Monday, September 05, 2011

Nice Galaxy Tab Ad...I Mean, Nice Patronizing Stereotype-filled "Visit Korea" ad...

Warning: there is one slightly NSFW image in this post. It's down where I'm talking about the Netherlands.

So there's this new ad that has been spotted in places like CNN.

Yeah. Soak it in.

I have a few problems with this ad:

First, it looks more like an ad for the Galaxy Tab (if that's what the guy's carrying) than an ad for Korea. Seriously. In fact, it would make more sense as a Galaxy Tab ad - "Samsung is supplying the whole world with tablet Germany" In that context, the ad would have made more sense.

Next, very few people wear their nation's traditional dress when traveling abroad. Even Texans usually leave their horses at home. And maybe even their Segways.

Also, who the hell asks THESE kinds of questions (in their own language) of a random stranger on the street?  "Is it true that you're the 7th largest exporter?" (I don't know how google works.)

Anyway, what would Koreans do if somebody approached them, dressed like Napoleon,

and asked them a question in French?

Here's what they'd do:

(an ad aimed at Koreans - "don't act QUITE so scared when you see a foreigner, or they'll know Korean hospitality is only for non-strangers")

The ad ends with a whole line-up of stereotypes walking towards the camera in some sort of a xenophobe's nightmare.

I've got Dutch background, so should I be upset that there isn't someone dressed like this in the ad?
Should I dress like that (or at least the boy version) when I travel abroad?

Or maybe, like the Arabian belly dancer on the far right at the end of the ad (who almost certainly doesn't even dress that way on the street in her own blessed country)...

I should dress like one of the Netherlands' other famous identifiers. (the source)

Or a Canadian mountie -- after all, one of the Queen's Guard is there.

Other screen shots from the ad, in case it gets pulled from youtube:

Key message: "Even though we think you're all cowboys, we want you to visit our country, Americans."
To their credit, at least the cowboy doesn't have a Russian accent, like those "American" teachers in some of those trashy scapegoaty TV shows.

I wonder how many cowboys know what bibimbap is.

Yes. In some middle-easternern countries, people do dress this way every day. When they travel abroad? Perhaps.

Seems a little elaborate for a travel outfit... then again, I passed a pair of harajuku girls on a street in Hongdae a few saturday nights ago.

"Excuse me. I got lost on the way to the ballroom."

"Galaxy Tab: all the information you need to help random, oddly-dressed strangers"

Here's the whole crew of them in Gwanghwamun Square.

 Including Connor MacLeod

A Hopak dancer (I think)

A flamenco dancer. (correct me if I'm wrong on any of these)

A... shaolin monk, perhaps? Because Koreans wear Taekwondo uniforms when they travel abroad.

Oh. And a tall African wearing a brightly-colored toga. He's in the back row, so I can't tell whether he's carrying a spear, or if there's a bone in his nose. (we've seen worse, but still...)

A mexican with a sombrero. (At least they couldn't find anyone who was mexican, or looked mexican, and was shameless enough to wear a sombrero for the camera)

By the way, the Cowboy's name...
is cowboy.

This brazilian lady was busy: she had to go straight from the parade float to the airport.

I can't quite tell who this guy's supposed to be.

Thankfully, the American Indian (complete with feather, facepaint and buckskin pants) DID end up on the cutting room floor. Barely.
Rest in peace, Iron Eyes Cody.

I think that if everybody else is wearing their national stereotyped clothes, they should put the Korean guy in a hanbok, or at least a taekwondo uniform, for one thing. I don't know how this ad is going to impress anyone enough to decide to come to Korea, when one of the messages it seems to communicate is "Hey. We don't know anything except the broadest stereotypes of your country. So why don't you broaden your horizons by coming to a country where our ad implies that people will expect you to wear a sombrero if you're from mexico." And if this ad were to reflect the actual flows of tourists to Korea, then the elephant in the room is, "Why so few South and Southeast Asian outfits?" Not even an Indian sari? Or one of those fantastic Thai headdresses?

There are other ways to have communicated that these people are from other countries, than dressing them like friggin' Napoleon - flags on backpacks, or you could even have a flag show up on the corner of the screen, or floating above their head like the character info on an online role play game, without diving into this "let's dress foreigners in silly costumes" mess.

