#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!

Beauties and the Beast? Understanding and Subverting the Male Gaze through Soju Advertisements

It’s not often that I laugh at soju advertisements.

Flying in the face of decades-old traditions that they should feature demure and virginal-looking women though, this one with singer Baek Ji-young (백지영) for Yipsejoo (잎새주) literally had me in tears.

Indeed, if it’s not a deliberate satire, then it at least prompted me to reexamine those traditions, making me realize just how ridiculous many are. And being exclusively designed for a “male gaze” too, they also prove to be a very good guide to it, giving pointers to the ways in which a wide range of advertisements seem to be based on the assumption that their audience are entirely heterosexual men, especially by focusing on and sexualizing women’s bodies.

Even when the products are aimed at women.

But first, the humor of this one, which is on several levels. First there is the caption, which reads “In autumn, rather than your lips (kiss), please give me some strong-tasting Yipsejoo!,” (가을, 입술보다 진한 잎술주세요!), and is a pun based on the fact that yibsool (입술), or lips, sounds very similar to yipsool (잎술), shorthand for Yipsejoo.

And as an added inside-joke for fans, a popular song on Baek Ji-young’s 7th album Sensibility, released five months before she was hired by Yipsejoo’s parent company Bohae (보해양조), even had the name Give Me Your Lips (입술을 주고) too.

But context is everything.

Previously on a fast track to stardom, Baek Ji-young was the innocent victim of a sex-scandal in 2000, and had to fight hard against Korea’s double-standards in order to revive her career. But while this severely limited her advertising options, perhaps one silver lining was the ability to disregard the high moral standards Koreans usually apply to their celebrities (especially women), and indeed it is very difficult to imagine anyone else appearing in advertisements like those she has so far for Yipsejoo.

For instance, recall that when she was chosen in an online poll to model for Yipsejoo in March last year, I remarked that her first advertisement for the company below was:

…not to put too fine a point on it, literally the sluttiest soju ad I’ve ever seen….

With apologies for sounding crass (then), but I still can’t think of a better way to describe it:

I also discussed the fact that while she did mention how happy she was to have been chosen to appear in soju advertisements like top stars Lee Hyori and Song Hye-gyo, one still sensed that they wouldn’t have consented to appearing bra-less and with an open zipper in them, which smacked of desperation. Judging by the soju advertisements that emerged that summer however, I was quite wrong, but then I’d already concluded of Beak Ji-young that:

however unfair or unwarranted, she’ll always be stuck with her promiscuous image, so she may as well play into it.

Still, I didn’t realize that she would take my advice quite so literally!

To be precise, I laughed so hard when I saw the opening image because I thought she looked like a prostitute who’d been plying her trade for rather too long now, and which were quite a contrast to, say, these earlier ones for Yipsejoo featuring Jeong Ryeo-won (정려원), for whom her evening of drinking soju with her male partner will be her first time in more ways than one:

But this post is not about that shift, which I’ve more than adequately covered elsewhere, although I do want to stress 2 things about it here before moving on: that however impressed I was by the changes when I first noticed them back in 2007, it was still extremely naive of me to have ever equated it with (female) sexual liberation(!); and that while an empirical study would undoubtedly demonstrate an increase in soju advertisements with – in the sociological framework that I’ll be using below – “body display” – in recent years, there is by no means an linear progression of racier advertisements over time.

Even just Yipseejo itself for instance, makes both forms of advertisements with the same models, and/or seems to alternate which ones it primarily makes with them, such as traditional, virginal ones with Jeong Ryeo-won and Han Ji-min (한지민) in 2006 and 2008 respectively, but then racier ones with Kim Ok-bin in 2007 and Baek Ji-young in 2009.

Regardless, both types are still designed for the male gaze. In the interests of full disclosure however, I have never studied that formally, and so here I shall be quoting liberally from the excellent A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose, part of the Semiotics and Advertising Web Site of the University of Vermont, and I also highly recommend this post by Michael Hurt at the Scribblings of the Metropolitician after that for an analysis of Korean women’s body images using that perspective.

