Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In Defense of Shin-soo Choo's NYT "BULGOGI?" Ad

This has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now, but after bringing it up (again), my wife suggested I share it on my blog instead.

You've probably heard about Shin-Soo Choo's "Bulgogi" ad in the New York Times. Here's what it looks like: 
It appeared in the international section of the New York Times on March 12th. Along with a bazillion other ads that didn't attract any further comment. But this one... hoo boy.

Sports Illustrated came in a bit bemused by the whole thing, and Adweek called it "random and goofy" in what was mostly a non-article... NPR went to f'ing Twitter to research the article and the linked website (way to do your due diligence, hurf durf. I didn't know crowdsourcing had become legitimate journalism) then Zenkimchi got in on the act, among other things, calling it a ripoff of the "Got Milk?" series and disrespectfully calling it "cultural masturbation"... and inevitably, all the contemptuous and mildly (mildly? hah!) racist bile gushed forth from the usual Korea expat spewholes. I'm not linking them. They don't deserve the traffic. You probably saw this rude parody... it's mean spirited, it misses the point of the ad.

Now, first of all, people are asking why put a Texas player in the New York Times. Well, stupid, if there were a Korean player on the New York Yankees, don't you think they would have recruited him, instead? How do you make an argument like that without getting laughed off your bully pulpit, anyway? And why not advertise in some Texas paper, some said, since Choo actually plays in Texas? Well gee, Einstein, when I go down to the newsstand all the way in Korea (or anywhere in the world) to pick up my international newspaper, I sure have a tough time choosing between the IHT/Joongang (IHT is published by... guess who... The New York F'Ing Times) and the Dallas Morning News/Jeollabukdo Farmer's Journal. Because that sure exists.

So... why the New York Times? Because it's the New York Fucking Times, stupidhat! Winner of 112 Pulitzer Prizes. I can't believe I have to explain these things. The ad was also criticized for using the "Helvetica" font... in order to stand out from the rest of the New York Times which uses Cheltenham and Georgia. It doesn't take much thinking to figure these things out, folks.

There's no mention anywhere of the fact Korean food promotion is getting closer to the mark -- the ad doesn't lead with "Kimchi?" -- a garnish that's an acquired taste, despite being the nexus of a lot of Korean food pride. Instead, it's promoting bulgogi, which is one of the most accessible and instantly likable Korean foods out there. It's suggesting people support their local Korean restaurants -- fist-bump to the local business owners!

But instead of support or encouragement, all the contempt this article has met, has hit, and hurt, in the local media. A few days of backlash, and The Korea Times had this article, suddenly calling Choo a "laughingstock" playing into anxiety about cultural transfer.

Look at the opening and closing sentences of this article: "Speaking from experience, we can tell you that bulgogi is delicious. Call it a Korean version of fajitas if you'd like. It's really great." .... So do Shin-Soo Choo a favor, find a local Korean joint (I suggest Le Bistro Bangkok in Flower Mound, when it's on their menu), and go eat yourself some bulgogi." The MLB Sports Illustrated article also ends with this: "If anyone out there knows any more about Choo’s bulgogi ad, or has some recommendations for a good kalbi place in New York, feel free to drop us a line."

So... wait a minute... the writers of these articles have become interested in going out to eat some bulgogi? Wasn't that the point of the ad? So... couldn't you say that the ad worked? That it achieved its objective, by inspiring these people to, you know, try some bulgogi? And say... hasn't this slew of "what a weird ad" articles given the original free amplification of the original message? If the ad had been a straight-up, run-of-the-mill ad, NPR, Sports Illustrated and Adweek wouldn't have made any comment, and all those extra eyeballs wouldn't have seen it, would they? In light of that, I'd call this ad exponentially successful! So bully for everyone behind it!

