Monday, March 15, 2010

In Honor of St Patrick's Day: How to Really Improve Korea's Brand

So here's the idea.

St. Patrick's Day is coming, and everybody knows what that means.

For the uninitiated, here's a great 30 second history of St. Patrick's Day.

So here's the thing.


Not a lot of people know a whole lot more about Ireland than U2, sheep, Guinness, and all the symbols and images associated with St. Patrick's day. That's not a whole lot, really... and if you trot out those stereotypes as all you know, you'll get the verbal smackdown from your Irish friend just as quickly as if you make another f*#&ing 51st State/Exchange Rate joke to a Canadian. So yeah, it's unacceptable to wallow in ignorance about this awesome country, and unique culture, but the fact remains: a lot of people don't know all that much about Ireland.

But then, let's look again:

Yeah, the world doesn't know that much about Ireland... but what they DO know about Ireland is pretty darn positive. Cute Leprechauns, Guinness beer, four-leaf clovers, and a holiday that, while not observed in Ireland itself, has been popularized expressly as an excuse to have another day of the year to get smashed. And as Halloween has demonstrated, any excuse to get drunk will do. Who doesn't smile when the person they just met tells them they're Irish? Nobody, that's who, because everybody's had a great time at a St. Pafter's day party sometime in their life. Unless you've got a rugby or a football (that's soccer) rivalry somewhere in the background, that's most of what a lot of people know about Ireland. Not a bad start, frankly. Even I find myself predisposed to liking the Irish I meet because of those associations.

Along with that, St. Patrick's day means that, to be honest, I know a swack more about Ireland than I know about the Czech Republic, because there's no day when everybody dresses in blue and yellow and drinks pilsners. There are a whole ton of countries about which I know less than I know about Ireland, thanks to that silly drunk holiday which isn't even observed as a party day in Ireland (it was the Irish-Americans/Americans who really picked up on St. Patrick's day and started getting smashed - [fact check update] in Ireland, St Patrick's day is a week long religious holiday, where getting smashed might be part of the festivities; that's different from in Canada, where it's just a one-night drink-off.)

And here's what Korea can learn from this: with all that stress and anxiety about becoming better known around the world, here's all they really have to do: get the millions of Koreans living overseas to ...

1. Pick a random Korean holiday. I recommend Hangeul Day... but call it Sejong Day because that's easier to pronounce.
2. Dress all in red.
3. Invite Non-Koreans to the party. As many as you can, and make them part of the fun.
4. Everybody get royally smashed.

I recommend making it a mixer drinking party, as a tribute to soju -- soju might be hard to get around the world, but there are lots of other alcohols that are as fun as soju to mix with other drinks -- everybody dresses in red (this gives the party a recognizable visual identity, just as the drink-mixing theme helps people remember what to do) and it's only natural for it to turn into a bar crawl, because Koreans always hit up two or three places on their epic drinking binges. If at all possible, the party should end at a karaoke bar of some kind, another nod to Korean drinking culture, but that's by no means necessary.

And seriously, if Koreans abroad invited all their non-Korean friends to the party, and acted un-clannish for one night, so that everybody could join the fun, how long would it take for this to catch on? Exactly as long as it took for American frat-boys to go "HEY! ANOTHER DRINKING HOLIDAY SWEET!" and that's it. And within fifteen or twenty years, every university in sight would be dressing up in red, oiling up the karaoke machines, hitting up the barbeque restaurants, and mixing juices and liquors with other things, until the cows came home. It would have none of the pretension of trying to get Hanshik institutes established all around the world (that's never going to work, anyway), it'd make learning about Korea fun, there WOULD be an origin story -- people could learn about Hangul and Sejong, which in my opinion is the highest achievement of Korean culture -- but that would by no means kill the joy-buzz of having another night of the year when everybody gets happily sloshed.

So all my Kyopo readers, and Korean friends abroad: this is all you have to do to make Korea more famous worldwide, to make people like Koreans abroad, to lash some positive associations onto the Korean diaspora. Start planning your parties on Sejong Day, bring along as many non-Koreans as you can, and wait for the magic to spread. And dress in red.

