By now you’ve seen the reports in the news about Seoul, South Korea choosing a new tousim slogan and the outrage that has ensued. Many have complained that the winning phrase “I.Seoul.U” means nothing to English speakers and will fail to achieve its desired goal.
South Korea sucks at marketing itself and the Seoul slogan debacle is no exception. The reason for these continued failures is simple: those at the top of the food chian believe they know better than the intended foreign audience and outside marketing professionals, what makes Korea (and Seoul) attractive — and that simply isn’t true.
In 2010, I was invited to a big press conference hosted by the Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Tourism (an organization I was writing for at the time) and asked by the minisiter himself what the organization gets wrong.
I flatly said, that when ads are generated, they’re often created without taking into consideration the target audience. The result is a disjointed and embarrassing attempt to woo a foreign audience. The spots, whie they may generate strong emotions to Koreans, elicit no reactions to foreigners.The false steps also make Korea (and its marketing efforts) appear like they’re not ready for prime time.
The effect leaves the audience wondering: If Korea can’t create a coherent English phrase to market your country with, can it even successfully handle English speaking tourists?
So while experts, foreigners, and others are involved with these projects, and try their best to put forward exceptional ideas that would actually perform well and serve the nation, the primary roadblock is really the “corporate culture” of top-down management where its impossible to disagree with a superior — no matter how wrong they are.