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3 South Korean Trends to be Aware Of

7 MINUTE READ | February 13, 2018

3 South Korean Trends to be Aware Of

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

With the official opening of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games last week, we thought it’d be appropriate to explore the Korean Wave and share a few notable South Korean trends and how some brands have leaned into their popularity to better connect with Korean consumers.

Commonly referred to as Hallyu, the “Korean Wave” is the phenomenal dissemination of Korean culture (everything from music, movies and online games to cuisine, fashion and design) across the world; serving as an optimal opportunity to showcase and promote South Korea’s rich heritage and culture on the world stage. What’s fascinating is that Hallyu is highly prioritized and invested in by the South Korean government and the nation’s top investors and businesspeople – acting as a way to build South Korea’s soft power, cultural relevancy, and essentially rebrand the country.

As South Korea has been historically known for the Korean War, North-South Korean conflict and the Asian financial crisis, thanks to Hallyu and the subsequential rebrand, South Korea has created new cultural perceptions and now considered a Mecca for pop culture, fine cuisine, high-tech cities, and unique entertainment superstars.

As one of the world leaders in IT infrastructure and high-speed technology, over 98% of South Korean households access the Internet regularly, with over 85% of the population owning a smartphone – plus, over 97% of 18 to 24-year-olds actively use their mobile device every day. Coupled with being the world’s top credit card users and practicing efficient spending habits (plus, the popularity of Daigou, especially among luxury goods), middle to upper-class South Koreans are well-connected, informed shoppers with special interests in quality, luxury goods. By using their online resources to explore, review and shop, South Koreans dedicate time to researching and purchasing the best products money can buy.

Induced as an economic side effect of Hallyu, South Korea has also enacted pivotal free market agreements with more than 50 countries – supplying South Korean consumers with even more options, especially in the digital landscape as brands can showcase and advertise their products on popular eCommerce sites like On the other side of the coin, these free market trade agreements also support the Korean Wave through the exportation of Korean goods to other markets, particularly China.

Another valuable insight is that, much like in America, brands are considered representative of the consumer (used to indicate the social status of an individual), so superstars, influencers and key tastemakers and their fashion decisions hold massive influence over the majority of South Korean consumers. Often, their decisions and endorsements can strategically determine the fashion and beauty trends of the season depending on brand and businesses partnerships – much like influencer-brand relations in the United States. And due to celebrity influence, the majority of consumer interest is focused on entertainment and fashion; justifying the rise of K-pop, fandoms, fast fashion, live streaming, and innovative cosmetics.

While we’re on the subject, let’s dive into a few of the most popular trends and explore how brands are leveraging their popularity to reach South Koreans.

Even though live streaming has taken a while to catch on in the United States, its popularity across South Korea is all the rage. And live streaming isn’t just for the rich and famous, it’s used by virtually everyone online to share everyday happenings, and serves as a casual communication platform between friend groups and communities. In fact, research has shown that nearly eight out of every ten people in South Korea have used a live streaming platform within the last year.

There are a plethora of live streaming apps and platforms that are popular in South Korea with the most popular being KakaoTalk at around 49 million monthly active users. Other popular messaging and live streaming platforms include WeChat, Afreecatv and V Live. What’s special about South Korea is that the live streaming platforms s are separate from all other social platform interactions whereas live streaming in the United States are additional features included on the popular social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

The nation’s obsessions with live streaming stem from the technology’s ability for the viewer and the streamer to interact with one another in real-time. Consumers are using live streams not only to check out and interact with the cool things their friends are doing throughout the day but also to see what their favorite influencers are up to as well.

IMO: Whereas American social media is often used to promote a specific image or maintain a personal aesthetic, the prevalence of real-time communication via social platforms like live streaming in South Korea shows a more authentic social media experience between users.

What’s even more interesting is that live streaming is easily monetized through real-time consumer purchasing, virtual gifting and advertisements. Research has shown that the top live streamers typically attract over 100,000 viewers per live stream session. User engagement is the highest priority even when consumers are making purchases through a live stream, which is why consumer purchasing opportunities are closely tied to user engagement via real-time chat.

An example of this would be the streamer posting a link to the product in the sidebar chat of the live stream they’re chatting about the product in so the users following along can purchase the same product, explore the brand’s offerings, etc.

Fandom culture is absolutely dominating South Korea and expanding across the world thanks to Hallyu and the international fame of K-pop stars. Because fandoms are the epitome of K-pop and the influence of superstars relies on methods like live streaming, the nation’s fascination with entertainment is embedded in everyday life of young South Koreans. The most popular K-pop group right now, BTS, is smashing global record sales and boasting an influential 11.4 million followers on Twitter; averaging 252,000 retweets per tweet. Luckily, most K-pop stars are open to different types of brand partnerships; creating optimal opportunities for brands to tap into fandom followings through influencer activations across the globe.

One regularly occurring phenomena with K-pop fandoms is their ability and desire power to sponsor and share their own ads about their fandom’s superstar. To show their love for their favorite K-pop stars, fandoms recently began sharing ads in the world’s most expensive ad spaces, like on a digital billboard in Time Square.

Fan-sponsored billboards are now commonplace in hotspot markets like Seoul and New York City but will cost a pretty penny. For a 15-second per hour spot on the NASDAQ and Thomson Reuters board in Time Square, it’ll cost the fandoms a cool $30,000 for one week.

There are thousands of ASMR, otherwise known as autonomous sensory meridian response, videos on YouTube and a few of the more popular ASMRtists have more than half a million subscribers; creating unique advertising and partnership opportunities for brands that can fit the ASMR mold and offer a boutique experience for ASMR fans. A sensational example of advertisers blending brand elements with ASMR is Ritz Crackers’ ASMR-focused video ad. By capitalizing on South Korea’s fascination with auditory sensations, Ritz focused on the crispiness of their product, grabbing the attention of millions of consumers.

One tip we learned upon researching ASMR a bit more is that the more unique the sound, the more ear-catching and popular it might become.

Because the use of ASMR can adjust to the needs of the listener, ASMR is widely used among various age groups in South Korea, from helping people relax and fall asleep to adding pleasure and delight to commutes and office work.

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By gaining a better sense of the most popular trends in South Korea today and understanding the South Korean consumer, we hope you enjoy watching the Winter Games and have gathered a few new ideas for how your brand can connect with a South Korean audience.

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