This look at Korea's top 100 brands is part of Campaign Asia-Pacific's Asia's Top 1000 Brands report. For more on the status of Korea brands according to our research, see the full Korea market report.
It will come as little surprise that Samsung remains undaunted as South Korea’s strongest brand, as well as the leading brand in Asia-Pacific.
The corporate scandal that engulfed the company’s vice-chairman in 2017, followed by his sentencing and subsequent release from prison on appeal, appears to have had no impact at all on the average consumer’s view of the company. That is despite increased public scrutiny in recent years of corrupt practices at the country’s flagship companies. (Perplexingly, Korean Air also rose slightly, from 42 to 38, despite widespread disgust at the boorish behaviour of its owners, dubbed the ‘nut rage family’.)
A source of national pride almost inseparable from the country’s own brand, it seems unlikely that Samsung will be toppled any time soon. The threat from Apple has receded slightly, with the US brand slipping one place to fourth. Its closest challenger is LG, which held firm in second place. But while LG also benefits from being a part of national heritage, it does not operate in the same league, having invested a lot less in its brand.
Still, no brand is without its challenges, and the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Xiaomi, which ranked 205 this year, signals that the smartphone space is becoming more crowded.
Speaking at a World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) event in May, Younghee Lee, Samsung’s EVP and CMO, stressed the challenge of maintaining consistency in brand messaging, which applies to the company’s home market as much as it does internationally.
In the automotive space, Hyundai remained on top but fell from 86 to 91, challenged by BMW. The German brand jumped to 93 from 104.
Japanese brands, while ubiquitous throughout much of Asia, have always struggled in Korea. However, a surprise entrant to the top 100 came in the form of Uniqlo, which reached 49. The fast fashion label benefits from the absence of any clear local competition.
Back in the realm of domestic giants, the internet company Naver made an impressive jump this year, from 11 to 5. Google did too, moving from 20 to 14, suggesting it is making further inroads in a market that it has always found challenging.
By contrast, Facebook appears to be struggling. While the brand ranks at 27 regionally, in South Korea it fell 24 places to 88. Negative press around the platform’s global data breaches may have played a small role in weakening perception, but it is more likely that engagement is simply starting to wane, as it is in a number of markets. Twitter also fell, from 161 to 181. Again mirroring international trends, the social platform with the most positive outlook is Instagram, which sits at 206.
Despite its level of technological advancement, South Korea is not known for its innovative startups, mostly because of the extent to which large family-owned conglomerates dominate society. As a result, large corporations tend to drive what relatively little domestic innovation there is. One notable company to make headway this year was Kakao T, formerly known as Kakao Taxi, which competes with Uber in the taxi-hailing space. Owned by the internet company Kakao, the brand leapt 156 places to 19, while Uber fell from 22 to 43.
In other growth sectors, US tech companies made headway. Amazon climbed from 154 to 111, and Airbnb rose two to 150.
Regionally, Samsung aside, South Korean brands are a small but respectable presence among the top 100: LG ranks at 7, and Lotte at 36.