By Ines Min
From first lady Kim Yoon-ok making a splash with her surprise attendance at the 2009 Temple Food Festival to singer-turned-actor Rain
becoming the new face on national tourism campaigns, it's clear the Korean government is pulling out all the stops in its efforts to globalize the Korean culture.
But the campaign, according to experts, needs some tweaking.
Daniel Gray, a food writer and consultant, feels that the hansik aspect of globalization is not quite so simple as mere promotional stunts.
"I think the best way to do it is to encourage foreign media to come here. So, instead of Korea tooting their own horn, basically, they should let people come here and undergo the whole experience of Korean food", said the five-year resident.
"Korea is modeling their globalization campaign on that of Thailand. They believe that the Thai government made Thai food a fad, and I really disagree with that. The main thing is that the government really can't control the market".
One aspect that has helped Thai food create a global presence is the famous cooking school in Chiang Mai that markets lessons to foreigners, Gray said.
From there, foreigners learn to fall in love with the cuisine and integrate the recipes into their own restaurants. Korea currently has no cooking schools marketed specifically to foreigners, he said, adding that they could become very popular.
Gray, who has worked with previous overseas marketing campaigns, does think that the general ads made by the Korean government are a step in the right direction.
"When I see the ads, I think they're done very well", he said about Seoul City's current line-up featuring Rain
. "I think that they do portray the city in a good way".
But, promotions should focus on concrete benefits, as opposed to displaying the nation's beauty, Gray said. He feels the poor economy could be a key factor for people's hesitation to travel long distances for a simple vacation, so emphasis should be placed on pop culture and medical tourism.
"Medical tourism is a great thing", he said. "For the price of a plane ticket, I can get all of my teeth fixed, which in America would be just a ridiculous amount of money", he said. "You've got to give them a real reason".
In the past, a seeming lack of grounded foreigner input has been a downfall in campaigns, according to an international studies professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
"I don't think they've ever talked to foreigners and got a test run before they began implementing the campaigns", said Brandon Walcutt, an eight-year resident, about the older marketing attempts.
"There are cultural differences in what they're trying to do and how it's being perceived. Like 'Korea Sparkling', that campaign hasn't really been well coordinated. Sparkling? What are we selling, water?"
Both Seoul City and the KTO confer with foreigners on their campaigns, though in varying degrees. Seoul City began foreigner consultations on its marketing strategies in 2008, and the KTO refers to overseas consultation firms for its larger projects, such as the aforementioned brand "Korea Sparkling".
Another problem could be the multiple campaigns that overcrowd the market. Seoul City and the KTO both attempt to attract tourists to the capital and the country, while smaller cities in Korea vie for other titles of recognition. Changwon hopes to become the environmental capital while Incheon strives to be the next big business hub of Asia.
"There are so many diversified efforts which are going on", said Choi Jungh-wa, president of the Korea Image Communication Institute, which works on creating a representative image of the nation abroad.
"I think governmental agencies need very concrete coordination because all the autonomous local governments are marketing on their own, without consulting each other. It has to be harmonious on a national scale".