#MeToo to meat: no more soju calendars with nearly nude women in South Korea

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Photo by Tan Danh from Pexels.

No, not normal soju posters and calendars, but these ones (NSFW) and these ones by Hite-Jinro and Oriental Brewing respectively. I’m not surprised seeing them in restaurants (NSFW) made so many people uncomfortable (seriously, where would you look?), and wasn’t exaggerating when I was quoted in Crystal Tai’s article that “assuming that pictures of nude women [is] all that is required to [get people to change soju brands] is just patronising and insulting.” Perhaps that’s why my tweet about them below, a simple link to a news article, gained such traction:

Please read Crystal’s article for more information on what all the fuss is about. And, for even more information, here are some of my original email interview questions and answers:

Q) When did you first notice soju posters of women and such calendars around you? Do you remember the first time you saw one?

I noticed them immediately after I arrived in Korea in 2000, because they were ubiquitous; the level of alcohol advertising in New Zealand couldn’t begin to compare. I didn’t pay them much attention until about six years later however, because all of a sudden many soju companies started depicting women in revealing clothing and more sexualized poses in their posters, which was a big shift from the virginal depictions of the previous two decades. Soon after, this trend was further accelerated by the liberal use of K-pop stars as endorsement models, as gaining notoriety through revealing campaigns was and remains a win-win for both their entertainment companies and the soju companies.

That said, soju posters are just another means to “consume” a celebrity by fans, who generally must assume the same persona whether they’re in a talkshow, MV, or a soju commercial.* So, despite the trend, by no means are all soju models sexualized today: “innocent” IU, Son Na-eun of Apink, and especially Suzy (of the former Miss A) all tend to be depicted virginally in their own campaigns, the latter despite her having been in several high-profile relationships.

(*Hat-tip to to friend and SNU Associate Professor Olga Fedorenko, whose book chapter I was channeling just a little too directly there!)

Q) What do you think such images mean to Korean men? Why do you think they are often surrounded by such images at bars, pubs, gogijibs (meat restaurants) etc?

It’s unlikely they hold any special meaning that they wouldn’t hold for men of any other nationality. As for their being surrounded by such images however, this is likely because Korea is in many ways a very homosocial society, with many unspoken but strongly-defined separate spaces for men and women. Note that most middle and high-schools were single-sex two decades ago, that almost all Korean men do approximately two years of military service, and that Korean women still struggle to retain their jobs after childbirth, those that succeed often having to leave mandatory after-work drinking gatherings early to look after their children while their male colleagues continue drinking elsewhere. Consequently, while coffee shops are strongly associated with women, and feature in many complaints and negative stereotypes about them, the atmosphere in bars and restaurants that sell a lot of soju can sometimes feel very off-putting for anyone that isn’t a middle-aged Korean man.

(Image: This interpretation in this video analysis is maybe too much. Yet I can never pass Na-eun’s poster below without thinking about that bottleneck on the left!)

Do you think that the Me-too movement and recent feminist movements really play a big role in Hite-Jinro’s decision to discontinue such calendars?

Given the recent news that “racequeens” are going to be phased out of the racing industry,* as well as calls to do the same with cheerleaders at sporting events, then the timing can hardly be a coincidence. But it may also be a convenient excuse for decisions already made. Unless revealing soju posters are also part of a creative and memorable campaign—which these calendars definitely are not—then it’s extremely debatable whether they ever have any real influence on Korean men’s consumption choices. In my own experience, their tastes in soju tend to be very regional, and they tend to stick to the same brands throughout their lives. Assuming that pictures of nude women are all that is required to change their minds is just patronizing and insulting, so I’m both glad and not particularly surprised that alternative strategies are now being attempted.

(*My mistake: they’re being phased out in Formula 1, but I don’t know enough about the industry to judge what—if any—impact that will have on racing events in Korea. See here for an article about the impact in Japan.)

Do you think other alcohol companies will follow suit as well? And do you think this means the provocative celebrity posters and campaigns will change as well?

No. The calendars by Hite-Jinro were the only ones to feature nudity, and the “sporty” ones by Oriental Brewery were also much more revealing than average. But most soju posters aren’t particularly any more sexually-objectifying of women than Korean advertising in general, because that is already pervasive in the industry as a whole. To wit: in a 2015 study, women were 5.9 times more likely than men to not be fully dressed in Hong Kong television ads, 22.89 times more likely in Japanese ads, and 56.83 times more likely in South Korean ads. By no means, can soju ads be the only culprit in the Korean case!

