need to be warmer.

Instead of being proud of Korea, we should be prouder of being Korean.

We, ourselves, have to create Korea’s brand.


Make sure to see the movie at the cinema while you still can!

Update: In case you missed it, see here for further information about the 4th Migrant Worker Film Festival (MWFF) that Mahbub Alam is the director of,  and which will shortly be touring several Korean cities, starting with my wife’s hometown of Jinju (진주) on the 26th.


16 thoughts on “Branding Korea: A Promising Fresh Start?

  1. James,

    Nice, and it fits in with some other things. I’m sure you’ve noticed that KTO has revamped that horrible “widget” they tried to roll out a few months ago? And they are doing it in concert with an attempt to get a Korean-blog-aggregation site together (I think I saw you had already registered there?). I think it’s actually a sensible plan.

    I have the widget, and a few comments, at



  2. I love the KOBACO commercials. They’re focused on the issues that matter most for improving Korean society (or at least bringing it closer in line with western mores), they’re well crafted and slick, they’re touching, and they appeal to one’s pride as a Korean.


    1. Charles–I already read that myself, but thanks for passing on the link. And yes, it’s good that the KTO took into account the feedback of actual foreigners for a change.

      As for the KTO Blog thingy, do you mean this? Actually I hadn’t signed up, figuring that what’s written here probably wouldn’t be what they had in mind. But what the hell, you persuaded me, and signing up only took 2 mins. Indeed, by virtue of getting more hits than 99% of “Korea blogs” (probably combined) alone then it should be selected as one of those 100. I’m glad all that time invested in finding tasteful and relevant T&A for it wasn’t wasted then…

      On a side note, thanks for the Busan job info you passed on.

      Andrew–Glad you like them, although I admit that sometimes I find them a bit cloying and overly sentimental myself. Are there any that you particularly liked? If so, let me know, and I’ll post them here sometime.


  3. Hmmm, I didn’t really mind the ‘Korea sparkling’ advertisement campaign, except for the part where Rain comes out and alienates the audience. But I only saw it once or twice, mostly near midnight (in New Zealand terrestrial television).

    Just some notes on translation: “우리는 달라졌지만…더 달라져야 합니다” should be translated as “We have changed… but we need to change further/more change is needed.” The first clause then implies progress rather than a state.
    “We are very different…but we need to be more different” would be “우리는 다릅니다…”
    Also, “Korea보다 더 자랑스러운Korean” could be “Korea, proud, but more proud as Koreans.” It’s subtle, but it changes the meaning a bit (your translation is phrased sort of like an imperative, more than a description of state/emotion).
    The original last line is in the second person, but I’m guessing you changed it on purpose.

    These could be trivial, but I just hoped they could be of use to you. Cheers!


    1. Yeah, although when it first came out I was very critical, once I heard the arguments for the slogan made by its creator then I had more of an appreciation for it, and regardless I was very impressed with the efforts to market Korea using something other than kimchi and traditional dances and so forth. Like I wrote on the subject here just after I started the blog two years ago here (subtle code for saying it’s not my best work!) there is definitely a very youthful, sexy, and – yes – dynamic side to Korea that Korea was shooting itself in the foot by not highlighting more.

      Thanks for those clarifications of the Korean, and I confess that I’m usually quite sloppy with such subtleties, and as I’m sure you can appreciate never quite find the right balance between alien-sounding but literally correct translations and what I think would be more natural sounding in English!


    1. Saw and loved that too, and sure, point taken.

      Feel free to linkwhore anytime you like by the way. I tried to do so myself at the Marmot’s Hole post I link to, but my comments are currently “awaiting moderation”. Given that my comment in another post a month ago is still awaiting moderation though, then I don’t think I’ll bother trying to comment there in the future. Sniff.

      Update: Actually, it’s up now.


  4. James, are you still a member of Dave’s? That’s a good place to link whore. That’s about the only time I still post there, to drive up my hits when a relevant topic comes up. I figure I might as well get there first before somebody rips me off.


    1. I was (as “excitinghead”), and I used to all the time, but once the popularity of my blog took off then the relatively low numbers of visitors from the links didn’t justify the time spent being active on it any more: these days, I don’t need to promote myself so much, so it’s much wiser (and more enjoyable) if I focus on the quality of the content instead. Admittedly though, it doesn’t help that my posts don’t tend to be as newsy as yours, and so less easy to discreetly work into forums so to speak!

      By coincidence, a month or so ago I naively decided to change my email address in my profile at Daves, but as soon as I hit enter I got a message saying that it had to be approved by an administrator and that I would be sent an email when it was. But not only did I never receive anything, but I could no longer log in either, and so my 4 year account was effectively dead. By reflex, I signed up for a new account, which was ironically manually approved despite me writing a message there about the problem with the old account…but fuck it. I put up with the inconveniences of the 1998 technology on it for a loooong time, and that crap was the final straw.

      I just look at the jobs now.


  5. Instead of being proud of Korea, we should be prouder of being Korean

    Just some notes on translation: “우리는 달라졌지만…더 달라져야 합니다” should be translated as “We have changed… but we need to change further/more change is needed.” The first clause then implies progress rather than a state.
    “We are very different…but we need to be more different” would be “우리는 다릅니다…”
    Also, “Korea보다 더 자랑스러운Korean” could be “Korea, proud, but more proud as Koreans.” It’s subtle, but it changes the meaning a bit

    I agree with the commenter’s suggested revisions; but I fail to see how either version represents any sort of significant, or even discernible, change from Korea’s self-identification as a political entity whose ONLY (or, perhaps, over-riding) raison d’tre is its status as a state that provides a vehicle for Korean ethno-nationalism, i.e., an essentially exclusivist (racist) undertaking.


