Thursday, 29 October 2015


I.Seoul.U.  World Taekwondo Federation.

How did we get here? Sometime in August, I heard Seoul City was taking submissions for a new slogan. Because Hi Seoul was three or four years old, and everybody knows branding works best when the brand image regularly changes into new and inexplicable images and ideas. Already then I winced in expectation of a new slogan choosing process that would be awful and annoying at every step of the way. I wish my call hadn't been so dead-on.

You can read the call for submissions here. More here. In July I was planning and then embarking on a family trip to Canada, so it passed without comment then. A few friends on social media mentioned that they would, or had submitted a slogan, while taking the contest with varying levels of seriousness.

A few weeks ago, the three finalists were announced. Many misgivings were expressed over the internet:
Branding in Asia: Is Seoul Aiming for Yet Another Uninspiring City Slogan?

My favorite headline in the coverage was this: Seoul Choosing Least-Worst Slogan

Numerous times now, the English language Korea commentariat (I'm retiring the term K-blogosphere. If it ever existed, it has certainly dissipated into disparate niches by now) have come to mocking some Korean promotion group or another for its constant "Do you like me now?" "What about now?" neediness verging on desperate approval-seeking. To be fair, there are several organizations whose constant misguided gear-shifts get lumped together on this.

Korea Tourism is responsible for Dynamic Korea: Hub of Asia (2002 - somebody once told me some high-ups didn't like it because it was similar to the word "Dynamite" which is violent; the linked article says it seems to allude to protest culture and anti-government protests.) Personally, I think it's still the best one, and should never have been dropped. Unfortunately, Busan took it up after Korea abandoned it, so we can't go back), Korea Sparkling (2007, which suffered from having no meaning at all, and seeming more like an ad for carbonated water or craft supplies than a country), Korea Be Inspired (2010, which either needed a colon or to conjugate the verb, or to admit it was trying to sound 'street'), Visit Korea, year 2010-2012, and Imagine Your Korea (2014 "OK. I'm Korea. Now what?). That's a whole basketball team of bad slogans (well, one was OK), just from the KTO.

Compared to Seoul City, the KTO has a far more serious tendency to break worse what was already broken, and (it seems) to stubbornly throw really expensive spaghetti against a wall instead of bringing in a good PR company that knows what it's doing. Or perhaps there's simply a far greater imperative for bureaucrats and city employees to justify their department's existence and its continued funding, through the appearance of lots of work going on. A new logo sure makes it look like everyone's been busy. That's probably what's really happening: the one thing bureaucrats are really good at is ensuring a continued and un-diminishing need for bureaucrats. All that to say, let's be fair: as flip-flopping goes, Seoul City is a pancake, while the KTO is a fish out of water.

The three finalists in the contest were, in order from worst to least worst:


Because it is an actual word.

In truth, it is not even a word. Seoul is not a verb. IT IS NOT A THING AND YOU SOUND RIDICULOUS. Even the homonym, soul, is not a verb. THAT IS NOT A THING EITHER. Malling recently started being used as a verb, by people I want to punch, but citying hasn't. Except for cities already named words that are also verbs.


Sorry, but if your City of Seoul brand slogan had been a blog name, that was already taken by a dozen other Humorous Blogs about Me and My Wacky Friends and Our Zany First Year of Life In Korea, and the name for that blog was so bad everyone who saw it (even the author's mom) groaned... that name will not make a good slogan for City of Seoul Branding.

Put another way: it wouldn't have taken much programming for the slogan contest entry form to include an extra box that looked something like this.

That failing, it would have taken one intern a few hours to go through the initial submissions and unequivocally delete every submission that made a stupid pun. This is not the foundation good city brands are built on.

OK. I like that the O is actually the Korean character ㅇ. It has one redeeming feature. It's also simple, and simple is good. But it also makes no sense. It has no meaning. It does not evoke what it is supposed to -- "By positioning 'Seoul' between 'I' and 'U,' the slogan conveys a message that Seoul is a city of coexistence." -- I am not getting that. Not even a little bit. Not even after they told me it's what I was meant to get.