And if that’s still not enough, here’s a small sample of related posts I’ve written over the years:

Meanwhile, I hope everyone had a happy new year, and sorry my posting has been so erratic. But I have big writing plans for 2019!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Korean Photoshop Disaster #9: Soju Goggles (Updated)

(Source)

Pondering questions about excessive photoshopping in ads for a radio interview I’ll be doing next week, yesterday I would have said that Koreans are so accepting, even welcoming of it, that unfortunately little surprises me anymore.

Then I saw the alien that has replaced Lee Da-hae (이다해) on Charm Soju’s (참소주) website

Update – Thanks to Paul Kerry for drawing my attention to these further examples, also available on the website:

Paul at least has seen them in a restaurant (example here), and Lee Da-hae’s endorsement deal also produced a lot of Korean news reports and blog entries back in September, so they’re certainly out there. Unfortunately though, I’ve been searching in vain for any mention of the Photoshopping in them. As they say, the silence is deafening!

Korean Sociological Image #20: Sex Sells

Yahoo Korea Cheoum Cheorom Cool UEE

Pity the hapless commentator on hidden themes in advertising. Not only is he or she often accused of overanalysis, but men in particular can be labeled as positively perverted in seeing sexual symbols in otherwise inanimate objects.

Granted, sometimes a bottle is just a bottle, and Cheoum Cheoreom Cool (처음처럼 쿨), a new brand of soju, is not the only commercial to have an animated example of its product moving across the screen below it on Yahoo! Korea at the moment. But I do wonder why the bottle is tilted the way it is though, particularly as the long-held convention in Korean alcohol advertising is that bottles should always be displayed standing upright?

As it happens, that convention is still adhered to on Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s website, but with the soju bottle springing-up in a most satisfying manner in the corner of the screen once you click on the “over 19” button. That wasn’t the case when I wrote about its marketing campaign last month.

Naturally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

But I’m not against this latest twist per se, and indeed this advertisement for bokbunja (복분자) below with a similar theme still puts a smile on my face 4 months after first noticing it (see here for more like it). And yet Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s version isn’t quite so, well, elegant, and smacks of desperation given that the campaign already so excessively focuses on female body parts. Perhaps like Lee Hyori before her, UEE (유이) isn’t bringing Lotte the increased market share anticipated?

Phallic Bokbunja advertisement( Source: Jinro )

Thanks to reader “JSK Hanglo” for bringing the commercial to my attention.

Update: See here for some similar phallic symbolism from the latest New Yorker.

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

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Sex, Sensibility and the Bottom Line: Evolving Images of Women in Korean Soju Advertising

Cheoum Cheoreom Cool Breasts Buttocks 168

Watching one of Lotte’s commercials for its new Cheoum Cheoreom Cool (처음처럼 쿨) soju dozens of times…as one does…then many thoughts come to mind, but that it is being effectively marketed towards women isn’t one of them. Yet weren’t they the main reason low-alcohol soju brands were launched in the first place?

As those objectified breasts and buttocks helpfully remind us, Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s alcohol content is 16.8%, so take the examples of the two closest brands in terms of alcohol content for instance: Daesun’s Bom Bom (봄봄, 16.7%) launched in April, and Muhak’s Joeunday (좋은데이, 16.9%) launched in November 2006 (see here for a helpful graphic comparing all three), and both of those were indeed aimed towards women.

Of the two, Bom Bom’s marketing is the most of interest because Daesun took the very rare step of using a young, photogenic male in its advertisements. But while Muhak’s own campaign was ultimately unsuccessful (commercials released after early-2007 are difficult to find, and Joeunday’s website is no longer available, although the drink is still being produced), its use of then 28 and 36 year-old female and male entertainers Chae Yeon (채연) and Jung Jun-ho (정준호) respectively was also significant as a partial, albeit somewhat ambiguous attempt to appeal to a much older female demographic than all the other campaigns considered here.

