Growth of Hallyu

Sabrina Gradolf  editorSwitzerland)

Hallyu has consistently and exponentially grown since 1999, when it surfaced as a major cultural phenomenon. But the growth of this wave has not been totally spontaneous and unplanned. The five major factors discussed above shaped the cultural environment of Korea, which led to the birth of the Korean wave. Five important factors have been crucial for maintaining the popularity of Hallyu and further boosting its potential to expand into other markets: Growing popularity of Korean brands: The Korean brands are doing the exact same thing to Japanese brands now, what the Japanese brands did to US brands during the 1960s and 1970s. Samsung and LG have been the forerunners in creating world class brands in the consumer electronics industry. LG has transformed itself from a manufacturer of cheap products to a brand of repute. Hyundai and Kia brands are creating a similar revolution in the car industry. Hyundai, which was once the source of jokes in the US industry due to its horrible quality, is now touted as one of best quality cars on the market and is competing head on with the Japanese giants Toyota and Nissan. AmorePacific is South Korea’s largest beauty company and ranks 7th on Women Wear’s Daily list of top 10 global beauty companies. On a collective level, the acceptance of these brands in the international market has improved the overall perception of its country of origin – South Korea. Gradually the world is associating Korea with Samsung and Hyundai instead of the Korean War. This new interest in Korea has been a great driver of Hallyu.

Increased R&D in design, production and overall quality: The popularity of leading Korean brands across the world including the US has highlighted certain key dimensions of success for Koreans – superior quality, cutting edge designs and a contemporary feel for the products and services. This lesson has been absorbed by almost all business sectors. This new emphasis has seen an increased investment in research and development in creating products of superior quality. The entertainment products like movies, music, dramas have all been described as having excellent production quality. South Korean movies now are of Hollywood production value and quality. This newfound focus on quality has enticed many new customers and helped sustain the popularity of movies, music, and dramas, which are the main products driving the Korean wave.As the popularity of these movies, music and dramas increased manifold in the region, it has also resulted in increased creative output. Since 1999 to the present, many Korean movies with innovative and appealing themes have been released. This increase in the quantity and quality of movies, music and dramas has helped sustain the growth of Hallyu.

Effective management of all touch points: Even though multiple factors have tremendously influenced the birth and evolution of Hallyu, one of its drivers is careful and effective management of all possible touch points. Touch points are the numerous instances where the customers come into contact with Hallyu. The entertainment industry, the different organizations involved in movies, music companies, online gaming companies, Korean chaebols and the Korean government have meticulously orchestrated their efforts in ensuring a consistent experience. Large event organizers such as the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and Winter Paralympics have also helped to build a more positive perception of Korea. All these players have ensured portrayal of the interesting aspects of Korean culture in their respective media. They have also effectively optimized the use of new Korean celebrities to further the cause of Hallyu across the region.

Continuous support from the Korean government: Korea is probably one of the only countries in the world that has a Ministry of Culture (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to be exact). A division of the ministry, the Popular Culture Industry Division, focuses on Korean pop music, fashion, mass entertainment, comic books, cartoons, and other key products. The division along with three other divisions are referred to as the Cultural Content Office. Its budget is a staggering USD 5.5 billion, with the aim to boost economic growth particularly through growing the country’s cultural industry export industry. Additionally, the Korean government sponsors 20-30% of a USD 1 billion investment fund earmarked to nurture and export popular culture. The remaining funds comes from investment banks and private companies and are managed by the Korean Venture Investment Corporation.

One of the strategies of managing Hallyu is the careful study of its target audience – mostly people in Asian countries. The Korean government and its divisions follow these Asian countries and cultures closely to understand which Korean Wave products would have the best probability of success in different markets. The secret is that no one understands these markets better than Korea.

The Korean government has also been very active in managing Hallyu outside of Korea by conducting different cultural festivals displaying the Korean offerings, conducting PR campaigns to publicize Korean uniqueness and indirectly helping the entertainment industry by creating a very conducive environment. As of August 2020, the Korean Culture and Information Service has set up 32 Korean Cultural Centers in 28 countries across Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and America to promote Hallyu.

The entertainment industry has been very proactive in feeling the pulse of the masses and producing appealing movies and dramas. The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) has made the best use of this huge interest in Korea by offering very attracting tour packages to tourists. These packages involve trips to locations made famous by the Korean dramas, travel to exclusive shooting locations and so on.

The Korean government has also built and opened “K-Culture Valley” in Goyang, a Hallyu inspired theme park which would house everything from film studios, Korean restaurants, live music concerts to movie galleries, hotels, shopping malls selling Korean celebrity merchandise and even a Korean theme park at a cost of USD 1.2 billion. The purpose of this theme park has been to put in one place all the interesting components of Hallyu for visitors.

Lesser animosity towards Korea in Southeast Asian region: History, in a strange way, is positively aiding Korea and the growth of Hallyu. Most Asian countries were former colonies of Japan during the World War time. The direct result of this has been the continuing animosity towards Japan in many Asian countries, most notably in mainland China. This has been the main reason for Japanese music or lifestyle not becoming a rage in many Asian countries. Korea on the other hand has been a former colony of Japan and thus is on the same page as many other Asian countries. This has helped Korea in both ways. The Japanese are able to identify with them as they are closer to Japan in terms of development and sophistication than any of the other Asian countries and therefore, Korean cultural exports have been huge in Japan.

At the same time, being a former colony of Japan, Korea and China share the same history. The Chinese are able to relate more closely with Korean cultural products and relate without an underlying sense of animosity and hatred. This has been a major factor for the explosion of Korean culture in mainland China.

Sabrina Gradolf  editorSwitzerland)