Honestly, the Korean text underneath could translate into a better slogan. "My Seoul and Yours" works better for me than I.Seoul.U.
'My Seoul, Your Seoul" also does more for me than I.Seoul.U. At least it doesn't have inexplicable punctuation, though it makes me want to follow My Seoul Your Seoul with "We all Seoul for Ice Seoul!"

It seems like somebody spent enough time thinking about how awesome the INY slogan is, that they got it mixed up with the IU text message, and ended up with I.Seoul.U instead of just straight plagiarizing with ISeoul. Mixups like that happen when you're up late sometimes.

It's probably the best of the final three, but that's like being the best battle rapper at the World Track and Field Championships: it's not what you're supposed to be good at. Hi Seoul was better than any of them, and also benefits from longevity: it takes time for a good brand, image or slogan to gain traction and become part of the consciousness.

I have heard enough stories from friends involved in various promotional organizations, or organizations trying to promote themselves in English in Korea, of experts being brought in and then ignored, polls being run and then ignored, and high up managers pushing through the one they like, regardless of whether it's actually butt stupid, to think that there were probably a few really good slogans in the "Discard" pile, but somebody had already decided what they liked. I'd be interested to know the other 17 in the final 20 shortlist. I bet one of them is better than I.Seoul.U..

So here's the call to readers: if you submitted a slogan to this contest that you think is better than I.Seoul.U, please share it here. Let's see some of the stuff they threw out.

If you have a story about watching bad English or bad slogans get steamrolled through a selection process, share them here too, if you like.

Further reading:
Jon Burton makes a lot of points I wanted to make in his article, "Seoul's Terrible New Slogan"

Here is an article by commentator Michael Breen, from the last time Seoul changed its slogan, into the also uninspiring "Hi Seoul"

My own advice for whoever (three years from now) decides I.Seoul.U has to go, because it turns out it is (and always was) awful, is this:

Don't crowdsource something this important. Don't assign some bureaucrats who are good at passing the civil service exam to this. Go to the specialists. Approach PR companies. Take bids for a proposal and a strategy. Pay what it's worth to get a really good slogan and branding idea. Make sure it's extensively focus grouped with Koreans AND foreigners. Foreigners from everywhere, not just white foreigners and English speaking ones. Trust the people making it and don't interfere in the process. Take all decision-making power away from bureaucrats and leave it in the hands of people that know branding and PR. If they come up with something awful, abandon it. Don't go with a turkey of a slogan just for the sake of having one. Lots of cities don't have a slogan. People would still visit Paris even if its slogan were "We're Paris, so Fuck You" because having a great city city is more important than having a great slogan, and in the absence of a great city, a great slogan means squat. (Insert joke here about one of those cities that's mostly a backwater, but still has an English slogan here).

Then, once the slogan is chosen, stick with it. Get your money's worth. Keep it for 20 years: INY has been in use since 1977. It's great, but it's also been around long enough that it's now inextricable from New York City's overall brand. If New York had switched its logo again in 1980, 1983, 1987, and so forth, we'd be ridiculing them for not knowing their own city's identity, either.

Yeah right. Like that's going to happen.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Happy Back to the Future Day!

Yes, it's already October 21 in Korea.

Too bad it's a Wednesday. If it were a Friday, we could call it Marty McFlyday (get it? get it?)

Anyway, today is the day Marty McFly was supposed to arrive in 2015.

We don't have mass market hoverboards. Only fancy rich-people ones.
Though the ones we DO have can go on water.
We don't have self-lacing shoes, or self-fitting or self-drying jackets.
We are still using our hands to play video games.

(hello, young Elijah Wood!)

We can't hydrate a pizza in five seconds.
We can't power our houses with compost (though it's probably best we don't have fusion reactors in every household)
And I can't banter with Max Headroom in an 80s cafe.

We DO have huge wall-sized TVs.
We DO have drone cameras that can record news events.
We DO have shops and cafes where you can order stuff without talking to a human.

Meanwhile, the Back To The Future team didn't imagine terrorism, smartphones, selfie sticks, or social media, beards or skinny jeans.