But it does dovetail nicely with the work done by the late sociologist Erving Goffman in his 1979 work Gender Advertisements, still very much the framework by which sociologists study how gender roles are perpetuated in advertising (and indeed referred to repeatedly in A Web Essay). In earlier posts, I’ve already analyzed Korean advertisements using one motif of that: “Relative Size”, or how and why it is extremely rare to see women taller than men in advertisements despite being women being taller than men in 1 out of 6 randomly matched pairs. It’s high time to start using others, beginning with “Ritualization of Subordination”:

Under this broad category, Goffman actually described a great number of symbolic ways in which the women’s behavior in advertisements displays the subordination of females to males, many of which involve women acting like children. Why this is more problematic than it may sound is because:

Given the subordinated and indulged position of children in regard to adults, it would appear that to present oneself in puckish styling is to encourage the corresponding treatment. How much of this guise is found in real life is an open question; but found it is in advertisements. (Goffman, p. 48)

And indeed Korean society strongly encourages grown women to act like children, so it is probably not surprising to hear that in Korean adolescent girl’s magazines for instance, Korean female models are portrayed in such ways much more often than Western ones. From Gender Role Stereotypes Depicted by Western and Korean Advertising Models in Korean Adolescent Girls’ Magazines by Nam, Kyoungtae., Lee, Guiohk. and Hwang, Jang-Sun (2007):

Korean women were more likely to be portrayed in smiling, pouting and childlike or cute expressions than Western women. This result is similar to the findings of [this 1999 study] in which many Japanese girls in magazine advertising were portrayed as happy, playful and childlike. Understanding that gender displays in advertising reflect cultural orientation in a society, these findings indicate that in Korea and Japan, cuteness is an important virtue for women. (p. 18)

And yet to complain about those advertisements with Yoo In-young (유인영) and Shin Min-a (신민아) above, especially when they’re aimed at men, might still seem a little excessive. But then consider the following images from A Web Essay, which poses the questions “What do they suggest to you about these men? Do they seem silly?”

“What about these images?”

And as you probably expected:

Most viewers find the images of the men odd or laughable. But the images of the women seem charming and attractive…Why should it seem funny to see a picture of adult men striking a pose when the same pose seems normal or charming to us in pictures of adult women?

Not childlike per se, but as the next part points out, such expressions are often done with a head cant, for instance by Chae Yeon (채연) and Han Hyo-Joo (한효주) below:

The effect of the head cant is to lower the level of the head:

“…relative to that of others, including, indirectly, the viewer of the picture. The resulting configuration can be read as an acceptance of subordination, and expression of ingratiation, submissiveness, and appeasement.” (Goffman, p. 46)

And A Web Essay adds that it is often combined with putting a finger in the mouth or otherwise touching the face in a childlike way, and so common in advertising as to be barely noticed:

The difference between those and the soju advertisements however, is that they’re all from women’s magazines and presumably aimed at women, and so what is actually going on in those is:

…not that the viewer is looking at a woman who is actually subordinate or childish. Rather, the models are posed so as to show that they know that they are being looked at — belying the otherwise childlike pose — and they are controlling or mastering this act of being looked at. The childish, submissive postures are represented as strategic, as a sign of control of the gaze.

This mastery and control over the gaze might explain why the highly accomplished and wealthy women you see above would strike submissive, deferential poses for the camera that no accomplished man would strike. For in so doing:

…[they are] not at all signaling to others that [they are] actually subordinate; on the contrary, [they are] showing that [they], too, can be successful in this arena, the arena where the goal is to attract and control the power of the gaze by striking a subordinate pose. And were this an occasional event, if we regularly saw images of women that were of a different sort, the effect might be innocuous.

The problem is, however, that most women make less money and have less power than most men, and the message that goes out to women without power is that to get some, you need to gain control of a male view of women — which means to get power through male power, rather than on your own.

