YouTube sensation PSY’s hotly anticipated campaign for the Korea Tourism Organization, or KTO, launched in overseas markets this week with six 15-second spots, dubbed “PSY’s Wiki Korea,” that promoters hope will become an encyclopedia of Korean culture.
“PSY is a cultural icon now. No one else has made as huge an impact as PSY,” Charm Lee, chief executive of KTO, explained at a press conference in Seoul Monday, according to The Korea Herald. “We expect to see much exposure with the new commercials.”
PSY explains and acts out a word that represents a unique facet of Korean culture in each TV spot. The six aspects highlighted include banchan (Korean side dishes), Cosmeroad (a cosmetics area in Seoul), Olle-gil (a walking trail on Jeju Island), bulgeum (the Korean equivalent to TGIF), Dongdaemun (a shopping district in northern Seoul), and samgyeopsal (pork-belly meat).
Lee said at the press conference that he hoped the words would be widely used around the world and become synonymous with Korean culture. “Like the Italian word ‘pasta,’ I hope everyone gets to know what samgyeopsal is and know that the best way to cook pork-belly meat is how samgyeopsal is cooked.”
Many Koreans, however, have found the ads somewhat perplexing. According to PSY’s Wiki Korea spot on samgyeopsal, for instance, the dish “goes well with a glass of champagne.”
“Anyone who has had samgyeopsal in the country knows that it is normally consumed with Korean liquor, Soju. Eating this with champagne is unheard of,” noted Yoo Eun Lee of Asian Correspondent.
She explained that the 15-second ads on bulgeum and Dongdaemun were equally bemusing. “Bulgeum is not even a proper Korean word. It is sort of trendy slang that has been trending for about two to three years tops, and is unfamiliar to older Koreans. [Dongdaemun] was introduced as a shopping district [in the commercial] … however, it is one of the oldest shopping districts in Seoul, teeming mostly with retailers buying raw materials in bulk, foreigners and small shops selling low-end goods. [The neighborhood] is far from a hip, trendy place to go in Seoul.”
The other spots on banchan, Olle-gil, and Cosmeroad have generated little controversy. All six TV commercials launched on Monday in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, as well as international TV channels like CNN, Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
KTO has featured K-pop groups in promotional campaigns before, including Miss A and 2PM. The ads featuring the genre’s biggest star, however, are part of a major push to revive the sluggish tourism industry, hit hard by heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula earlier this year.
KTO said 86 percent of visitors in a recent survey claimed commercials affected their decision on whether to visit the country. The organization’s latest campaign also has a substantial online component with its own website, ibuzzkorea.com, where fans can enter a contest to win a trip to Korea.
Check out all six videos from PSY’s Wiki Korea below:
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...