So... I'm going to go legally obtain a digital copy of Back To The Future 2 sometime today, and go get nostalgic. Happy back to the future day, folks.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

That amazing Star Wars Music

Subtitle: aw heck, why not make it a blog post.

Somewhere around 2011, thoughts that would have become blog posts suddenly became long-form Facebook updates. I have decided to make them blog posts again. It's easier to find them back.

I am currently re-watching the Star Wars trilogy. The original trilogy. I'm glad I was a kid when the original trilogy was still heavy in the pop culture consciousness -- I'm very glad my first experience with Star Wars wasn't the three prequels. I'm not quite old enough to have seen the movies in the theater, but when I was in Kindergarten, one of my classmates used to smash the structures other classmates would build out of cardboard bricks...
While shouting "Return of the Jedi!" AND he had a Return of the Jedi lunchbox. And we rented Star Wars not long after we got our first VHS machine.

As Disney is winding up their pop-culture machine to unleash the Star Wars hype dynamo, they are doing a pretty good job of feeding the beast and letting fan excitement drive it, rather than using too heavy a hand. They are experts at playing their cards well.

But even as those silly star wars viral videos come out (chipmunks) (roadside crash) (Jedi with a gopro) (death star over San Francisco) (Matthew McCognschwarzeneggerghey watches the trailer), the fact remains, and it's something I only realized on these latest re-watchings. If you watched Star Wars as a kid, all you need is this:

That opening hit, the noise and the trumpet: by the time those 6 and a half seconds of fanfare go by, I'm ready for fun and adventure, and the main theme hasn't even started! So... read as many whiny blogs as you want, hate George Lucas as much as you like, snicker away that Lego Count Dooku looks eerily like George Lucas...
no seriously, look at him! The version in the Lego Star Wars animated films is seriously eerie
but after all the griping and equivocating, all it takes is six seconds of trumpets and friends, I am in.

And, for fun, here are my Star Wars and other extended universes prediction:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be much much better than the prequels and will do really well, though

The sheer density of Star Wars properties lined up for release will lead to fatigue before the sequel trilogy is finished. A star wars film every 18 months will wear us out. ANYTHING every 18 months would wear us out. Even Captain Jack Sparrow, who ruined Johnny Depp's brand at least as much as Tim Burton did.

The Han Solo prequel will be either incredible or awful, with no middle ground (I think it will be awful, and they shouldn't try, for the same reason I think nobody should make a biopic of Freddie Mercury: how on earth are you going to duplicate what everybody knew the first time they saw it, was unequivocally a lightning-in-a-bottle perfect alignment of forces. Chris Pratt deserves his own character, and Harrison Ford's Han Solo should be like Al Pacino's Michael Corleone and Michael J Fox's Marty McFly: so definitive nobody should bother trying to touch it).

Disney's Marvel Universe will also continue doing well until superhero fatigue is in full swing (Thanos, because he looks ridiculous off the comic page, might be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as Marvel slowly pushes back the limit of exactly how ridiculous they can make their films before they lose the suspension of disbelief),

But DC's Batman/Superman film, or the Justice League film that's coming after it, will catch the full brunt of the superhero backlash - just please give us one good Wonder Woman movie and one good Black Widow (or Scarlet Witch, or Ms. Marvel, or even She-Hulk) movie before everybody starts canceling Phase Three of their extended universes and starts re-making Die-Hard, please!

As for other stuff... I like Prince's new album, Tame Impala's new album, Destroyer's new album, and Beach House's new album. Go listen to them. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

August Recap at Roboseyo

Earlier this year I said to myself, "Self, if you can't write three blog posts a week like you did back in 2008, you can at least write one a month." Only to fail at doing so. And you know, these days I'm teaching at a university, which means I just had two months off, and still couldn't manage a blog post.

But whatever readers I have are at least used to that by now. Finishing a masters' degree in Korean Studies managed to make me want to write the kinds of blog posts I don't have the time to pull off anymore, with a three-year-old running around making me laugh instead, and jumping on my lap at the computer desk and demanding to watch cat videos.

So here's what's been going on this summer, and some of the year before that, which almost got on the blog, or turned into a Facebook thingy instead.