Joeunday Soju Chae Yeon Jung Jun-ho( Source: Muhak )

 

Combined with the knowledge that only 30% of soju drinkers are women then, it would be very tempting to interpret the introduction of increasingly weaker soju drinks over the last decade in terms of a women-centered advertising narrative, with all the changes to Korean drinking culture, gender relations, and Korean women’s body-images that that would imply. But that would be quite mistaken however, as simply saving on costly alcohol is just as powerful a motivator for soju companies, and actually the vast majority of new brands are still exclusively targeted towards men (take Bohae’s Ipseju (잎새주; 19.5%), which I wrote about in April). In particular though, there is the fact that Lotte and Jinro take up 12.6% and 78% of the country’s soju market respectively, and so regardless of the innovations of other companies, it is the logic behind the marketing campaigns of these companies that is the most important.

In that vein, the case of Jinro’s J (제이, 18.5%) is very interesting: launched in October last year, I praised it for its original marketing, but it was still definitely aimed at 20-somethings of both sexes. In June this year though, a new marketing campaign specifically aimed towards getting women to associate the brand with staying slim was launched. In addition, when Lotte bought Doosan’s liquor arm in January this year (after an unsuccessful attempt to buy Jinro in 2005), it inherited a contract with Lee Hyori (이효리) from November 2007, and the logic to her commercials for Cheoum Cheoreom (처음처럼) was similarly getting (female) consumers to associate the brand with her slim body.

Which is what made this latest effort from Lotte so confusing:

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In hindsight, it’s actually a little derivative of Jinro’s original effort, in which “1032” refers to the depth from which the water used to prepare the drink is taken from the sea:

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Granted, Lotte’s video briefly objectifies men too. Not that that somehow justifies the objectification of women in it of course…or that I’ll feign offense at either. Rather, it aroused me my interest because it reminded me of this:

…some advertisers, aware of the objections of the feminist movement to traditional images of women in ads, have incorporated the criticism into their ads, many of which now present an alternative stereotype of the cool, professional, liberated women…Some agencies trying to accommodate new attitudes in their campaigns, often miss the point and equate ‘liberation’ with a type of aggressive sexuality and very unliberated coy sexiness.

Dyer, G. (1982) Advertising as Communication, pp. 185-186, quoted in Strinati, D. (1995) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, pp. 187-188)

Is that what is occurring here? Deciding to investigate then, I was stuck by the Korean media’s interest in the marketing campaign also, albeit for two entirely different reasons.

Cheoum Cheoreom Cool Bicep

First, having an alcohol content under 17% means that commercials can be screened on television after 10pm, and hence that the alcohol content of soju drinks would eventually reach that level has long been predicted by industry analysts. Even more presciently though, back in March one said:

…if you go under 17% you blur the boundary with low-alcohol drinks. Because you gain the ability to have TV ads at less than 17%, you could be promoting drinking cultures and exposing teenagers to it, so the authorities may stop you.”

And as this Korean source reveals, last week the rules were indeed changed. But Joeunday’s commercials wouldn’t have been particularly corrupting of Korean youth, nor Daesun’s commercial below with Kang Dong-won (강원도), on Korean screens since August 1, so this was probably a direct reaction to the launch of Cheoum Cheoreom Cool in late August.

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Only Daeson suffered though, as in anticipation of the negative publicity and the government’s intentions, spokespeople for Lotte said that they never decided not to make television commercials (see here and here). Which brings me to the second reason for the intense media interest in it: Lotte deciding not to use Lee Hyori to endorse the drink, despite her still easily being Korea’s biggest sex-symbol, and notorious for always sexing-up advertisements and pushing the limits of Koreans’ supposed Confucian reserve (see here and here). Apparently, in nearly 2 years promoting Cheoum Cheoreom, she hadn’t brought around the turnaround in fortunes expected (update: these statistics dispute that).

 

Lee Hyori Curls 2007 But in fairness to Lee Hyori, Doosan was in the midst of reorganizing itself into a holding company centered around heavy industries when it hired her, and in hindsight the same company that had just bought the world’s biggest maker of construction equipment earlier that year was not necessarily the best one to transform the image of the drinks in the eyes of 20-somethings: see here and here for the ensuing advertising disasters. Hence the consternation caused earlier this week when it was revealed that while she would continue to promote Cheoum Cheoreom, relatively unknown UEE (유이) would be used for Cheoum Cheoreom Cool instead (but not replacing Lee Hyori, as this blog naturally but mistakenly stated), and with the combination of the two Lotte hopes to bring their market share up to 15%.

