Thursday, October 29, 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 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.

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