Postcard from Korea

My talk on U.S. e-marketing to a gathering of the Korean Advertising Association (KAA) went exceedingly well. There were many questions from highly engaged professionals and academics in the room. (I’d never delivered a speech with a simultaneous translator before.)

A number of things I observed in Korea are relevant to e-marketing, as well as to the general advertising community.


I arrived with all the eagerness of a child on Christmas Day (imagery — work with me). I wanted to see if their acclaimed broadband access speeds were markedly different from what we have here. All my pre-trip research indicated Korean throughput puts ours to shame. I’ll admit my sample was limited, but at my hotel and a Starbucks hotspot there was no discernible difference from what I’m used to. Streaming audio and video were good, but prone to the same latency and buffering we endure here. I don’t know if the hotel was connected via fiber optic cable or regular T-1 or T-3 lines, so maybe I shouldn’t pass judgment. Net net, a little disappointing.


In Rome about 18 months ago, my (then cutting edge) Motorola V60 (monochromatic) phone felt so antiquated. Italians had small, sleek color phones with polyphonic sound and large, bright displays. In Korea, phones are sleek and sexy, but not dramatically different. We still have a long way to go with our wireless infrastructure, but it felt good to see we’re narrowing the handset technology gap. Samsung and LG own the Korean market. This is true in wireless, and well beyond. They’re such dominant forces in the economy, you can’t go anywhere without seeing their signage or hearing someone talk about the two companies.


A few observations, both analog and digital. Initially, Korean TV ad regulations are surprising to the visitor. Pricing and buying TV time is handled through a governmental organization that regulates cost and availability of inventory. There’s no such thing as negotiating rates, the rate card is what everyone pays for a :30 or :15 spot (can you believe that?). Buying clout is a primary value proposition passed from agencies to clients here at home. Imagine the implications to the U.S. market if price and efficiencies were off the table as a competitive differentiator. Apparently, a relationship with the regulatory body that sells the time is valuable and a unique agency selling proposition.

In i-TV, Korea’s about on par with the U.S. I don’t have firm numbers, but from conversations with professors and marketers at the conference it seems PVRs are top-of-mind in the Korean ad community (surprise, surprise). Penetration of the devices is relatively low. VOD and addressability options are deployed in Korea with varying degrees of penetration. They’re still very much in test-and-learn mode regarding i-TV and its marketing implications.

Finally, the hotel I stayed in (Westin Chosun) was a technophile’s dream. Amenities included an infrared sensor to alert you a newspaper had been delivered to your door; an integrated sound system controllable from each area of the room; and a master control panel next to the bed (it controlled the temperature, alarm, music, electronic do-not-disturb/ make up this room indicator). We could use some more of that over here!

Finally, the people of Korea. I’m no serious world traveler (a good bit of time in Europe and the Middle East). Koreans are some of the warmest people I’ve met. They truly made me feel welcome in their country and took a great deal of pride in showing me their culture.

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