I don't know if it quite heads into straight-up offensive territory, but it is definitely, definitely tone deaf. And if my sources are correct, and I'm pretty sure they are, the producers were told this ad was wrong-minded, patronizing and maybe a little racist, on no uncertain terms, and they ran it anyway. So... I guess they were keeping those westerners around to make their office feel international, and not because the people promoting Korea actually care what foreigners think about their "visit Korea" ads.

and yeah, this ad, seen by Koreans, will do a good job of making Koreans feel good about Korea.

But that's not the point of international Korean tourism promotions, is it? And it hardly requires buying ad space on CNN, when KBS or MBC will reach more Koreans anyway. Hell, why not just have the narration in Korean?


Changmi said...

I think the ad was more metaphorical; all those people were on the internet asking questions about Korea, and the Korean guy was just imagining them standing in front of him in their national garb, as he answers their questions on his Galaxy Tab. I guess he's supposed to be a consultant for or something.

Even if you accept that explanation, though, the outfits are rather amusing. Thanks for brightening my day!

Anonymous said...

No Canadian dressed in full hockey get-up?

Colour me disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the ad is racist as much as it is a complete head-scratcher -- the subject isn't "visit Korea," it's "some people are saying that foreigners are asking questions about Korea." It's terribly meta and a complete failure.

X said...

This ad. was great. Conspicuous by its absence, though, was some kind of archetypal New Yorker - like a cabbie winding down his window and asking "Is it true I can taste the so fresh and natural experience of a delicious seafood in the Korean territorial islets of Dokdo which are famous for their natural beauty?"
Word verification: foryin

Jerry said...

Like I said elsewhere, I thought this ad was fun and innocent enough. (perhaps our sensibilities are still a bit too much into overdrive from some other thread?)

The feeling like it's an advertisement for the galaxy tab is spot on, however, but I do like the fact that the guys is staring into it wherever he walks. That's fair enough.

As far as making me want to visit Korea, it's not persuasive. But it's not offensive either.

Dunk said...

I didn't find it racist in the slightest, it simply came off as an odd and eccentric marketing effort which failed in what it was trying to do - that is, reach me as a non-Korean living abroad to consider visiting Korea.

These sorts of ads never seem to break out of the Korean head and get into the target audience's head. The most obvious and effective way to market your country to tourists abroad is to show people just like them in that country enjoying themselves. The ads for 'Malaysia Truly Asia" spend a lot of time showing westerners enjoying time on a beach, enjoying walking through a Malaysia tourist market, etc. The viewer can imagine themselves 'man, I'd like to be there on that beach'. The truly effective Korean CNN ad which has never been made would be to show normal and happy western tourists enjoying themselves at Korean markets, mountain resorts, temples, etc.

Unfortunately, such an ad never seems to get made, because the Koreans cannot resist pushing themselves into these ads. The famous Kim DaeJung ad showed the president, Korean boy bands, various Korean celebrities utterly unknown to westerners, and NARY A WESTERN FACE TO BE SEEN. The message is not "Come here, you could really have a lot of fun and enjoy your visit" but "Look how fucking great we are!"

This ad is no different. The focus is a Korean man - Fail One, the potential North American tourist does not identify. We are told about Korea's economic rank in the world - Fail Two, no one chooses their vacation based on industrial capacity. No fun to be seen at all. Third, the costumed foreigners being visited are weird, and slightly betray the makers (and a lot of Koreans) cultural prejudice that foreigners are ridiculous and clownish, compared to smartly dressed young Korean men such as the interviewer. Full fail again, KNTO!!!

ZenKimchi said...

Where's the like button for Lady Hwa-Hwa?

Changmi said...

I also like Lady Hwa-Hwa!

I would question the assumption that the ad's purpose was to attract tourism. I think it was more likely aimed at attracting investment, like many ads on CNN these days.

I don't know why I feel so compelled to defend ridiculous things like this. It's like a weird sickness that I have.

Roboseyo said...

the ad makes a lot more sense if its goal is to attract investment.

but the napoleon costume and the horseback cowboy (who'd probably be asking about beef barbeque, not bibimbap) still have got to go.

jatkins said...

I have not seen this ad in USA. I don't find it offensive or racist. Trust me, I know racism when I see it since I grew up as a minority all my life. Come on, give me a break!

