BH Discuss: Why is Korean food marketing so terrible?

Last week, this advertisement for the Korean beef dish, bulgogi appeared in the New York Times:


Yes, yes we did mean last week. As in 2014. As in not 1994.

The ad looks hopelessly dated with, as ZenKimchi points out, more than a passing resemblance to the hugely successful US ‘Got Milk?’ campaigns of the 1990s. The group behind this particular campaign have also created a number of similarly misguided adverts for other types of Korean food and drink including this ad for makgeolli that barely acknowledges the fact that it is in fact an alcoholic beverage, which is really an essential consideration for anyone advertising or buying the drink.


This is not the first weird English-language Korean food promotion to be released. Anyone remember Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation set of ‘K-food’ commercials with CNBLUE?

Really does anyone know the point of this commercial? Are people going to be drawn into Korean food if they are told that Korea’s mushrooms are somehow especially romantic?

When I was in New York last year, I happened to see one of these promotions on the full side of a bus and it did make me wonder if anyone on the street except me even understood the slightest of what was going on in the ad (and honestly I didn’t really get it; Jungshin had an apple on his head for goodness’ sake!)

Someone please tell me what is going on?

Someone please tell me what is going on here

The ridiculous thing is that Korean food has so much to offer. It is relatively healthy, although there is perhaps a little too much salt, and, most importantly, it tastes good. I’ve rarely seen a non-Korean person try Korean food and not like it and people really are interested in tasting what Korea has to offer. On top of that, the actual experience of eating Korean-style as a group can be really fun for westerners – something Korean restaurants don’t capitalise on nearly enough.

However these strange, uninformative or hyperbolic ads that proclaim that kimchi has magical qualities, or use K-pop stars to promote to audiences who have no idea who they are, are never going to work.

But what will? Last year, in the UK, Korean food manufacturer Nongshim announced a deal with football club AFC Wimbledon. The team is based locally to New Malden which has the largest Korean population and so arguably this could be a good way to both reach out to the local Korean population but also to others who live in the nearby area where there is plenty of Korean restaurants and food shops to explore. Tesco has also been slowly expanding its range of Korean foods on sale in the UK alongside CJ Foods and media attention on Korean food has been growing over the past couple of years. In fact, a whole episode of BBC2’s ‘The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure’ will be focussing on Korean food this week (Thursday 8pm if anyone’s interested).

Interest in Korean food is definitely growing around the world but what is the best way for Korean food companies and organisations to draw people from around the world into it? What is it that you like about Korean food? What would you like to see more of where you live?

Related Links


Expanding Korean food in the UK: Korean Home Cooking interview

Eat like a Korean, it’s far healthier!

BH Discuss – Is Hallyu used too much to promote Korean Culture?

Around the web

Cheesy NYT Bulgogi Ad is Cheesy – Zen Kimchi

That CNBLUE K-Food ad continues to produce laughs – Zen Kimchi

What in the world are ‘romantic mushrooms?’ – The Korea Times

Korea opportunities: Once Asia’s least trendy food, now everyone’s getting in on the kimchi act – The Independent

Dons announce Nongshim deal – AFC Wimbledon

  • Yijo BBQ Restaurant

    Hi. As a small Korean BBQ restaurant in North London, Finchley, we are trying to find other ways to promote Korean cuisine and culture. Our Chef gives cooking classes, and trust me, your learn more than just a recipe with him. A student once told us that the kimchi class was in itself more of cultural experience than a cooking class.
    We love to introduce new customers to Korean food, eating and drinking etiquette, charcoal grilling, and our Chef makes a mean homemade Makgeolli! Hopefully, we will soon host open mic nights where talented Korean musicians will share with us their passion too. Everything takes times but we want to share a little piece of Korea with as much people of possible.

  • Nic (MyKoreanHusband)

    Those ads are so terrible… I don’t understand who thinks it is a good idea. I know what draw people into restaurants in Sydney but the same approach may not work in other cities. Korean food is quite cheap in Sydney and going to a Korean restaurant and drinking makes for a great, but cheap, night out. Unfortunately I’ve heard of very expensive prices in other cities and even restaurants charging extra for side dishes!

    When I’ve taken friends to Korean restaurants they have enjoyed the food and atmosphere and the experience is very different to any other type of restaurant, it’s so great for groups of people. So I can see how it can be marketed in places like Sydney but I don’t know what the vibe and prices are like everywhere else. But I know for sure that outdated ads and stars no one knows is not convincing anyone…

  • footface

    I just don’t get the point of advertising Korean mushrooms, pears, and milk, of all things. “Pears?! Tell me more!” “Milk, huh? I’ll look into that the next time I’m dining out in Koreatown!” For things like kimchi or red pepper paste, sure. The ads are poorly conceived, but I can at least see the value of advertising some of those things.

  • Seti Tesefay

    I think Korean Americans and Eat your kimchi do a better job.