Mr. Robot is a very very good TV series. Here is the best song from the soundtrack so far (though there have been a whole bunch, and I love a show with a good soundtrack.)

Have barely seen any movies in the theatre, though my son loved "Inside and Out".

One thing I love about that boy is where his heart is. He loves his friends a little too vigorously, but when we watched the Toy Story trilogy together this summer, his spots of concern and worry were all around Andy being separated from his toys, and from his toys not being able to be close to the person they love. Now, you may not have noticed this while watching them, but the Toy Story films (especially 2 and 3) are all about growing up and moving on. Be careful. Those movies are a minefield of nostalgic longing for being a child again, in the best possible way. That theme is hard for a 3-year-old to get, for obvious reasons. As far as he's concerned right now (and he's said so) the best possible thing in the world would be if he and daddy and mommy could all live forever so that we could all live together all the time. Yet when Andy gave his toys to little Bonnie (embedding disabled), because he knew she would love them, and introduced them in a way that affirmed, celebrated, and also put an ending punctuation mark on the years he'd loved them, there my little boy was crying with me, happy that the Toys had found a new person who would love them, and satisfied that (though through the first two movies, he'd nearly cried with anxiety that the toys wouldn't find Andy again) it was now alright for Andy to say goodbye to his toys.

And if you've never cried at the same spot of a movie as your kid, well, that's something to put on your Dad bucket list, I guess.

The Tower Of London scene in Minions was pretty great too. Especially the Hair reference.

We went to Canada and I got to introduce my son to most of the extended family. There were a few people it hurt to miss (sorry Heather and Melissa, Neil and Heather D) and some I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with (well... pretty much everyone, but a few in particular). My son got to meet his great grandmother, and that was really special.

Thirteen-hour-flights with a three-year-old are hard. Especially when the in-flight movies are a weak weak lineup. Insurgent is a terrible movie. And I'm predisposed to liking young adult fiction, because it's my (no longer) secret guilty pleasure.

The 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan passed without any change in the ugly state of Korea-Japan relationships. I enjoyed this panel discussion about it, though it's very much from a US perspective. I'm still working on a blog series about that, and it's getting closer to the point where I'm ready to start stitching together blog posts. Bear with me. Or don't. Whatever.

I remember once when one of those "jaded expat" blogs complained, "Every time you turn on the TV it's nothing but stuff about how Korea's the greatest country and every other country sucks" and a blogger I admired responded, more or less, "I don't know what channel you're watching, but when I turn on the TV, I usually see people singing."

I liked that response, and it stuck with me. But now I'd have to add cooking to that. There are so many cooking shows I don't know what to say. Particularly coming back to it from two weeks in Canada, and realizing that Canada (or at least the way my people live in Canada) just isn't a food culture the way Korea is. I can't imagine my Canadian family planning a trip around the meals they'll eat at a lineup of famous restaurants and amazing foods, the way my Korean family does when they travel. That's not a knock on Canada -- I loved some things about being back in Canada. Especially driving through the countryside, but it was a different way of living with food than I've gotten used to. That said, I'm lucky to be living in a part of Seoul where I can indulge that.

We brought back the nastiest beast of a cold from Canada. My son has basically been coughing for a month now. And I've been coughing for three weeks. And my wife has been coughing for two. Somebody send help!

I was looking through the lego section of a toy department (because that's a thing I do now. No more hot trendy restaurants for me. It's all about the train sets now), and I found this. Lego Korean coast guard. Or ... off-brand lego, stuck in with the lego sets.

Why yes, that's Lego Korean Coast Guard. With names and everything (click to enlarge).
And yes, they seem to be guarding two smallish islands out in the sea. Wanna hazard a guess which two they're meant to be? (I know, I know. I just can't resist. It's like a scab I have to pick.)

And, finally, at Children's Grand Park, there is a children's museum called "SsangSsangNaRa" or "Imagination Land"

South Park references aside, Imagination Land is the best indoor place to bring your kid in the whole damn city. On the weekends it's crowded (what isn't?), and parking is a real beast, so go early (10am opening), but for 4000 won you get three stories of creative and learning play that's richer and better than any kid's cafe that's two times the price (if you have to buy food) or four times, and has a time limit (as they all do). It's so great there that I almost don't want to tell my blog readers about it, so that it's less busy for me, but who am I kidding? The secret is clearly already out.

