South Korea: Shrewder Commercials As Viewers Get Smarter

In South Korea, it is sometimes chilling to watch netizens detecting a trivial flaw from traditional media which would have gone unnoticed few years ago. Several days ago, internet users have scored another one. This time, a small and perhaps intentional error from the nation’s one of biggest networks’ prime time news.

Korea’s one of major broadcasting stations MBC featured a news coverage on Smartphones. On the covereage, a female interviewee appeared and showed how all the technology has converged into a Smartphone. The lady seemed like an ordinary citizen, but was in fact an employee of the Sony Ericsson and by no surprise, a Smartphone she was holding in the news was her company’s.

It is like everyone is a fact checker or a media monitoring agent.

Netizen are proud of themselves that they are not gullible enough to eat up the reality traditional media project. A Netzen ID: MissA (the page has now been deleted) is the one who solved a Smartphone coverage case (images above are from MissA's posting) and blew a lady interviewee’s cover. MissA posted a screen capture images of Jeon Ham, the lady interviewee and her Sony Ericsson phone from the news and a coup de grace, a screen shoot of an internet page noticing new recruits for Sony Ericsson where Jeon was listed as a person in charge of recruiting and her phone number designated as a contact number. Peoples’ response was immediate. Most of them did not hold back their irritations that can be felt after being fooled. A netizen ID: Warota commented right below MissA's article that it is irritating to watch a combination of news and a commercial in a serious news program and pointed out this incident can jeopardize the news credibility.

일반 시민처럼 나와서 마치 아무런 사심없이 소니 에릭슨이 좋아서 쓴다는 것처럼 인터뷰하는게 웃기다는거야 저 사람이 소니에릭슨에 근무하는 사람인데 자사 상품 갖고 나와서 공평하게 평가하겠냐?

The ridiculous part is that she appeared as an ordinary citizen and pretended as if she is using a Sony Ericsson’s phone purely because she likes it with no interests attached. She works for Sony Ericsson, how can we expect objective evaluations on the phone from her?

Another netizen ID: Zidell said that Sony hit an promotional jackpot, since it is not technically a PPL(Product Placement) thereby no monetary compensation is needed but still, the promotional effect the news coverage will bring can be phenomenal. Zidell later shared a bit of background information on the indirect commercials on TV and concluded there is no legal issue the station is facing. The case is more likely to fall into moral area.

PPL이거나 PPL의 일종은 절대 아닙니다. PPL은 노출에 대한 댓가를 지불하기 때문에 ‘유료로 지면을 지불하여 메시지를 전달'하는 완전한 광고의 영역에 속합니다. PPL은 주로 드라마, 영화, 기타 오락적 미디어에 쓰이며 뉴스에서 PPL비스무리 한다는 것은 말이 되지 않습니다. 기사비슷하게 광고하는 것을 기사형 광고(advertorial)이라하는데 이것 역시 기사와 같은 흉내만 낼 뿐이지 돈을 내고 광고 지면이나 시간대에만 내보냅니다.

This is neither PPL(Product Placement) nor a sort of PPL, because, if it were Product Placement, a company should buy media coverage. (which in this case, it did not) In such case, it totally belongs to the area of commercial where people is paying to deliver message on TV. The Product Placement is usually adopted by soap operas, movies and entertainments, but never by news. The advertorial (ad+editorial) is an ad that looks like a news editorial. But this case neither belong to this category since the advertorial, while adopting a news article format, is transmitted on air during bought times and on paid-ad pages.

즉, 돈을 안 들이고 광고한 PR로 설명을 할 수 있고요.. 기자는 윤리적인 문제에 대한 비판이나 징계에 대해 감당을 해야하며, 소니 에릭슨은 돈 안들이고 엄청난 노출효과를 본 홍보잭팟을 터트린 입장이지요. 보통 기사에 자사 제품이나 브랜드가 언급되기를 바라면서 각 홍보팀이나 대행사들이 보도자료를 계속 배포하는데, 이렇게 대놓고 기사전체가 특정 제품의 장점을 줄줄이 꿰는 홍보사례는 언론 윤리적으로 욕을 좀 먹을만 하죠… 저 전함씨의 차림새나 나레이션 등을 종합했을 때 맘먹고 홍보하려고 나온 것 같은데, 아무런 비판없이 소니에릭슨 측의 입장을 뉴스로 내보낸 것은 문제가 있다고 생각합니다.

So, this can be defined as a promotion done at no cost. While the journalist could face an ethical criticism and reprehension, Sony Ericsson has hit a promotional jackpot- they got this huge media coverage on them without paying for it. Each company’s media relations team and promotion agencies are constantly releasing the press releases, hoping their products just to be mentioned in the news articles. But a news coverage (like this one) that dedicated in promoting all the strengths a product has? Well, this kind of promotion deserves people’s condemnation, media ethics-wise… Considering Jeon Ham’s outfit and diction, she seemed to have appeared on the news on promotional purpose. It is news (desk’s) fault to deliver Sony Ericsson’s unfiltered message on air.

