The Korea Tourism Organization, in an attempt revive a sluggish tourism industry hit hard by inter-Korean tensions, has selected international K-pop sensation Psy as its new face. There is no denying that Psy is a winning choice to promote travel to Korea, with the international media following his every state. However, some statements about Korean culture in the commercials have left South Koreans perplexed and bemused.
The South Korean tourism office has made six, 15-second TV commercials featuring Psy, which already started airing on major international TV channels early this week. Watch a compilation of the six clips below. The quality of commercials is not too bad; they are snappy, the concept of Wiki is refreshing, and Psy’s presence works quite well with the content.
One noticeable aspect of the ads is that they use the original Korean terms, rather than translating them. According to the promotion director, they wanted to promote “original Korean terms that represent unique Korean culture”… ‘just like how the Italian word ‘pasta’ is being used’.
This commercial is definitely a major improvement on previous ads which heavily relied on K-pop stars who mainly appealed to young K-pop fans in Asian regions. However, some of descriptions and several terms promoted in the ad have baffled Koreans.
Here is the list of Korean words featured in the commercial. For the terms that have created controversy, I’ve marked with asterisks and added my explanation.
1) Banchan (side dishes)
2) Olle-gil (a walking trail in Jeju Island)
3) Cosmeroad (streets in Myeongdong, Seoul, where major South Korean brands are lined up in every corner)
4)*Samgyopsal (Korean style pork-belly meat): Many Koreans could not suppress a laughter when seeing a description that ‘Samgyopsal goes well with a glass of champagne’. Anyone who had Samgyopsal in the country knows that it is normally consumed with Korea liquor, Soju. Eating this with champagne is unheard of.
5) *Bulgeum (Korean abbreviation for ‘Friday on Fire’, similar to TGIF): Bulguem is not even a proper Korean word. It is a sort of trendy slang that has been trending for about two to three years tops, and unfamiliar to older Koreans.
6) *Dongdaemun (a district in Seoul): It was introduced as a shopping district, which is partly true. However, it is one of oldest shopping districts in Seoul, teeming mostly with retailers buying raw materials in bulk, foreigners and small shops selling low-end goods, and being far from a hip, trendy place to go in Seoul.