    1. Sorry, but I’d be grateful if you could rephrase all that, as in its present form I find it very confusing: “Korea” is a political entity/state that “provides a vehicle for Korean ethno-nationalism”?

      If I’ve read that correctly, then I strongly disagree, as my own understanding of the Park Chung-hee era is that rather than providing a vehicle for it, it was in fact the state that was the primary promoter of ethno-nationalism. And regardless, subsequent administrations only adopted the cultural and institutional baggage of associated policies – not so much the anti-communist and natural security rationales and zeal – and indeed that baggage too is slowly but surely being abandoned: since 2006 for instance (yes, admittedly very late), Korean school textbooks no longer extol Korea’s ethnic homogeneity as a source of pride and national strength. Consequently, I find if very difficult to describe Korea in 2009 in the state-driven ethno-nationalist terms that you did.

      But whether we’re talking about 1961 or 2009, neither of our versions of the “narrative” of Korean exclusivist ethno-nationalism as it were imply that it was/is ever monolithic and/or consistent, nor preclude the possibility of messages countering it, both from within the state and from non-state actors. Having said that, I never actually implied anything so grandiose of this commercial, so to put it mildly your comment was a bit out of the blue. If I didn’t make my point clear in the post then, simply put I think this commercial is significant in that it suggests to Koreans (reminds?) them that Korea’s image overseas is dependent on the way Koreans treat non-Koreans, not just on the way (they think) that the abstract entity that is “Korea” is perceived overseas. Nothing more.

      Thanks for your help with the Korean though.


  6. I was reacting not to any exlicit claim made by you but simply to the implicit notion that “changes” in attitude summarized in lines like “Instead of being proud of Korea, we should be prouder of being Korean or, alternatively, Korea, proud, but more proud as Koreans” represent real change at all and, consequently, whether they, and hype like the advertising in which they appear, will have any lasting effect on foreign perceptions of Korea.

    It seems to me that the thrust of the idea that this sort of advertising will effect any persistent change in the image of Korea is based on the assumption that it represents a genuine shift in Korean attitudes towards multiculturalism and, more importantly, the effective extension of equal rights of citizenship to non-ethnic Korean residents of the ROK. I think, like so much else about Korea’s self-promotion, that it’s just window-dressing meant to obscure what’s really going on within Korea Inc.

    The reason for my belief is Korea’s modern organizing principle, it’s constitution, which finds partial formal expression it its written Constitution (which, admittedly, also sets forth some provisions that, in principle, are at odds with what I believe is its actual constitutional practice).

    The most fundamental element of Korea’s constitution is a particularly virulent form of ethno-nationalism. Ethno-nationalism in Korea only began to manifest in the very late 19th century, in reaction to and emulation of “Western” models of ethno-nationalism channeled to Korea through the distorting conduit of Japanese fascism, and only became the basis of the political legitimacy of the Korean state after Liberation; prior thereto the Korean polity, before its destruction by Imperial Japan in 1910, was a monarchy with a Confucian legitimating ideology.

    Contemporary Korean ethno-nationalism finds its most extreme manifestation, per B.R. Myer’s analysis, in the ethno-fascism of North Korea. The similarities between North and South Korea on this score have been partially masked by the (the legacy of) South’s ideology of strong anti-communism under the post-war authoritarian regimes and the moderating influence on ROK ethno-nationalism of US influence and the partial acceptance and assimilation thereof by some (relatively small) elements of the the ROK elites, middle class and working class.

    The sort of ostensibly multicultural developments represented by the advertising you highlight are interesting, but mere epiphenomena compared to the deeper currents that shape the cultural politics of Korea.

    does that clear it up?


  7. Not sure why you translated the last line using a “we” when they use “you” in the original. How does that work, in your opinion?

    “Uri” is such a loaded word in Korean that ending with the “tangshin” seems rather pointed in my opinion. Note also that the shirts worn by those cheering at a game are a “cool” blue rather than a hot “We Are the Reds” red. I think the producers are intentionally trying to modify or rewrite some key Korean signifiers in/with this ad.

    Thus, the suggestion to think of being “Korean” rather than just (blindly) thinking of “Korea.” There seems to be a shift from blind collectivism to a more aware, self-regulating individualism; using “you” rather than “we” at the end would seem to be placing a strong, concluding stress on this key point.

    Or am I entirely off-base here?


  8. Just a few weeks back, while I was shopping, a high school girl accompanied by two of her friends had the all too typical overenthusiastic reaction to the sight of my young son. The atypical reaction of her friend made me smile. “Why are you being so strange? They’re just people.” I had to laugh at the girl trying to cover herself by saying that she was excited about some toys for toddlers on the shelves behind us.


    1. Sperwer–Thanks for that, and seriously have it printed to be pored over at some point.

      King Baeksu–“I think the producers are intentionally trying to modify or rewrite some key Korean signifiers in/with this ad” Good way to put it, albeit said by me with my knowing what you meant by it primarily because of what you wrote on the subject at Brian’s blog!

      “You” would have been much better: thanks for pointing out my mistake.

      Dad–I hear you about the attention, and also would have been very surprised at that atypical reaction. I have to admit though, given that we’re going to get the attention anyway I find it very difficult not to show my daughters off when we’re out together!


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