By Lee Hyo-sik
Male celebrities these days are increasingly taking on roles to promote home appliances, groceries and other items on TV commercials, once dominated by their female counterparts.
This shift, concerning who advertizes what, is intended to increase appeal to women, who wield greater buying power in Korea. It also reflects changes to the patriarchal image of Korean men, at least on TV, according to a study released Monday by the National Human Rights Commission.
However, women were found to have largely maintained their stereotypical roles on television commercials as housewives displaying motherhood or as younger women emanating sex appeal.
After studying 2,046 television commercials aired on the country's three terrestrial broadcasters — KBS, MBC and SBS — last year, the commission concluded that male actors portrayed characters that deviate from the patriarchal image of Korean men.
On the other hand, actresses continued to play their traditional roles as either a housewife or a sex object.
The study introduced the so-called "stereotype index". If a television commercial is created based on typical gender stereotypes or reflected the patriarchal system, its stereotype index is measured at 1. If an advertisement breaks completely away from the nation's typical gender roles, its index is gauged at minus 1.
In other words, the more typical gender roles are reflected in the commercials, the closer the index gets to 1.
The commission said the stereotype index for men was minus 0.92, while that of women was 2.39. It indicates male characters on television commercials have departed from their stereotypical images. But the ads kept emphasizing women's typical roles.
"In recent years, men are increasingly featured as more family-friendly and less masculine on TV commercials", said Joo Young-jeong, head of the media center affiliated with Korean Womenlink, which jointly conducted the study with the commission.
Joo said, at least in television commercials, Korea's traditional patriarchal system has collapsed. She added that macho characters have been replaced by more feminine and gentler ones.
"These days, many home appliances are advertized by pretty men. This has helped makers better appeal their products to consumers, who are mostly women", she said.
For instance, singer and actor Lee Seung-gi
, is modeling for Samsung Electronics' Zipel kimchi refrigerators. Lee is also promoting a yogurt product made by Danone, and a number of other household products.
Additionally, the football duo of Cha Du-ri and Ki Sung-yueng, both playing for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, are appearing on television commercials for LG Electronics' Dios brand of kimchi refrigerators.
has appeared in commercials for a series of rice cookers made by Cuckoo Homesys, using his soft and gentle image to appeal to housewives.
However, female characters haven't changed much over the years, Joo said.
"Young beautiful women are contracted to promote cars, cosmetics and other high-end products for their physical attractiveness. Mostly seasoned actresses appear on TV to pitch for a range of household items by emphasizing their image as a good housewife", Joo said.