Celebrity endorsement is one of the most effective ways to establish instant rapport with consumers through one person’s external cues: his/her physique, athletic appeal, artistic performance and above all, likeability. In Korea, a country where the entertainment industry is highly industrialized and millions of young boys and girls go through cut-throat competition to get into this highly structured system that churns out one pop star after another, the success of Psy and his viral Gangnam style video is both an inspiration and an antidote of the cookie-cutter dynasty of the talent business. No wonder that in an instant, Psy has received many endorsement deals overnight, including a soju brand, a Kimchi Fridge as well as Nongshim Ramyun.

In mature markets like Europe or North America, most celebrity endorsements are usually limited to low-involvement products, e.g. shoes, chocolate, beer. You don’t always see many banking commercials with public faces in it. But in markets like Korea, it’s the whole gamut, from cars and department store, to sugar-free chewing gum, glittering nail polish and flat-screen TV. One of the unique aspects of Korean celebrity endorser is that most of them come from a few highly structured entertainment companies that, right from day one, have built them not only to sing and dance and perform in concerts, but to endorse products and promote corporate brands. It is amazing to see how closely corporates and entertainment companies work together to aid both the talent and the product. Recent example is SM Entertainment and Hyundai’s partnership releasing the PYL (Premium Younique Lifestyle) Younique Album to hype up both the car, Younique, and the talent, Jessica from Girls Generation.

Like in any other country, the golden rule of using celebrity endorsement is constant monitoring: celebrity’s image can change overnight (recent example: Lance Armstrong). All brands that use celebrity’s immediate power to generate brand familiarity and trust-worthiness risk the mercurial nature of the celebrity world. Korean, though, has a much higher percentage (latest statistics, 70-75%) of celebrity-endorsed commercials appearing in mass media than countries like the U.S. (approximately 20-25%), because of the readily-available source (think of the mass turnout of k-pop stars, generated by the minute) and strong, business structural support. How model of how celebrity endorsement works varies case by case: sometimes endorsement deals are built with one person’s image in mind; and other times there are concrete ideas on the table, and the communications team has to find the person that best fit the storyline. Sometimes the scripts are built together with the celebrity. In other words, the level of involvement depends on the nature and stage of the campaign.

In a country where one of the main cultural pillars is conformity, celebrity signifies the aspirational lifestyle that is supposed to be good for everybody. To say that celebrity endorsement is lazy advertising seems unfair (unless you count those commercials with just a pretty face holding a bottle of beer). After all, celebrities still need a storyline to connect with a brand and convey its equity. The shelf life of a celebrity can vary from months to years (think of Girls’ Generation and Rain. They have successfully refreshed their images and kept their personal brands culturally relevant and exciting year after year). In a way, it is more about two brands corroborating each other: the celebrity gives a corporate brand a recognizable face and vivid personality; the corporate brand substantiates a celebrity’s status. The two will need constant adjustment to make the collaboration mutually beneficial.
As far as whether Psy’s Gangnam style (Click here to read our article “Gangnam Style :  Killer Baseline or Social Commentary“) will be an overnight sensation or a long-term source of inspiration that a brand can draw upon, only time can tell. But for now, it’s not going away.

Originally written by Jinghuan Liu, as a contribution to Campaign Asia’s insight section (Dec 2012 issue).

For any queries, please contact Jessie Tsui, PR Manager Oracle Added Value

Photo credits: Jessica from Girls Generation - Younique Album Vol.1

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