Which is why it is UEE that graces the front page of all Korean portal sites as I type this, and as it turns out, what I’d seen was merely one of many pre-launch commercials and advertisements based on the theme of “168 ,” most of which were rather inane. Here then, is the commercial Lotte really wants you to remember:

In it, UEE begins with “오빠 나 쿨해, 내가 진짜 처음이야?”, which roughly translates as (to the guys she’s dating) “I’m cool…am I really your first?”. After that, the first guy just mutters nonsense, and later she says “쿨하게 생각해!” or…er…”Think Cooly,” and she finishes with “원샷. 어! 상쾌해!”, or “One shot! Oh! It’s sweet!”.

Consider these accompanying advertisements also, released at the same time:

UEE Soju Cool Honest( Source: Naver )
UEE Soju Cool Love(Source: Naver)

The text in the first reads: “Q: Honest. 남친이랑 여행할땐, 솔직히 말하는게 Cool 할걸까? MT 간다고 뻥치는게 Cool 할건까? A: Think Casual”, or “When you travel with your boyfriend, which is cooler: admitting it to your parents, or lying and saying you’re going on a trip with your university friends?”. And in the second: “Q : Love 키스할때 눈을 감고 하는게 Cool 하니? 쳐다 보면서 하는게 Cool 하니? A : Think Casual”, or “When you kiss, which is cooler? With your eyes closed or staring at your partner?”. In addition, many bottles of the drink will be sold with blue or pink bottletops, with the above messages or similar ones printed on the labels (see the video here at 0:31 to see those). And despite the former ostensibly being directed towards women, one might speculate that the message with the blue text might actually appeal more to men, and only with the pink or red more to women.

And so considering: the bicep in the prelaunch advertisements and commercials; their kissing scenes (albeit no longer remarkable in Korean advertising); and now these, with the intention of showing “how cool women behave,” then of course the marketing campaign is also aimed towards them. Even possibly the de rigueur “sexy dance” below too, as even though UEE was chosen because of her popularity among 20-something men, such dances are often used to advertise products to women also:

As an aside,  several sources describe the dance as simultaneously sexy and pure and innocent, but without any apparent trace of irony: something that won’t surprise Brian in Jeollanam-do, who has often criticized the bastardization of the word in the Korean language. I wonder though, if that adds to the argument that it is intended for both female and male consumption? Regardless, here’s a video of the making of it also, and although I find personally find that they ruin the fantasy element to commercials myself, they are also important elements to marketing campaigns these days (and I speculate more popular among women than men):

By this stage then, you will probably not be surprised to find that most of the Korean sources I’ve linked to do in fact mention that the drink was aimed at both sexes (although one adds that it would have been more logical to exclusively aim it towards women). But rather than simply provide that information at the beginning, I decided to roughly replicate the process by which I came to find that information for myself, hopefully providing a good overview of the current state of soju advertising in the process (but which should definitely be read in conjunction with this one from June).

And also to resist my temptation to merely assume that the marketing campaign with UEE both reflects and/or is the harbinger of more sexually assertive images of women in Korean advertising. After all, considering that: the recession has already forced advertisers of all stripes to rely on consumers’ basic instincts; soju companies have nothing but the profit incentive in mind; and if they don’t see (hyper)objectification of women for a male gaze as incompatible with the commensurate goal of selling soju to women, confirming the suspicions that first came to mind as discussed, then that doesn’t bode well for reducing Korean women’s excessive worries about their appearances.

And yet regardless of the motivations behind them, one still can’t help but reflect on all the changes to women’s images in soju advertising in recent years, not all of which have been negative. Granted, I have often exaggerated the depth and positive impact of those changes in the past. But let me leave you with the fact that this alternate image of women was the norm less than two years ago:

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At the very least then, we can all agree on the pace of change…just one reason why Korean sociology is so interesting!

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Korean Gender Reader

Ha Ji-won Jinro Chamisul

Granted, that soju posters have been becoming increasingly risqué in recent years is by no means news (see #1 here), and it’s also true that advertisers tend to rely more on consumers’ baser instincts during recessions…but still, even I did a double take when I saw this latest one (source) with Ha Ji-won (하지원), and it makes one wonder what the summer of 2010 will bring if present trends continue.