Perhaps another day, I'll write up everything that's awesome about these other Korean food promotions:  Wonder Girls: K-Food Party (this is exactly the kind of video that would make my middle-aged uncles [the demographic with lots of money] feel like Korean food is the new hip thing [which would make them want to go try it] - works for me!)

And let's not forget CNBlue's K-Food Song (because... CNBlue! Squeee!)

I mean... come on. CN Blue!

are you gonna make me explain this?

even Jon Stewart loves CN Blue.

so... take your contempt and patronizing and all that hate...
and stuff it! 'cause I'm about to go ballistic!

That's all for today.

Well... it looks like winking Thor (and Jon Stewart, He-man, and Patrick) didn't make it clear enough, so...

and to everyone who thought I was being serious... thanks. You've increased the chance that I'll do another April Fools' prank exponentially.


Roboseyo said...

Yeah, It seems like it was "mission accomplished" for the ad. And as long as it's not offensive to anyone, have at it, right?

Roboseyo said...

I know, right?

Roboseyo said...

I really have to object to the mixed cultural message in the Shin-Soo ad. Those are not Korean chopsticks! They are wood, not metal, and not flat. This is clearly a half-hearted nod to the familiarity people have with Chinese restaurants, although these are not proper Chinese style, either. Is this an attempt to suggest that Westerners can't handle the real thing? I protest!

Oh, seriously - the rest of the complaints are just this idiotic. I thought both the bulgogi AND the cheeseburger ads were funny - and charming. That's exactly what I've come to expect of Korean advertising in the West - slightly off-kilter but with its own odd appeal, like calling the peppers in the CN Blue ad "Paprikas" (a special kind of red pepper is dried and powdered to make paprika, which is a spice). I think your commentary had just the right level of gravitas for such an intellectually challenging topic.

And I'd rather eat kim chi than bulgogi any day.

Roboseyo said...

So this ad was effective, yet perhaps not in the intended manner? What's wrong with calling it weird? NYT real estate ain't cheap. So while other businesses are consulting ad agencies on how to market themselves, this guy comes in advertising a food many haven't heard of.

Sure they give a shoutout to Korean restaurants here, but no one specifically. And as mentioned before, the link provided leads to a poorly constructed site with politically sensitive topics and no information even halfway relevant to the ad. Sure enough its drummed up satire, but what's so bad about that?

If just an advertisement made this much of a splash, the ad got its moneys worth and then some. Sure anyone who wants to pin their racism on this can get stuffed, but in no way is it above mockery, despite how boorish it can come off as. In a more positive light this means that many eyes are focused on Korea, and on how Korea markets itself to the rest of the world. That is the kind of exposure Korea's culture needs.

Roboseyo said...

Was this ad effective? I think not. Being mentioned in various mainstream sources doesn't necessarily (or by itself) any more bulgogi - especially if their take on the ad isn't what you might call favorable. Sure, you might get a few folks that go 'bulgogi? What's that?' and then find their local Korean restaurant. Emphasis here is on a few - if 1 out of 100 people that saw the ad did that, the 'conversion rate' would be on par with most internet-based ads. Unless someone goes around and polls Korean restaurants to see if sales are up or down since the ad was published, it's inconclusive at best.

If a sports star does something insanely stupid (using a racial slur, abuses his spouse), of course Sports Illustrated and other mainstream publications would cover that story. Doesn't mean there's any upside in being covered.

As for the website... I don't even know where to start. Go there now. BULGOGI'S NOT EVEN THERE! No one outside of Korea cares about Dokdo. Even after 5 years of living in Korea, I couldn't begin to explain Balhae to you. 'Talking into the wind' is the only term that comes to mind. The F1 event from 2011? The Yeosu Expo in 2012? The F1 series ain't going to be around Korea for much longer, and the Yeosu Expo is hardly a tourist site today.

Roboseyo said...

Say, Mr. Backe....

did you just take my April Fools' ad seriously?

Roboseyo said...

And all this time I thought it was weird you had included animated GIF's. Well played.