In an otherwise relatively uneventful year, the Korean market was rocked by the launch of a single product: the iPhone. Within a month of its debut in November, 90,000 handsets had been sold, and Apple is forecasting sales of 700,000 this year. The su- ccess is made all the more striking by the fact that Korea is the world's most advanced smartphone market.
"The iPhone is one of the few foreign [technology] products that seems to have got past the barrier," says Steve Yi, strategic planning director at Grey Korea. "It's just different. It offers something unique that Korean companies haven't been able to do better."
Given the level of competition between smartphone manufacturers, it is unsurprising that the telecoms sector continues to lead the country's advertising. According to Hong-tack Kim, head of interactive at Cheil Worldwide, service providers such as KT and SK Telecom produced around 50 TVCs last year. Meanwhile, Han-yeong Eom, client service director at Diamond Ogilvy, claims a number of advertisers have "hijacked" the word 'smart' in the hope that the dynamism of the smartphone market will translate to their businesses. "We have seen the launch of the Lotte DC Smart Card, the Hyundai Smart Card, the ING Life Smart Plan, SK Smart Energy, and Hanhwa Smart Bonds."
Yi cites the production of branded musical entertainment as another growing marketing trend, following the recent domination of celebrity endorsement by ice skating champion Yu-na Kim (to whom Samsung even dedicated a mobile handset). Brands from Hyundai to fast food chain BBQ Chicken have employed local pop stars such as Big Bang and 2PM to add entertainment value to their promotions. "There is more demand for singers than for any other celebrities," Yi states.
Advertising by domestic brands towards an older demographic offered an elixir of youth - understandable a country with such a rapidly aging population. Alcoholic drinks brands like Jinro reignited interest in mak-gu-li, a traditional rice wine, by emphasising the product's benefits for skin.
And cosmetics firms such as Amore Pacific, while stepping up activity abroad, have concentrated on pushing anti-aging products. Otherwise, FMCG brands kept a relatively low profile, as did the majority of MNCs. "It has been a poor year for the import beer and tobacco market," Yi says, adding that with the exception of Apple, domestic brands have, overall, stood strong at the expense of foreign rivals.
Korea Top 20 brands
5 Hyundai (Motors)
8 Seoul Milk
11 Korean Air
12 Kookmin Bank (KB)
15 SK Telecom
18 Shinhan Bank
1 Chosun Ilbo
2 Joongang Ilbo
3 Dong A Ilbo
4 Maeil Economic
This article was originally published as part of the 2010 Top 1000 Brands report.