So... go there and have fun. The only drawback: it's a bit of a walk to get to anywhere with decent food. Also: DO NOT eat the sausages at the little food stands near the entrance. Just. Don't.

Tomorrow my classes start again. Stay well readers. I'll be back... when I'm back.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Mirror Images, or The State of English Language Journalism In Korea

I am intrigued by the way these two articles came across my feed around the same time. Because they are the mirror images of each other.

Hey everyone! Foreigners are all like this!

(that was part two. Part one of Hey everyone! Foreigners are all like this! is here:

And then:

Hey everyone! Koreans are all like this!

I'd love to lock the two authors in a room together, although I have to give the author of the first article more of a break than the second, because living in the country one was raised in, and not seeking out the company of people with different backgrounds than oneself is much more forgivable than moving overseas and doing the same. And frankly, his take on his own culture is about as clumsy. Responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of the Korea Times editor here.

Bottom line: these are both blog posts that are not worthy of publication in places purporting to be media outlets. I'm fine with "Koreans are all rude" on a blog post. Lots of people agree with the sentiment, and that's allowed. But it's not news. There was no investigation going on (unless chatting up the disgruntled corner of expat bars counts as journalistic research now), and the article was so all over the place, nothing useful can be made of it anyway, except catharsis. Jumping from language to parking to subway pushing to sidewalk blocking to thoughtless comments to enforcement of public smoking laws places this in blog rant turf, not op/ed page territory. And that the author wouldn't even put her full name to it again, suggests it belongs on an anonymous tumblr or something, where I would happily ignore it, instead of holding it up to the standard from the site's "about page" -- "The Korea Observer is an online newspaper founded in February 2013 with the support of the Seoul City government by award-winning investigative journalist Lee Tae-hoon with the motto, “Be the voice for the voiceless.”" Anonymity in journalism is OK with me. When you're criticising the president and people with earpieces are hanging around in the park across your street and your writing partner was already arrested this month. But anonymity for "Koreans are rude y'all!" makes it into a mockery.

Complaining that koreans are rude is not giving voice to the voiceless. I've been hearing that voice bouncing around the online expat echo chamber for a decade now, and this piece conveniently gathers every gripe into one place, but has added nothing new other than that. White gripes about Korea are not the voiceless that need outlets like Korea Observer. Get your shit together, Award-winning investigative journalist Lee Tae-hoon!

Both articles are great examples of why it's important to talk with, and listen to the views and opinions of the subjects of one's writing: "Laura" would have found most Koreans are just as offended as she is by the breaches of etiquette she writes about, and Mr. Choi would have been quickly disabused of his stereotyped views of Korea if he'd been listening to the foreigners he met, or meeting more than just a handful who'd "drunk the Korea Kool-aid" (which happens).

So... while we could come up with a mirror image list to go with my "Five signs the author of the article you're reading doesn't know much about Korea" to use for articles like "Differences Between Koreans and Foreigners," (wouldn't be hard, and both lists boil down to this: look for evidence that the author has actually consulted with a variety of people in the group they're writing about, and respects them as humans) for now, let me just mention that e-mailing Mr. Choi with angry rants, or bugging him online, is extremely unlikely to disabuse him of his stereotyped views of foreigners, and perhaps will only succeed in replacing his clumsy stereotypes of foreigners with negative ones, and for people like "Laura" ... I regularly say that it's incredibly unhelpful to say "If you don't like it, go home"... but there are in fact times when, if Korea really does make a person as unhappy as all this, the exit option IS probably the best. Either that, or it's time to go soak in a jimjilbang, climb a mountain, eat some great Korean food, and hang out with people who don't complain. They exist. Or start a complainey blog. That's what blogs are for.

Anyway, see you all again in 14 months, the next time two equally dumb articles from opposite sides are published close to each other, and we can go around this hamster wheel again.