Korean Sociological Image #50: The Depths of the Red Ginseng Craze

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Are commercials for this product really the same the world over? Put that to the test by quickly trying to guess what is being advertised above, before all is revealed at o:10.

For non-Korean speakers, the powder shown is a combination of ganghwa-yagssoog (강화약쑥), or “medicinally strengthening” mugwort, and hongsam-paoodeo (홍삼파우더), or red ginseng powder. And surely there is no greater testament to believing in its health benefits than by being prepared to use it in the most intimate of places?

Lest my bashful euphemism for VAGINAS detract from that point however, do recall that during the 2008 protests against US beef imports for instance, many Koreans genuinely believed baseless rumors that Mad Cow Disease could be caught via the gelatin used in sanitary napkins. So it makes perfect sense for aptly-named manufacturer Body Fit (바디피트) to capitalize on the belief that what’s inside sanitary napkins can have direct effects on the wearer’s health.

Indeed, red ginseng in particular is even rumored to be an aphrodisiac too.

Still, you could also argue that it actually smacks of desperation by ginseng producers. For – with apologies for the inadvertent pun – one of the first things the commercial reminded me of was the fact that:

…once a market is saturated, I learned at university in New Zealand, there is a inherent tendency for a company’s rate of profit to fall. But this can be offset by re-marketing and/or making new varieties of the original product, and accordingly my lecturer posited the plethora of varieties of Coca-Cola available in the U.S. as a reflection of the greater capitalistic development of its economy (read: saturation of its domestic market) compared to New Zealand’s, which then only had two. Indeed, advertising culture in New Zealand in the late-1990s, he suggested, was only akin to that of the US in the 1950s in its scale and intensity, no matter how brash and “American” New Zealanders regarded it.

( Source: unknown )

And the second was either a Metro or Focus newspaper cartoon I remember from 2005, a satire of the “well being” (웰빙) craze that showed that simply adding a sprinkle of green tea powder to a product seemed to give it health benefits in consumers’ minds, and for which they were prepared to pay a premium for. In particular, the last panel had me laughing out loud on a crowded subway car, for its ads for extremely expensive “Well Being Apartments” built with green tea concrete really hit the spot.

And which just goes to show that not all Korean consumers are gullible as the mad cow disease connection above suggests. And – seeing as we’re talking about vaginas after all – then the latest Western craze for “labiaplasties” for instance, sounds far far worse (see a NSFW video here too).

But hey, if a misguided belief in the health benefits of a product exists, then you can guarantee that companies will exploit it and/or encourage it. And so it seems very strange then, that actually neither sexual potency or health benefits are the stated logic of the commercial, which is rather that the combination of mugwort and red ginseng would eliminate odor. And which my wife assures me is a genuine concern for women, and not an invented concern as I first thought.

But still, would they really be the most appropriate substances for doing so? How about green tea powder, which – you guessed it – is also found in feminine hygiene products in Korea?

Let’s just say I have my doubts. Meanwhile, can anyone also think of any red ginseng (or green tea) products specifically aimed at men? Or, aphrodisiac-wise, is red ginseng actually only supposed to work on men anyway?

Update: Here’s a collection of amusing and/or bizarre “care down there” ads from around the world. Enjoy!

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

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10 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #50: The Depths of the Red Ginseng Craze

  1. That “problem” is exploited in such a way, in Italian commercials, that made me wonder what women really think about it.
    The few (read: 2) women I’ve asked, told me it’s not an issue, and feel companies are “problematising” what’s irrelevant to them.

    In any case, I think the image of women gets, every time the spot is aired, degraded.

    • And I’ve asked precisely one myself! Like Silvvy says though, simply changing it is presumably the most effective method, so the company’s attempt to create a perceived need really is quite blatant.

  2. “And which my wife assures me is a genuine concern for women, and not an invented concern as I first thought”

    There is a solution to this already – it’s called tampons. Or in my case, a menstrual cup. Sure, I know that many women do not feel comfortable wearing tampons, but that is one of the cons of wearing pads.

    When I did wear pads I sometimes had concern for my menstrual odor but it just meant that I needed to change it! Honestly, putting stuff next to or in a vagina in hope of improving odor is most likely not safe nor healthy.