Roboseyo said...

settle down, JAtkins.

the phrases I used in the article were: "a little racist" -- not extremely. a little. I'll be the first to admit we've seen far worse.

look at the belly dancer. Is that an accurate depiction of middle-eastern culture? When they're traveling abroad? Would you say the way Korean back-up dancers in Kpop shows are an accurate portrayal of the way Koreans dress...when they travel?

Do Africans wear orange robes that half-bare their chests when they visit Korea?

I wrote, "i don't know if it quite heads into straight-up offensive territory" and "definitely, definitely tone deaf"

I use qualifiers like "a little" or "I don't know if..." for a reason, so don't just see the word "racist" and react as if "a little bit" weren't directly in front of the word.

and I've heard reports from a few sources that this ad is playing regularly on CNN.

Anonymous said...

Lady Hwa Hwa and Dunk -- great comments. And, Dunk... I think you nailed it.

Roboseyo -- I think there's a lesson to be learned here in the use of certain words. It seems some words are so powerful that the mere use of them derails any other possible discussion.

Roboseyo said...


good comment.

perhaps the word "racist" - and I suppose I should be more mindful of that - I know from blogger analytics how long the average reader spends on my page, and I suppose I should assume that whatever couldn't be read during that timespan probably gets skimmed (I know I've skimmed other blog posts or comments for trigger words myself, for that matter)

but avoiding the word "offensive," which is quite bland? Hmm.

while I partly agree with Dunk's comment, I HAVE seen "visit Korea ads" that follow a "white person wears hanbok, visits famous Korean places" narrative, and found (some of) them to be lame, and sometimes patronizing, as well. Applying the "Western gaze" to Korean promotional materials is problematic for different reasons.

Gomushin Girl said...

I found the ad pretty offensive. Maybe not racist, but still plenty offensive.
I don't think I'd want to invest, tour, or live in a country that thinks it's funny to represent my homeland and the homelands of others as broad stereotypes to be lampooned. Other cultures do not need to be represented by costumes found at an Everland fire sale. In fact, other cultures didn't need to be represented by costuming at all - why didn't they just bring in a multi-ethnic cast dressed in normal business and casual wear, speaking languages other than Korean? The only reason to dress them in funny costumes and have them act like idiots (really, fake kimono girl? you need to ask the random Korean dude who plays that song when you're holding an ipod that displays the artist and title?) is for the entertainment of the Koreans who made the ad.

Anonymous said...

Robo (regarding Dunk's comment) -- I was just going to comment again about the potential pitfalls of sanitised/internationalised advertising.

As is mentioned in this satirical video clip (*contains bad language), it is possible that a different kind of stereotype may be employed. It's the problem of th broad brush -- trying to appeal to the widest possible market. In the end, you're only left with caricatures.

I read a movie review (on a blog?) recently about some new flick about one white woman, in the southern US in the 1950's/1960's, and her quest to improve the lot of black servants. The criticism of that reminds me of what I think you're alluding to -- it's from the perspective of the white woman. Why wouldn't a movie about such a theme focus on the black people themselves? It's all about money, not reality.

I think it's the same in a lot of advertising. Why not show a mixed-race couple enjoying their time in Malaysia? Why are they usually white (please correct me if I'm wrong -- I don't get CNN anymore)? Why not show a same-sex couple? Why not show beaches with wheelchair ramps right down to the water?

Diversity doesn't sell. Nor does reality. I don't think we should expect is from advertisers or from mainstream, commercial Hollywood drivel.

chiam said...

even the PC police told me to tell you to lighten up.

Roboseyo said...


the post making fun of myself, the two computers talking about god, and the panorama of dobong mountain weren't light enough for you? I've got some Kpop videos I could post.

Chris in South Korea said...

Sorry, there's nothing meant to be 'fun' or 'innocent' by a national, targeted, drive to increase tourism. It's business, pure and simple. People were paid some serious coin to attempt to put together the most effective ad - and it's a fail to drive tourism.

What's most interesting? That people were asking him questions, he had the device in front of him, and we never hear any answers.

Amount of money Samsung paid for product placement? At least a few million won - even without showing a brand name, you know who made it.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think I'd want to invest, tour, or live in a country that thinks it's funny to represent my homeland and the homelands of others as broad stereotypes to be lampooned."


