By Cho Jin-seo
No one can escape Kim Yu-na in South Korea. The 19-year-old has just dominated the skating rink in Vancouver, and is now raising her share of the advertising market to another world-record level.
There was more than enough advertising and merchandise featuring the sensational figure skater even before her winning of the gold medal at the Winter Olympics; Yuna milk, Yuna bread, Yuna SUVs, Yuna air-conditioners, Yuna supermarkets, Yuna earrings, Yuna facial cream and Yuna teddy bears.
But now the competition for product endorsement is so high that firms are happily spending billions of won just to use her name.
Kookmin Bank (KB), which has been offering the "Figure Skating Queen Yuna Love" installment savings account, promised a 0.5-percentage point upgrade on interest rates to the account holders if Kim were to win gold in Vancouver.
Some 134,575 accounts will benefit from the rate hike, which will cost the bank some 1.3 billion won.
The bank had already raised the interest rate when Kim won first place at the World Championship in December.
But since the increase is applicable only once to each account holder no matter how many times Kim wins gold medals, the cost is not as much as outsiders may think, and surely less than the program's promotional effects. On a total of 934.6 billion won in deposits, there was an additional 4.8 billion won in yearly interest payments.
Meanwhile, KB has drawn 54 billion won in new deposits during the last seven working days of the Winter Games period.
There will be much more money to come over the counter before her next World Championship in Italy this month, the bank believes.
"The Yuna program will be the first installment savings account product to achieve 1 trillion won in deposits," KB said, saying the gamble between bank and customers on interest rates will continue in the future.
KB was one of first sponsors of Kim. They signed a contract in December 2006 when Kim was just a prodigy and not many Koreans were paying attention to the sport of figure skating, let alone believing she could win a medal.
This made Kim a symbol of the hard-working Korean. Her attractive appearance has also helped her become a favorite among advertisers.
The national attention was so great that even the stock market's trading volume halved while her performance was broadcast on TV.
After her near-perfect programs in Vancouver, KB, Samsung, Hyundai Motor and her other sponsors reacted fast to run new TV ads that stressed how they have sponsored Kim throughout her difficult career.
In some cases, "Yuna fever" has reached unreasonable levels. Some newspapers suggested Friday that her winning the gold medal caused share prices of a medical equipment firm to rise that day, because Kim's beautiful white teeth made people think of dental implant surgery. Other stock analysts also claimed that the producer of banana-flavored milk will benefit from Kim since she was once reported to have said she likes the drink.
More than 300 companies are known to have approached Kim with business opportunities.
Ironically, the unlikely loser on Friday was IB Sports, Kim's marketing agent. The company's stock price has risen from around 2,000 won in December to 4,460 won earlier this month, as Kim had emerged as the likely winner of the gold medal.
But on Friday, the shares lost 14.42 percent as short-term investors cashed out on the good news.
South Korea's marketing community expects Kim's revenue from corporate commercial contracts alone to surpass at least 10 billion won this year.
Meanwhile, international firms are also likely to jump in on the bandwagon as well, including Risport of Italy, as IB Sports plans to expand the Yuna franchise overseas.
She is also an ambassador for her university, Korea University, though she rarely attends class there.