Korean Air's 'primitive' ad needs to go
As Korean Air commences the much-awaited direct flights between Seoul and the Kenyan capital of Nairobi Thursday, there has been great excitement and expectation from Koreans and Kenyans alike. Korean Air is to be the first airline to operate direct flights from Northeast Asia to Nairobi, the gateway to East Africa as well as the hottest destination in Central and Southern Africa.
Kenyans in Korea, through the Kenya Community in Korea, have lauded the venture as a well-timed and significant building block in the Kenya-Korea bilateral relations established in 1964. For Kenyans in Korea, with the majority holding return tickets, the direct flight is indeed an experience to look forward to. Korean Air has shortened the flight time considerably from about 20 hours to 14.
In the last edition of ``Jambo Kenya Korea,” a newsletter published by Kenyans here, the main story centers on Korean Air’s adventurous spirit. The publication termed Korean Air, ``the pioneer.” In the past months the airline has done a great job in attempting to promote its services around the globe utilizing a fleet of 147 aircraft and about 400 flights per day to 119 cities.
However, a recent online advertisement with the word ``primitive” in it certainly offended many Kenyans at home and abroad. The section of the advert which generated a sizeable online uproar on social media reads in part: ``Fly to Nairobi with Korean Air and enjoy the grand African savanna, the safari tour, and the indigenous people full of ‘primitive’ energy.” The use of the word primitive was not taken politely and the reaction from Kenyans was speedy, harsh and regretful. They even opted to define the word ``primitive” from the Oxford dictionary to substantiate their understanding of the English language which is also Kenya’s national language.
The timely apology by Korean Air is of course welcome and the replacement of the offending ad appropriate. As a number of news channels picked up on the commercial’s content and online reactions, most Kenyans here hope that that the error was indeed a translation mishap, but still wonder how such a respected airline would naively stumble in the manner it did.
As they say, `` to err is human.” Apology accepted, and investigation initiated as promised by the airline, no doubt the design team behind the advertisement has learnt a great lesson. Some, in their criticism, have read advertising gimmicks in the whole issue.
I utterly disagree at least from my little but sufficient understanding of Korean culture and language. I am convinced it wasn’t intended.
This takes me back to my college days where as an advertising student; my professor minced no words whenever he taught ethical principles of advertising. Quoting Bill Bernbach he often reminded us that: ``It is little less than useless to employ a so-called gimmick in advertising ... Tell the truth. First, it's a great gimmick. Second, you go to heaven. Third, it moves merchandise because people will trust you.”
At the end of the day, Kenyans in Korea still hope that the advertising error will not negatively affect the airline’s genuine business interest in Kenya or injure the cordial relations they have had so far between Kenyans and Koreans.
So, as the aircraft begins landing and taking off from Nairobi and Seoul, may the passengers explore the grand African savanna, safari tours and the rich cultural heritage of Kenya and indeed Africa.
It might be an experience that will wipe out what George Kimble describes as ``our ignorance of Africa” being the ``darkest thing about it.” It will also be the Africa they’ve never seen on television.
The writer is the secretary-general of the Kenya Community in Korea and a freelance journalist. He studies at Kosin University, Busan, and can be reached at email@example.com.