Ironically however, it is actually rather tame compared to what Korean musicians have been doing recently to get themselves noticed, such as the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) having a lesbian kissing scene in their latest music video, or former “race-queen” Jung Eun-joo (정은주) producing a music video that is literally soft porn, her management agency (not unreasonably) arguing that she wouldn’t get noticed otherwise. And yet while the latter in particular is complete trash that will never make it to Korean screens, and like Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) for “suggestive dancing” (see #1 here) and  TVXQ’s songs for their “lewd content” (see #2 here), the Brown Eyed Girl’s effort may similarly also end up being banned from television, those represent just a handful of cases that have cropped up just this year, as cultural producers really do seem to be testing the limits these days. Hence, although Korea’s various state bodies involved with censorship certainly do have corporatist interests in exerting their authority, they may well have their hands full at the moment, and I wonder if as a result we might be about to witness a tectonic shift in the liberalization of the Korean media similar to what happened in 2004, when the following commercial for Hong Kong clothing company Giordano with Jun ji-Hyun (전지현) and Jung Woo-sung (정우성) was banned:

But which resulted in so many clones shortly thereafter that censors seemed to give up on them. Here’s an example from the following year for 17차 for instance, again with Jun Ji-hyun:

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True, the former is very sexual, whereas the latter merely glorifies objectifies the female body…a distinction that I’m only just realizing as I type this, and one that I suspect I really haven’t given enough thought to previously: it deserves further exploring. Regardless, lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the potential for a shift, recall that it also occurs in a context where the Lee Myung-bak’s increasingly authoritarian policies towards the media are creating a backlash, and standards for movies have been liberalizing without pause for breath (see #1 here, #8 here, and #7 here for starters).

In other news:

1) Bending over backwards to satisfy his readers, Ask the Expat provides a very comprehensive and clearly well-researched guide to cruising for gay sex in Korean bathhouses.

2) Approaching things from a different angle, Korea Beat translated a lengthy article from The Chosun Weekly about Lesbian clubs in Hongdae, a major night-life area of Seoul.

The Price Of Sin3) Lee Myung-bak pledged Thursday to increase state subsidies for working mothers and provide more nurseries and daycare centers in an effort to boost the country’s birthrate, but given that (among numerous other things) married women have been overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the current recession, then I suspect that this will have minimal effect (see numerous past Korean Gender Readers for more information, but best are #1 here, #2 here, and #2 here, and here is the most recent newspaper article on the subject). It also doesn’t help that, with dwindling numbers of newborns, women’s hospitals are blatantly refusing to deliver babies in favor or easier and more profitable skin care and cosmetic surgeries either.

4) Again, Korea’s adultery laws continue to be baffle: apparently one can have sex with others if one is in the process of a divorce, but not if one’s husband or wife puts “proceedings on hold.” As a commenter at Extra! Korea reasonably points out, in this latest case did the husband even know his wife had done so? Indeed, what if the estranged spouse is in the act while being informed? Hopefully, upon hearing that the recipient is otherwise occupied, then the FedEx guy would have the decency to wait for a few minutes before knocking on the door and handing over the legal documents…

No seriously, it’s hypotheticals like this that demonstrate the law’s absurdity, let alone the arbitrariness with which it is by definition applied in a country with one of the world’s largest prostitution industries.

5) The issue is a little old (see here for an earlier discussion), but still, Kim Heung-sook does a good job of summarizing what is problematic about the choice of Sin Saimdang on the new 50,000 won bill.

6) With parallels to affirmative-action politics in the US, some male students preparing to enter law school are preparing to file a petition with the Constitutional Court against Ehwa Womans University Law School for only admitting, well, women. I can see both sides’ arguments, but given that only 17% of the Korean legal judiciary are women, then personally I’m more in favor of retaining the restriction. It is after all, the only law school in the country that has it.

7) I’m usually very wary of articles about polls in Korean newspapers, but for what it’s worth this one of 921 university students revealed that 30% planned to get some form of cosmetic surgery this summer. Broken down by gender, the figures are 40% of women and 19% of men.

Choi Han-bit8) Choi Han-bit (최한빛) on the right (source) has passed the preliminary stage of the 2009 Supermodel Contest. Nothing remarkable about that you might say, except that she was actually born a man, undergoing a sex change in 2006. See here and here for more pictures of her, including when he appeared dressed as a woman on a television show in 2005. To their (rare) credit, the consensus of netizens is that she is no more artificial a woman than all the other contestants that have had cosmetic surgery operations.

