Matthew Miller
Jul 20, 2020

Korea's love for homegrown companies isn't just about national pride

ASIA's TOP 1000 BRANDS: Korean consumers are more discerning than ever, so product quality and premium-level sophistication are helping local brands stand out.

Korea's love for homegrown companies isn't just about national pride


Like the list of South Korea's top 100 brands (see list; see analysis), this year's accounting of South Korea's top local brands has been influenced by a strong wave of nationalist fervour.

The market has always shown a strong tendency for homegrown brands, of course. But a 2019 trade dispute with Japan saw a surge in made-in-Korea sentiment, which led retailers to remove Japanese brands from shelves. Over on the top 100 list, this sent many Korean brands rising, even those which had little to brag about (such as Korean Air). The impact of the dispute is harder to detect on this list of favourite local brands, but it is present.  

Korea's strongest local brands

We asked: "What do you think is the strongest local brand in South Korea? By ‘strongest local brand’ we mean a brand that originates from Korea, has the best reputation and resonates most strongly with those living in this market". The top 10 brands mentioned:

  • Samsung
  • LG
  • Hyundai
  • Kakao
  • Lotte
  • Naver
  • CJ
  • TopTen10
  • A Twosome Place
  • Hankook Tire

For example, fashion brand TopTen10, which Korean consumers didn't mention at all last year, shows up at eighth. The brand is more or less equivalent to Japan's Uniqlo, and it seized on the trade tension when it heated up in the latter half of 2019. The brand introduced clothes featuring profiles of independence activists like Yu Gwan-sun and Kim Gu, a shirt with a poem written by a renowned poet active during the Japanese colonial era, and a cap with the liberation date printed on it.

However, you'd be mistaken to think that brand preference in Korea is solely about nationalism. For example, take Hyundai. Although it's always named as a strong local brand, the carmaker rated more mentions this year. Jay Lee, MD with GroupM agency Essence in Seoul, attributes this to a marked increase in perception of quality, coupled with the sentiment against Japanese brands.

Hyundai's introduction of its premium Genesis brand several years ago, and a recent revamp of its main lineup, have shown consumers that Japanese brands no longer have a stranglehold on "premium-ness", Lee says.

The brand reached "a huge turning point" in the middle of last year, he says, with innovative offerings not just in terms of technology but also in terms of interior design that is "compelling"—even in comparison to the luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. "The consumers actually started to see the actual progress in the product quality, especially design, inherited from the success of Genesis," he says. 

Lee also asserts that Korean brands like Samsung and LG have made significant strides in improving their already high quality over the last few years, reaching a new level of premium lustre. Consumers have noticed, and the last vestiges of the belief that Japanese brands are superior are now all but erased.

Hankook Tire is another brand that has every bit as much traction as its global rivals thanks to products of equivalent quality. The company in recent years has become a fully competitive global supplier, supplying 50 carmakers including prestige names. For example, it has supplied the tyres (or 'tires', if you prefer) for several Porsche models, including the Macan, Cayenne, and the Taycan electric sedan.

Other brands receiving mentions as strong local brands include:

  • Cheong Kwan Jang
  • Meritz Insurance
  • Nunghyup Bank
  • Innisfree
  • Ottogi
  • Samdasoo Jeju
  • PulmuonE
  • SK Telecom
  • Olive Young


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