But people seem to love visiting America, a country that does this 10 times more often than South Korea, or any other country I can think of for that matter.

(I won't bother linking to an "It's A Small World After All" video, but American popular culture is rife with this sort of stereotyping. That's why I can't get upset about any perceived racism in the video, I just think it's a failure on its own terms and hence a colossal waste of money.)

Anonymous said...

A few years ago there was an ad for a Seoul bus tour that was in heavy rotation on CNN International.

All you saw in the whole commercial was a happy white guy sitting on their bus, looking out the window, pointing and smiling at things. But we weren't shown what those wondrous sights were that he was seeing.

It seemed that the real audience of that ad was the Korean tour company itself, not the passengers. The ad was showing what the Korean company wanted to see: a happy foreigner on their tour bus.

David said...

I remember seeing a poster in Daegu (picture's on my Facebook) of Koreans embracing the outside world. I was flattered that they chose to feature Scotland, and I honestly don't care about the kilt prejudice (although I've yet to wear mine outwith our national border). What struck me was the African with BOTH the bone in his nose and the spear in his hand. Yeah... Classy.

That TV ad did encourage me a little. It was nice because I have seen Koreans literally turn and run at the sight of a foreigner. It's nice to see that someone is trying to change that. I remember one of my students telling me about such things prior to the World Cup... but obviously that never took off in Daegu.

Anonymous said...

"but obviously that never took off in Daegu."

You get what you put out when you refer to Koreans as "peasants" and other nasty slurs and host a blog that's basically a playground for Japanese historical revisionists re: the occupation period of 1910-1945.

And you definitely only speak for yourself, sparky. Your "bad" experience in Daegu was a product of your own limitations, biases, and yes, obvious racism against "rice-t*ards."

Either deal with it or stop projecting.

Gomushin Girl said...

I don't find "but America does it, too" a very compelling argument here. It's a small world is a Disney attraction designed to entertain kids and annoy their parents, not a commercial designed to attract visitors and investment from overseas. Is there prejudice and stereotyping in America? Sure. But the American government manages to not display woeful ignorance or insult other cultures while trying to promote the country as a tourist attraction.

Anonymous said...

"I don't find 'but America does it, too' a very compelling argument here."

My argument is more like "America (or if you prefer, Hollywood) does so much of this cultural stereotyping and has been doing it for such a long time that people don't even notice it any longer."

It's definitely reverse-Orientalism, but it just seems like such a small drop in the bucket of existing Orientalism(s), many of which we Westerners consider "natural" by now.

Gomushin Girl said...

@ wetcasements: except people do notice. And while there's still much work to be done in the representations of minorities and foreigners in Hollywood films, there are individuals and organizations dealing very publicly with the issues.
And again, not equivalent to a government-produced commercial designed to highlight Korea.

epo said...

i saw some of this being filmed near the Cheongyechon. there was a young good-looking guy that looked American in casual clothes and a backpack going up to the suave Korean guy with the Galaxy Tab. i guessed he was asking him directions and it was for a tv drama. i wonder why that got axed in favor of cowboys, tribesman and royal guards?

David S. Wills said...


I am reluctant to engage someone like you in any form of communication - particularly on someone else's blog - but I feel I should point out for the benefit of those bothering to read your nasty little snipe, that I never actually did any of those things you accuse me of. I banned you from my blog for your disgusting, offensive language as well as your ludicrous accusations, and I'd prefer it if you didn't continue to smear my name here. Say what you want on your own page, by all means.

Sorry, Rob, for lowering the tone. I won't reply again to this person's antagonistic nonsense.

Roboseyo said...

@David and @WC - if you have a beef with what someone wrote on another blog, please deal with it there, where it isn't running the danger of derailing a comment discussion.

Any response to Gomushin Girl? I kind of agree with her - what hollywood does should be compared to what the Korean film industry does, or else you're comparing apples and frying pans.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I wonder if the CNN ad runs on Korean TV like the Visit Korea ad. If so it seems like a bit of a mixed message for Korean viewers.