9) Korea Beat has translated the Chosun Ilbo’s response to the avalanche of criticism to its week-long attack on foreign teachers, which naturally created some lively discussion (165 comments and counting); don’t miss Korean Media Watch’s take on it also, and for those few of you that all this is news to, see #1 here for many links to get you started.

10) In a strange article that may well have been written – ipso facto – with the intention of actually creating the trend it is ostensibly merely describing, the Chosun Ilbo reports that 30-something salarymen are now avid shoppers and consumers at department stores. I’m not sure I give much credence to an article that prints the opinions of someone who attributes this to the fact that “men in their 30s are for the first time able to go shopping without the help of a woman” though, even if it did come from a professor at SNU.

11) Completing the transitions between the sexes as it were via the images in this post, let me finish here by passing on two photoshoots of Korean men that both made waves last week. First, these pictures of SHINee (샤이니, pronounced “shiny”) from Vogue Girl (source):

Shinee

(Update: Here’s an interview where SHINee explain the concept behind the photoshoot)

And then these of Hyun Bin (현빈), from Cosmopolitan (source):

Hyun Bin Cosmopolitan

While it’s not for me to judge women’s tastes, I am sorely tempted to mention that, lacking pictures of actual transexual men with which to complete the set of woman-transexual woman-transexual man-man, then SHINee certainly provide a pretty decent alternative…!

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Gender and The Unwritten Rules of Korean Alcohol Advertisements

Phallic Bokbunja advertisement( Source )

Prompted by my recent post on an advertisement selling soju to women, which I misinterpreted the details if not the spirit of (no pun intended) because I was too lazy to translate the voiceover first, I’ll be using Korean sources as much as possible in my analyses of Korean advertisements  from now on. Unfortunately, judging by its absence in bookstores and its website not being updated, then the only specialist magazine on offline Korean advertising I used to use for that – Korea Ad Times (코리아애드타임즈) – folded back in March, and Korean-language internet sources (on any subject) are notorious for their vacuousness and poor quality writing.

This Maeil Economy (MK) report that I’ve translated below is no exception, and as I pay much more attention to what readers might actually find interesting these days than I did a year ago, when admittedly I used to post just about any tabloid trash I’d translated, then normally I’d reject posting this. But – lest that honesty put you off reading further – I did still learn a couple of things from this one, especially from the last paragraph:

소주광고의 법칙…모델은 만 18세이상의 여자: 포스터 우측 하단에 소주병

The Rules of Soju Advertisements: models have to be over 18, and there has to be a soju bottle in the lower right corner of the poster.

Son Dam-bi Charmsoju Advertisement

( Source )

모델 나이 제한을 비롯해 이래저래 제약이 많은 소주 광고엔 공식이 있다.

Beginning with restrictions on the minimum age of models used, there are many de facto rules to the standard formula used in soju advertisements.

소주 광고의 가장 기본적인 공식은 최고의 인기를 누리고 있는 여자 연예인을 모델로 기용하는 것. 현재 진로 참이슬은 하지원, 진로 제이는 신민아, 롯데주류 처음처럼은 이효리, 보해 잎새주는 백지영과 모델 계약을 맺었다.

The first is that female models that enjoy the highest popularity are hired. Currently, Ha Ji-won models for Chamisul (James: taking over from Son Dam-bi above), Shin Min-a for Jinro, Lee Hyori for Lotte’s “Like the first time,” and Baek Ji-young for Bohae’s yipsejoo.

이는 소주라는 제품 특성상 남성 소비자 비중이 70%를 넘고, 소주를 자주 찾는 남성층이 여성 모델을 선호하기 때문이다. 소주 판매에서 가장 주축이 되는 소비자는 20~30대 남성층. 인기 있는 여성 모델이 소주 광고모델을 하면 이들의 호응을 얻을 수 있다. 이와 함께 깨끗하고 순한 이미지를 강조하고자 하는 업체들의 요구도 강하다. 과거 독한 술로 여겨지던 소주가 최근 알코올 도수를 낮춰서다. 이 같은 이유로 웬만하면 소주 광고는 여성 모델을 기용하고 있다.

