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Brands must get smarter with K-wave

News, 29 January 2015

SHANGHAI: Marketers in China have reached the limits of their current approach to exploiting the popularity of Korean culture and need to move to the next stage, a leading industry figure has said.

Speaking to Thoughtful China, Laurence Lim-Dally, managing director of Hong Kong-based Cherry Blossom Market Research, pointed to the example of one male star who had endorsed 35 products in the first six months of 2014: "When people see his face in an advertisement they don't see anything else .. he totally overshadows all the rest."

The 'hallyu' – or Korean wave – has been a feature the marketing landscape of China and the wider Asian region for a decade or more, helped by a government decision to make Korea's cultural industry a strategic pillar for the 21st century.

Lim-Dally noted that western brands entering China sometimes failed to fully appreciate the wider Asian influences at work and suggested that Korean culture was one they especially needed to understand.

China has traditionally influenced Korea – introducing rice and Confucianism for example – while more recently Korea has ushered in a version of US culture to which it was initially exposed during the course of the war that divided the country.

"Hybridity can explain this huge and amazing resonance of Korean culture today in China", she said, adding that in some ways it's a "pre-digested American culture", being very aspirational and easy for Chinese consumers to relate to.

But, she argued, brands were not capitalising on this. "They are only surfing on this amazing trend and on the huge awareness and popularity of a couple or maybe three Korean celebrities," she stated.

Western brands "have a key opportunity to build a bridge between Chinese culture and western culture, also between tradition and modernity," she said but they needed to move beyond simply adding a name or a face to their product and consider the deeper issues of brand values.

"They really need to think what is the resonance between the personality of their brand – what it is about – and what the Korean celebrities they choose stand for."

They could also consider taking some risks – "maybe go for other celebrities and other Korean ambassadors who maybe embody other values".

Data sourced from Thoughtful China; additional content by Warc staff