Are Korea billboard ads effective?
By Jane Han
NEW YORK ― Times Square’s glittering spectacle of lights, neon signs and a chaotic bustle make it one of the busiest places on earth. And starting last Wednesday, in the heart of this glitzy spot, a giant digital billboard began playing an advertisement promoting Korea’s traditional folksong “Arirang.”
Interesting ― but how many of the 500,000 people who go through Times Square every day care, or better yet, understand what the 30-second ad is trying to say?
The commercial, titled ``Do You Hear?’’ features fast-moving still-cut images of Korean men and women wearing traditional hanbok, followed by the faces of celebrities Cha In-pyo, Park Chan-ho and Ahn Sung-ki, and ends with the caption ``Arirang. It is the folk anthem of Korea.’’
The clip, which is set to air a total of 1,500 times for one month, is the second “Arirang” ad following one last year. Both were designed by Seo Kyeong-duk, a public relations expert and visiting professor at Sungshin Women’s University, to protest China’s claim that the popular folksong is part of its cultural heritage.
``This ad has been created to protect our own music and promote it to people around the world,’’ said Seo, who is no newbie to the advertisement world of Times Square, where a coveted billboard spot can cost anywhere from $350,000 to $500,000.
So far, he has placed six Times Square billboard commercials that have promoted bibimbap, the Dokdo islets and the East Sea. Singer Kim Jang-hoon has shouldered most of the financing until now, but the latest ad was paid for by Gyeonggi Province.
These commercials have been talked about largely because they have been aired at such a symbolic location, but some critics question if they’re worth all the fuss and money.
``I wonder how many Korean people would react if a bunch of Iranian people hung a huge banner outside the 63 Building, claiming `Arabian Gulf No! Persian Gulf Yes!,’’’ said one person familiar with national branding, who requested to stay anonymous.
``Business principles stress that every message must target a relevant audience group and the message has to be something that the audience can relate to. Otherwise, people simply don’t care,’’ he said. ``Putting ads up in Times Square might mean something to Korean people, but to others, they just doesn’t mean much.’’
Around Times Square, not all passers-by noticed the ad and some who were asked to take a look wondered what message the commercial intended to convey.
``Why is the ad promoting a Korean folk anthem? Is there some kind of story to it?’’ asked Lisa Mendis, 35, an accountant who passes by the block every day.
Tom Ford, a 28-year-old dance instructor, admitted he never looks up to look at the ads anymore.
``Tourists look around and look up to see the huge billboards, but not if you live here. You just look straight ahead so you don’t bump into anyone,’’ he said.
While those supporting these pricey commercials say the media exposure will pay off in the end, opponents say too much media can end up hurting.
Kim Dong-suk, president of the Korean American Voters’ Council, says advocates must be highly strategic in approaching this type of promotion.
He took the Dokdo Islets as an example.
Kim said the U.S. Library of Congress almost changed the name of Dokdo to a more neutral labeling of Liancourt Rocks after seeing a New York Times ad about the territory. The commercial gave the impression that Dokdo is a place of dispute and that the name should not be used.
``Japan works quietly and diligently to get an upper hand on the issue ― very different from the way we jump in full force straight into the U.S. main stream media,’’ he said, adding that too much noise isn’t always good.