As 70 per cent of soju drinkers are men, primarily in their twenties and thirties, then female models are preferred, and popular female entertainers always get the best response from this group. Also, soju companies demand a clean a pure image be emphasized in advertisements. Finally, the alcohol content of  soju is going down. For all these reasons, women are used in soju advertisements.

하지만 최근 저도주 경쟁에 따라 남성을 모델로 기용하는 사례도 찾아볼 수 있다.

Gang Dong-won Soju AdvertisementHowever, as there is increasingly a market for weaker soju drinks, then you can increasingly find male models being used.

20대 여성을 타깃으로 삼은 대선주조의 `봄봄`은 강동원을 모델로 썼다. 봄봄은 알코올 도수가 16.7도로 국내에서 시판 중인 소주 중 가장 낮다. 젊은 여성들을 주된 소비자로 삼다보니 여성들 사이에서 인기가 많은 모델 강동원을 택한 것이다. 대선주조는 대학생 1000여 명을 봄봄 개발에 참여시켰고, 그중에서도 여성들의 입맛에 초점을 맞췄다.

For Daesun’s “Spring Spring” brand of soju, at 16.7 per cent the weakest soju on the domestic market, Gang Dong-won was used to target female consumers in their twenties (source). He was the first choice of 1000 female university students that were used to help develop the brand by participating in a survey on how they found its taste.

소주업계 관계자는 “최근 알코올 도수를 낮춘 소주가 출시되는 것은 여성들을 소주시장에 끌어들이기 위한 것”이라며 “이에 따라 여성만 광고모델로 쓰던 관행도 변하는 추세”라고 설명했다.

An industry insider explained that “recently soju drinks with lower alcohol contents have been released in order to attract female consumers, and accordingly we are changing the convention that only women should be used in soju advertisements.”

소주잔은 반드시 오른손으로 들어야 한다는 것이 두 번째 공식이다. 우리나라에서는 술잔을 왼손에 들고 받는 것은 술을 따라주는 사람에게 실례로 여기기 때문에 모델이 왼손잡이라고 하더라도 반드시 오른손으로 들어야 한다. 또 소주병은 포스터 오른쪽 하단에 똑바로 서 있어야 한다. 이는 주류회사들의 오래된 관행인데, 소주병 자체가 바로 제조회사를 상징하므로 소주병이 기울어져 있으면 사세가 기운다고 여기기 때문이다. 모델이 들고 있지 않은 상태에서 가장 잘 보이면서 광고 전체의 분위기를 깨지 않는 곳이 오른쪽 하단이다.

That soju glasses have to be held in the right hand without fail is another unwritten rule of soju advertisements, as in Korea it is impolite to a person offering the alcohol to receive it in left hand, even if one is left-handed. Also, on soju advertisements the soju bottle itself must be standing, as it is a symbol of the company, and if it is leaning then similarly the fortunes of the company will decline. Finally, if the model is not holding the bottle but it is standing in the bottom-right corner, then it does not detract from the advertisement’s sense of atmosphere.

There are many exceptions to the above rules of course, but now that I’m aware of them, then a quick survey shows that the vast majority of soju advertisements do indeed follow those conventions. Needless to say though, while most advertisements are not as explicit as the opening one for in this “bokboonja” (복분자) here, the use of a bottle as a phallic symbol is by far the most important consideration in virtually any drink advertisement, and it’s difficult to take seriously any analysis of one that doesn’t mention that. Nor one that wouldn’t mention what the shape below is supposed to represent either, which I was interested to learn is called a “yonic” symbol:

Yonic Bokbunja advertisement( Source )

And speaking of women, while I won’t give this subject the attention it deserves here (perhaps next week), also interesting is that I’ve noticed that it is alcohol advertisements targeted towards women that are more likely to break those conventions, which by no means apply only to soju. A good example is this one below (more here) for Jinro’s “maehwasu” (매화수) drink with 14 per cent alcohol, clearly targeted exclusively at women, and one wonders at the logic behind both the flowers and pastel colors and Jinro’s belief that such a vastly different marketing approach was warranted. More often than not these are more indicative of advertisers’ stereotypes and prejudices than any empirical evidence that gendered advertising actually works, at least in the case of broadly similar products marketed to both sexes (cosmetics are possibly one exception though).

maehwasu gendered advertisement( Source )

On a final note, I can’t resist mention of the maehwasu website, for what do you find literally popping up and extending in the bottom left corner of the screen when you visit, to the obvious delight of the three women next to it? It would be interesting to listen to a company representative or advertiser try to explain a non-sexual reason for that particular exception to the rules…

Phallic Maehwasu Screenshot

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Ladies: Stay Slim with Soju?