On the one hand the Visit Korea ad seems to have a decent enough message: don't get freaked out if a foreigner starts speaking to you and you don't understand them, just smile and give a hearty "안녕하세요?!" (Not a bad strategy actually, a Korean word a visiting foreigner may likely to know, and let's them know in a polite and welcoming way: "Hey, I don't speak your language!") With the CNN ad, on the other hand, you're supposed to be some kind of VANK expert on Korean minutiae and fluent in 5 foreign languages to boot!

pitchfest said...

Cowboys looking for bibimbap on horseback? I thought drugs were banned here.

isteacher said...

I love that Kimono, I kinda want to visit Kyoto now :)

I think Dunk nailed it, it's not racist, it's just badly thought out. The "Malaysia Truly Asia" or "Live it. Love it. Hong Kong" campaigns were great for reasons stated above (it showed westerners having a good time doing things). In the LitLit Hong Kong ads all the Chinese were dressed up in traditional clothes, all smiling and directing the westerner and at the end they all get to meet Jackie Chan (I have been to Hong Kong many times, and none of that never happens). Is that racist? I don't think so, I think it just promotes a view of Hong Kong that would appeal to a westerner. That cowboy would be very well placed in an advertising campaign for Texas that was directed at Koreans.

I think the real problem is that Korean advertising can't resist promoting local issues or their own greatness (remember the ad in the NY Times that gave more attention to Dok-do and the East Sea than to sights in Seoul?). The dressing of people in stereotypical garb isn't necessarily racist and so you should look at intent. In this case I don't think a group dedicated to promoting tourism is going to attempt to insult the very people it wants to attract. It's a really bad marketing campaign, but thats it.

BTW - long time reader and love your stuff, rarely comment cause I usually just agree with what you say.

WC said...

I agree with Changmi. Its metaphorical and it just wants to show how people are more interested in Korea on the internet(=galaxy tab). That's why people wearing different costumes are in Korea, they aren't really there, but on the internet talking to the Korean guy through twitter.

And I think its just to show people from different parts of the world are interested in Korea. The costumes are just a representation.

But, this ad is really bad in terms of making people want to visit Korea. lol

On the other hand, I don't see why its insulting...If that was insulting.. what about all the Asians in western movies?... Its hard to find an Asian who doesn't do martial arts haha.

Anyways, KTO needs improvement...

Roboseyo said...


while I strongly agree with you that hollywood's treatment of asian characters has been pretty awful for a while (though recently television has had a few good characters of asian descent)...

that isn't really relevant to this issu: using hollywood as a counterexample to a government sponsored ad was just discussed by Gomushin Girl and WetCasements, and, in my opinion, as in Gomushin Girl's, the "well it happens in America too" argument doesn't fly - comparing a Korean KTO sponsored ad with hollywood is comparing apples and lawnmowers. You need to compare KTO ads with ads from American government sponsored tourism promotions.

Anonymous said...

"well it happens in America too"

I'm not trying to say what Hollywood's failures re: ethnic stereotyping makes what this commercial is trying to do OK, just that I can't lose sleep over this ad being "racist" (it is, a little) when there are much bigger examples of Orientalism and/or stereotyping coming out of my home country (America) on a daily basis.

There's enough stupid to go around, obviously. This is a very bad ad, and it demonstrates yet again the overall tone-deafness of the Koreans trying to improve their national brand/image.

Roboseyo said...

I Am Koream ( is one good group blog that takes a good, boots on the ground look at the state of asian-american issues in America.

Gomushin Girl said...

A little clarification, first - this ad isn't by the KTO, it's by the Korean Overseas Information Services (KOIS) which is part of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
And while wetcasements isn't losing sleep over this, it bothers me because I'm rather fond of Korea and the country deserves far better than this ridiculous ad. The people at KOIS actually consulted foreign staff when making this ad. The fact that they didn't listen to the comments is pretty sad.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I really like Korea as well. But if lost my proverbial 똥 every time "Brand Korea"/KTO/KOIS made a stupid ad or decision I'd probably have given up a long time ago.

But hey, it's a government agency so there are probably channels through which you can express your disappointment.

"The people at KOIS actually consulted foreign staff when making this ad."

"Consult" doesn't necessarily mean "take the advice of." Just the opposite, at times, and in all likelihood here.

WC said...