This is where the theory of the male gaze becomes important…

A Web Essay also briefly mentions women’s typical advertising poses in much the same vein. But I think that that’s a little misguided, as a distinction needs to be made between those that are sexually appealing to heterosexual men and others, the basic physiology of sexual reproduction ensuring that men will almost always look ridiculous in the former. Hilariously demonstrated by these pictures from English Russia for instance:

See Sociological Images for a wider discussion of those. Of course, by no means are women (or men) always placed in sexually appealing poses in advertisements, but for some reason women in particular frequently are placed in completely bizarre, often comical ones instead. Goffman notes of them that:

The note of unseriousness struck by a childlike guise is struck by another styling of the self, this one perhaps entirely restricted to advertisements, namely, the use of the entire body as a playful gesticulative device, a sort of body clowning. (Goffman p. 50)

With the possible exception of that with Kim Ok-bin, admittedly these following examples from soju advertisements can not really be described as “childlike.” But however natural they may appear though (again because of our frequent exposure to them), in fact some are extremely awkward to perform: just try them and see!

Starting with Kim Ah-joong (김아중) and Song Hye-gyo (송혜교):

Then Chae Yeon and Kim Ok-bin:

And finally Shin Min-a and Lee Hyori (이효리):

Those with Chae Yeon, Kim Ok-bin, and particularly Shin Min-a also display the “bashful knee bend,” which women frequently but men only infrequently are posed in a display of. Whatever else, it:

…can be read as a forgoing 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. (Goffman, p. 45)

But I’ll wisely move on to the second and last motif for this post, that of “Licensed Withdrawal.” In the words of Images of Women in Advertising:

 

[One] way in which women are disempowered is by displaying them as withdrawn from active participation in the social scene and therefore dependent on others.  This involvement with some inner emotional processing, whether anxiety, ecstasy or introspection, can be symbolized by turning the face away, looking dreamy and introverted, or by covering the face, particularly the mouth, with the hands….

….Rather than being portrayed as active, powerful and in charge, females are commonly shown in this licensed withdrawal mode, removed into internal involvements, overcome with emotions, or symbolically silenced with hand over the mouth….

….In another variation, females are frequently shown withdrawn inwards into some dreamy introverted state;  they pose, become things for others to gaze at and desire.  Males will stereotypically be shown active, engaged, and in charge of the situation.  They are not so much objects for others’ to gaze at, as actors with occupations and professions….

But I’d never given it much thought until I saw this composite of four soju advertisements with Jang Yun-jeong (장윤정), which I also laughed out loud at. What on Earth is she looking at?

More examples with Kim Tae-hee (김태희), and Ku Hye-sun (구혜선):

And to which can be added Han Hyo-joo’s from earlier. Arguably Ku Hye-sun is merely lost in her enjoyment of her drink though, and in that sense the advertisement could even be used to appeal to women(?). But then with the possible exception of the second one of Baek Ji-young’s, no advertisement featured here is particularly objectionable in itself; rather, this post has been about noting recurring features of soju advertisements that – if I may be so presumptuous – now that you’re more aware of, are likely to see across the entire Korean (and Western) media.

It is the pervasiveness of these features that is objectionable, and so rarely countered by alternative images of women.

But on that note, I should point out that I notice and pay attention to soju advertisements with skin just as much as the next guy; actually probably more so (call it an occupational hazard). Still, based on the opinions of the men and women in my classes at least, this one with Song Hye-gyo has the greatest universal appeal, although that is probably simply because of her attractiveness:

And after writing this post, in fact this one with Kim Yoon-ah (김윤아; not the skater) of the rock band Jaurim (자우림) is my favorite: it’s the only one I’ve seen in which the woman depicted is actually doing something of her own accord and enjoying herself, rather than waiting to be seduced by a man. Baek Ji-young’s does come close of course, but then it’s even more unflattering, and all she is doing is drinking!

Finally, while it’s technically out of place, I would be remiss in not providing the one which, well, literally had my female students squealing in delight when they saw it. Featuring Kang Dong-won (강동원) for Bom Bom (봄봄; “Spring Spring”), that will be music to the ears of manufacturer Daesun (대선주조), creators of one of the first ever soju brands aimed at women:

See here for more information on the consequences of that for soju advertisements so far; given all the above, it is perhaps no surprise that most soju advertisers still can’t restrain themselves from using womens’ bodies!

(Soju advertisement sources: Shootar.net, or directly from manufacturers’ websites)

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:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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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