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement Mirror

Faced with the unenviable task of somehow making soju cool, Jinro (진로) did a pretty good job with the launching of its new “J” (제이) brand back in October, but its latest efforts to associate the brand with losing weight may well require too big a suspension of disbelief from most consumers!

Or at least, that was my first gut reaction. But then if faced with a choice of two equally priced and similar brands of any strong alcohol, probably I would indeed choose the slightly weaker one: I am slightly overweight, and it’s not like 5 per cent less alcohol wouldn’t still have the desired effect on me. How about you?

As you’ll soon see though, it’s not that which made me first notice the ad:

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Look familiar? To put it mildly, commercials featuring female celebrities lounging around in their underwear aren’t exactly common on Korean television, and so I don’t think the similarities with this advertisement with Han Ji-hye (한지혜) from March – actually, the only other example – are any coincidence. Here, the actress and model featured is Shin Min-a (신민아), as it happens in the entertainment news a great deal as I write this for her first screen kiss with Won bin (원빈), and as you can probably tell, the idea is that a 1 per cent reduction in alcohol content (from 19.5 to 18.5) somehow results in the following:

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement minus 1inch

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement minus 1kg

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement minus 1cm

Admittedly I don’t like high heels in the first place, but that last is probably overdoing it, as I can’t see how drinking less alcohol than normal somehow makes you taller as well as thinner? Regardless, below is a accompanying poster for the new, weaker soju that you may have seen around, and for the sake of adding to my conversation with commentator Seamus about Koreans’ (relative) lack of awareness of the amount of photoshopping in everyday advertisements and magazine images, would be grateful if you could show it to your Korean friends, students, colleagues, and/or lovers and so on: among other things, do they think Min-a’s legs have been lengthened and made thinner in it or not?

Update: Sorry, but in hindsight it was sloppy and quite strange of me to write about this ad without translating the voiceover first, and if I had then what I wrote above would have been quite different:

1kg 빠져도, 다른데?

If you lose 1kg, are you different?

1인치만 줄어도, 좋은데

[Even] if you shorten your skirt by only one inch, it looks better.

1cm만 낮아도, 편한데

[Even] if you reduce the length of your high heels by only 1 cm, they’re more comfortable.

그리고 1도만 더 부드러워져도

처음보다 1도 더 부드럽다

And also if you soften [soju] by only one degree, it’s one degree softer from the first sip.

18.5도 진로제이

진로제이처럼 더 부드러워지세요

18.5% Alcohol Jinro J

Like Jinro, please make your life a little softer.

Shin Min-a Jinro Soju Advertisement

Placing the ad in a wider perspective, as much as 90 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Korea is soju, and Jinro sells 50 per cent of that, so this latest marketing drive may well reflect the saturation of the market more than anything else (no pun intended). In such circumstances, a company can either start selling in new markets or repackage its product in different varieties if it wants to increase profits (or to ensure that they don’t decrease: examples like this are how I learned about the Marxian “inevitable tendency of the rate of profit to fall” at university), a good example of which is the number of different Coca-cola drinks available and their (very very) rough correlation with an economy’s level of capitalistic development and competition, as evidenced by, say, the precisely two available in New Zealand when I entered university in the mid-1990s against the plethora available in the US decades earlier.

And so with equivalents in other Northeast-Asian countries, and little appeal outside of the region, diversification is probably the most logical path for soju producers. True, the above ads in particular reflect a desire to create a new market before reaching that stage – only 30 per cent of soju drinkers are women – but given that…

The word soju to most Korean women produces something approaching a mild panic – an explosive squeal of disgust, a deeply pained expression, head shaking, hand waving. That’s not to say they don’t drink it. It’s just they don’t seem particularly like it, even as they pour it down their throats (source).

…then I have my doubts as to whether that figure will ever go up to 50 per cent. Here’s hoping that the Korean alcohol industry is indeed on the verge of offering more choices and variety then!

Update: Here is a related graphic showing decreases in soju’s alcohol strength over time. For more information (in Korean), see here.

Soju's Strength Decreasing Over Time

(Image Sources: first, second-fourth, fifth, last)

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