Yes, its definitely not correct to compare a government agency with Hollywood. But, the reason I brought up Hollywood is to show that people make mistakes and offend other people's cultures without meaning to. The Korean agency should have reviewed this more thoroughly, but I think it would have been really hard for a regular Korean to realize this was offensive. I mean I've been living in many countries and I didn't really think that this was culturally offensive(haha I think I just admitted I am quite culturally ignorant :S)

I think for now its best for the agency to know about it. I believe they meant no harm and didn't realize it. The foreign staff probably had a different sets of boundaries of what is offensive and what is not.

Gomushin Girl said...

Oh, they knew there were problems. KOIS just decided they didn't care if people were offended, if the alternative was for someone to have to explain where the money for shooting this monstrocity went. Besides, a few of the middle-management dudes thought it was funny.
But they should care. This is the Korean Overseas Information Service - y'know, one of the major government arms for promoting the country to the rest of the world. All they've managed to communicate, though, is that they think foreigners are silly.

MadlocoB said...

I think racist is a tad strong in relation to this ad: I'd use the term "childish" instead. It is obvious that foreign tourists were not the intended audience of this ad: more like the top honchos at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Which begs the question: if the ad makers wanted to make their bosses happy, they should have just bought a case of soju for them: hell of a lot cheaper than making this ad, and a lot more effective.
To a logical person, the ad screams: Don't go to Korea - all there is to know about the country can be Googled on a tablet. Which completely misses the point of how unique, vibrant and beautiful Korea is.
Here's some advice to the future admakers (gratis, mind you): show foreigners having a blast in Korea - going on a beautiful hike through the mountains or in Seoul's many parks, jogging along the Han river, white-water rafting, visiting majestic temples, relaxing on Jeju, enjoying food, history, culture and nightlife, climbing one of those many public climbing-walls - all while interacting with friendly Koreans along the way. The ad should make affluent tourists wanna hop on a plane and spend money in Korea, not say "aww, cute guy with a galaxy tab."
Anyhoo, love your blog, Robo.

Anonymous said...

Really, the people involved in this production should just be replaced with the equivalent crew from Busan's marketing department. Have you seen their ads? Just shows lots of events and festivals happening that yes, you can go and watch and/or participate in.

I swear I saw this ad with a few changes (nothing about Pyongchang for example) a while back on Arirang when flicking channels. I think they must've put the lambasted preview edition to broadcast domestically.

I agree with those above saying that it's not offensive to me (I suspect my reaction might be slightly different if I were African or Middle Eastern) but it is baffling and worst of all: utterly uninspiring. Such a waste of money.

Better still, just hire this chap and let him handle the whole pot:
Any single minute from his video says more about Korea than the Galaxy Tab ad. Heck, they could just license the whole thing from him and slap half together as one of those long cinema adverts...

Matt said...

The ad is ridiculous and retarded. No need to analyse it further than that.

Koreans have long behaved in a ridiculous manner when interacting with foreigners, and the embarrassment foreigners feel is an embarrassment on behalf of the Koreans that any adult could behave in such a way. One cringes internally, maintains a polite facade outwardly - anything rather than confront the awful truth openly - and complains heatedly afterwards. People wonder why foreigners complain about Koreans. It's an emotional reaction to having one's sensibilities so shockingly violated.

It does no good to look for reasons or excuses. It's not healthy. It's best to adopt a brusque, no-nonsense approach: keep the conversation short, turn the moronic ad off or change the channel, refuse grinning invitations politely but firmly.

The ad in its absurdity silently shouts warning of the level of inanity to expect in Korea. 'Stay away!' the unintended message beams out.

Unintended; clearly not unwished!

Matt said...

I may have exaggerated a little to make a point just then...

Anonymous said...

Yes, the ad is sad and childish; and a "little" racist too.

I keep bouncing back and forth about visiting the place but the more I see in the way of their image branding, the more my first mind or impression is valid and keep to the plan to visit surrounding countries bypassing this little country.

Yi Sun-Sin said...

Racist ? Offensive ?
What on earth are you talking about ?
I so much don't care seeing a French guy being represented in a Napoleon uniform in an ad. Why should I ? Since when are ads supposed to be realistic ?
This ads is just lame. Not offensive.
If you want to see real, huge, ugly and yet so funny (in an unintended way, of course) stereotyping, go for the French exploitation movie “District 13: Ultimatum”.