    I hope this won’t extend to green tea douches or the like.

    • Come to think of it, any idea why aren’t tampons very popular in Korea? Not that I have hard stats or anything, but that doesn’t seem to have changed much in the 10 years I’ve been here.

    • I’d be surprised if there was any real danger in a sprinkling of powdered green tea or ginseng in the filling of a pad. Unless you’re allergic, it’s not going to do anything to you except make your lower half smell faintly medicinal.

      • I’m sure it’s not exactly dangerous, but it’s not good for the vagina. Even without allergies, scented products can lead to irritation and infection as they can affected the pH level of the vagina. No doctor would recommend using scented pads.

        • I agree that scented pads are unnecessary, but they’re not going in the vagina. They sit well outside, buffered by the outer genetalia. You’re in more danger from your antipersperant.

  3. Tampons aren’t popular for a few reasons . . .
    first, they weren’t widely available until very recently. Back in the early 2000’s they were just showing up on shelves, and even then you often had to go to a pharmacy to find them. There’s also not a very good selection – they’re all essentially the same size, same style applicator (and there only one non-applicator brand available here, and it’s very expensive and not widely available).
    Another aspect of wearing tampons is that it’s simply not as easy and straightforward as wearing pads. Anytime you’re inserting something rather than just wearing it, there’s an adjustment curve. I know lots of people who find them physically uncomfortable, too.
    That said, I do know of more women using them, and expect them to slowly become more popular as they become available in a wider range of stores.
    Scented pads aren’t that unusual, though. I imagine that this is simply a very Korean variation on a theme. There’s already green tea, lavender, charcoal, red clay, and other medicinal herb combinations on the market here.

    • Ah, yes. I recall now that many years my wife never got past that adjustment phase either, although she still hated wearing pads.

      Forgive me if the next question sounds facetious (it’s not intended to be), but does worrying about losing one’s “virginity” put Korean women off too?

      To be specific, I know that using tampons can weaken or break the hymen, and if that happens then they’d be much less likely to bleed the first time they have sexual intercourse. Sure, something like 7 (or 9?) out of 10 women don’t actually bleed the first time anyway. But the myth that all do is a surprisingly enduring one, and place that in the context of the excessive importance attached to virginity in Korea too (to the extent that many will feign ignorance of contraception), then it wouldn’t surprise me if there were indeed many virginal Korean women that worried about the later effect on their wedding night or whenever if they used tampons.

      Still, that implies a lot of knowledge about tampons and female physiology and so on in advance, and I’d be surprised if the more informed the woman, the less likely she would be to worry about that sort of thing anyway. Bearing that in mind then, do you think it’s fair to say that a lot of Korean women don’t use tampons simply because they feel that inserting anything is a loss of virginity?

      Not to laugh at anyone with that view of course: it’s not unreasonable. I’m just speculating…and am admittedly a little sleep-deprived as I type this sorry!^^

      • I’m not sure how widespread the belief that tampons can interfere with the hymen are here in Korea. In America, my middle school health classes addressed the issue, but I’m not sure if Korean health classes talk about tampon and pad use. In fact, I’d be surprised if many women didn’t have some fear attached to virginal tampon use – but none of my female friends that I’ve discussed this with (man, my friends must be terrified every time I open my mouth to begin a new discussion . . .) have mentioned it. Instead, they’ve mentioned discomfort and unfamiliarity as the main reasons to avoid them. Mind you, I’m talking mostly with women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, and so preserving their virginity is probably not a real worry.
        Also, it seems that many women just end up using whatever type of sanitary product they’re introduced to when they first start menstruation. Until recently, pads were the only commercial option, so that’s what people start off using. And like a lot of products, unless you’re dissatisfied or given a particular incentive to change, you’ll probably stick with it. Add in that tampons are not heavily advertised here – I’ve only ever seen one on TV, and don’t recall any print ads – and it’s really not surprising that they’re not popular.
        But as for specific rumors about losing virginity? I’d bet they’re around. Even in the US, there used to be ads specifically addressing this concern, and it was talked about in my middle and high school health classes.

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