Korean portals are notorious for a deluge of the advertorial, a combination of an ad and a news editorial, but basically a commercial in a news format. Many people share a vexing experience of clicking a news article with an enticing title and read though the end only to check a last sentence that read ‘this is a news release from the company’. In most Korean major portal sites, the news articles are place right in the middle of the main page and keep updating on timely basis. This is where the advertorials swoop in. A blogger the3rdman expressed an anger on this harassing ads. A advertorial the blogger mentioned was placed in a sweet spot of a portal’s main page and disguised as if it is a new article from Yonhap news agency giving tips on economizing space. It was later turned out to be an ad from a home décor company.

언론과 포털이 짝짜궁이 되어 추한 짓을 벌이는 것을 보니 기가 막힌다. 오늘 포털daum의 ‘메인화면’ 에 나온 기사다. 포털의 메인 화면의 위력은 상당하다… 하물며 상단 제일 보기 쉬운 곳에 ‘사진'과 함께라면 그 효과는 훨씬 크다…아마 최고 1만에 가까운 동접율을 보일 것이다. 그런 기사, 뉴스야 메일 나온다. 문제는 그 ‘내용’ 이다… 이건 ‘기사'가 아니가 ‘광고’ 였기 때문이다.

This ugly alliance of the media with portal sites makes me all speechless. The power of a portal’s main page is substantial….Moreover, when this (ad) is posted in a golden spot from the upper side of a main page where it is natural to catch peoples’ eyes, the influence the ad has is magnified. There could be 10 thousand people in maximum reading it at the same time…(Even though) there are always news articles posted every day, what matters is the content of the article. And this was not news but a commercial.

A blogger Joleng has posted his research on the product placement and some of legal issues. South Korea, starting from January this year, lifted a ban on the product placement and virtual placement. This new move was adopted to contribute to the broadcasting stations’ easy financing and enlarge the advertisement markets and especially, to halt underground product placements markets by making indirect advertisements official. Several specific rules have been added; in case of the product placement, the revised article allows it only in soaps and entertainment shows, but not in educational, kids’ and news program which can risk the programs’ impartiality.

The product placement, as well as the virtual placement has been actively used in soaps operas. As Korea’s soap markets are getting bigger, the product placement has gotten more diverse and discreet. In a KBS’ soap, ‘Cinderella's Sister’ the heroin orders a non-existing alcohol brand that has a very similar name with the actual advertizing alcohol brand and ‘the Man Called God’ from MBC, the main character constantly says ‘Why not?” which was the Samsung Card’s catchphrase from the commercial.

A blogger Designlog wrote in the article titled ‘Soap Operas are like Home shopping’ for displaying too many products on the show to plow more ad money.

이렇게 도가 지나친 간접광고를 남발하는 SBS 인기드라마 ‘유리의 성'을 향해 일부 시청자는 ‘드라마가 아닌 마스카라 광고다. 그리고 다음에는 어떤 제품이 PPL로 나올지 내심 기다려진다'고 간접광고 남발을 비꼬기도 했습니다…물론 드라마 제작비 조달을 위해 간접광고(PPL)가 필요하다는 것은 충분히 공감하고 이해되는 부뷴이지만 이처럼 드라마 흐름을 방해하는 노골적인 간접광고는 피해줬으면 하는 게 시청자들의 작은 바람이 아닐까 생각합니다.

SBS’s popular soap ‘the Glass castle’ indiscriminately transmitted excessive ppl(product placements). Some people have been calling it as not a soap but ‘a mascara commercial’ and commented sarcastically ‘I am waiting to watch which products will be featured in the next episode as product placements…Even though it is more than understandable that the product placement is needed to finance the soap’s production cost, but I hope the producers to evade(lessen) blatant commercials that ruin the flow of the soap. That would be the viewer’s small hope.

The blogger warned the company of possible backlash from increasingly smarter viewers.

이제는 시청자들 역시 과거에 비해 많이 달라졌다는 것입니다. 보다 똑똑하고 날카로운 눈썰미로 간접광고를 여지없이 지적해 내고 이것을 인지하는 시청자들에게 노골적인 간접광고는 눈살을 찌푸리게 하고 기대하는 광고효과보다 역으로 제품 또는 기업 이미지를 반감시킬 수 있는 결과를 불러 올 수 있다는 것입니다.

What should be noted is that the viewers have gotten much smarter than in the past. They have keener and smarter sensitivity and using this to point out the product placement and frown at those. Furthermore, this product placement (tactics) can create reverse mechanism. Things can work out in opposite direction; these product placements can undermined the companies’ and product’s already built (good) impression.

Bygone the days when the traditional media wielded its used-up tactics with no one noticing its sly maneuvers. Business are evolving, mutating into discreeter direction as people learn to leverage unlimited access to information.

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