You don't think this:


Will improve Korea's global image more than this?

Then you're just wrong, buddy.


Anonymous said...

Excellent idea. And that's why it will never be picked up by the Korean Gov't and put into action. It would be a very kickass holiday though.


Roboseyo said...

It'll never be the Korean government behind it. Like the bulgogi tacos or whatever Korean street food that's becoming popular in California and New York: the people selling it and doing it know their audience better than the government.

This one'll be grassroots, led by the Korean diaspora, wherever they are, if it happens, and certainly not by government decree.

Charles Montgomery said...

The KTO should hire you immediately...

that's genius....

And you're dead right.. the diasporans will figure it out, becasue the suits in Seoul can't possibly think outside their own heads..

Brian said...

I'll just add a couple things because I'm cranky:

1) Improving Korea's brand isn't about making Korea more popular, it's about making Korea more popular on these advisors' own terms.

2) "if Koreans abroad invited all their non-Korean friends to the party, and acted un-clannish for one night" sounds like a big if, and sort of based on my recent Facebook status update about "ethnicity is trendy," people can get really standoffish and proud about their ethnicity, even when it's not justified.

3) First-generation Koreans abroad will certainly have a connection to Korea, but once you get into second- and third-generation immigrants it becomes more cloudy. They're not exactly the best representatives of their culture, don't have the best knowledge of it themselves, and, see #2, aren't always inviting.

4) Finally . . . oh, great, another drinking holiday. I like Korea, and I know Koreans do like to drink (in a way very different from how people in other countries do it). I don't want to go downtown on Sejong Day and wade through a crowd of bros and hos wearing red, yelling Ko-RE-a and calling for sushi. I suspect your Irish friends don't much care for what St. Patrick's Day has become in the US---nothing but bros and hos wearing green, vomiting on each other, and yelling "I'm Irish"---and seeing how defensive Koreans get about their culture, you can damn well be sure they won't like it when the lowest common denominator gets hold of their "culture."

kushibo said...

Canada's going to be the fifty-sixth state or higher.

We Americans give first priority to our own: Puerto Rico, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, and possibly northern Mexico.

I didn't read the rest of the post beyond this. It was about Canada-bashing, right?

K said...

a holiday that, while not observed in Ireland itself

- I will be in Dublin in 48 hrs, so I will let you know whether or not it is. I suspect that it is indeed a big night there, although this might be a relatively recent development. The younger Irish folk that I know seem pretty excited about it.

Mo said...

Haha, great idea!

Roboseyo said...

St. Patrick's day may be observed in Ireland, but not the way it is in the rest of the world, as far as I've heard.

Yeah, Brian, the bros and hos thing would be crass... but it'd still be higher visibility than "You're from Korea... North, or South? ... So are you good at math?" wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I am Irish and St. Pats day is a national holiday in Ireland. Now there there is a week long festival full of alchohol abuse fueled activites at home for it so I think that counts as a celebration.

Roboseyo said...

adjustments have been made to the post.

so... it's a whole festival, not just one night of drinking huge amounts of green beer? - it is certainly celebrated differently in Ireland than in the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

You're a little bit incorrect in the way the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day these years. A visit to any part of Ireland on Paddy's Day would confirm this (I'm Irish). It's about nothing but drinking - the Irish aren't as religious as Americans perceive them to be. In fact, the long term idea of Paddy's Day is to make it a festival that celebrates other cultures, partly led by Ireland's new people from beyond our shores.

The Korean said...

Personally, I really, really don't want this to happen. But I don't think it is necessary to improve Korea's brand anyway, so that goes hand and hand.

Roboseyo said...

If you think that St Patricks Day isn't a drunken party day in Ireland, you're deluded. Pubs are packed all day long and there's a ridiculous amount of public drunkenness.

Roboseyo said...

I think other commenters already covered that... but good of you to point it out for anybody else googling "St Patrick's Day 2010"

Roboseyo said...

Maybe stop calling it St Patty's Day when you're at it. Patty is a girls name.