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People: K-pop, Cosmetics and the Power of Social Media–Cheil Worldwide’s Kate Oh Shares What Makes Korea So Successful as a National Brand

We were able to sit down with Kate Hyewon Oh, the Chief Creative Officer and Executive Creative Director at Cheil Worldwide, Seoul and was the Jury President for Brand Experience & Engagement Lotus and Direct Lotus category in the recent Adfest held in Pattaya last March. A veteran of 25 years in Cheil Worldwide, Kate has led some amazing campaigns including Samsung Camera’s ‘Insight’, which won two Gold Lions in 2012.

How did you get into advertising?

I started my whole career as a copywriter here in Cheil but being a copywriter was not my dream. Actually, I studied to be a reporter but as time went by, I realized this job is fit for me because there are always new things, people that have made me continuously involved with this line of work.


How has the 25 years been so far?

I’m really fascinated up until this point. There are always new clients and new people, new projects, and new problems that continuously make me very concentrated on the project. That’s always new and fun.

What has been the most memorable project for you?

There’s so many lovely projects but I still remember one of my past project is ‘Insight’ campaign. One of my friends is a photographer and he has been doing some good things for disabled people. He wants to teach the blind people how to take photos so he wanted to hold photography lessons for those guys. It did not make sense because they cannot see at all. How can they take a photo and how can they feel their outputs but he told me that the blind are not 100% blacked out, 80 percent or more can see a little light and dark, sometimes very vague images.

Even though they are blind, I think they want to get involved, know more about society. I started camera lessons, photography lessons with him. That was the beginning, but I was really touched, because they can see, they can feel it, they have another feeling that became the title, ‘Insight’; inside their minds they have some kind of eyes. At first, I made a special equipment for them because they cannot see (so) I prepared everything but they are young, they know about the technology and even they can assist clearly. They had a camera with them for one year (of documentation) to reproduce the whole process and then finally, we held an exhibition for everyone else so it’s a beautiful contradiction: blind people took the photos and then people can see the beautiful show. We held a beautiful exhibition and then invited people through SNS. We saw those beautiful pictures and we got so much money to send our class for the next year. That was one of my best projects, it was a long story but I still remember and I still have a relationship with those blind students.

Korea has been making waves, not just Kpop but also your beauty products and your food. Why do you think Korea as a national brand, became a hit internationally?

I thought about this. What’s the main reason why people are enthusiastic for Korean wave? I believe it’s the gift of time, because people say Korean culture suddenly came out to the world but that’s not true actually. It started from the idol culture. Korean people, they have invested so much time into developing this kind of system. There are many management companies. The idols enter the management companies at very early age like 12 or 13. They start training then they grow up together for almost 10 years. It was crazy, that investment. For the management company, they have to raise them for 10 years. The system is well-managed and I remember the beginning of those management companies, they have been around for over 20 years. That’s the reason: time. They don’t just come out, they invested time and money on the business.

Do you think social media has helped in this growth of Korea as a brand?

Yes. It’s distributed so many things, but some singers and stars around the world still want to hide themselves behind the curtain. BTS and BlackPink, especially the former, want to make friends with their fans. Their fans want to take care of them, not to adore them so it’s a very intimate relationship. That makes BTS one of the big stars worldwide.

As for cosmetics, Korean women have very good skin. People want to know about the secret of Koreans. So the manufacturers in Korea invest time, and they waited for a long time, analyzed it through different media circumstances through their product without any help of brand but now they have their brands. There are so many Korean brands (but) it’s a little more special in the ingredients they put in their cosmetics. In our company, we talked about this hot steam of discussions so they called these three factors pillars to support the Korea wave. The food, cosmetics and idol will lead this trend.

What makes a good brand experience?

I (was) one of the jurors in the Brand Experience and Engagement Lotus (for Adfest 2019). Brand experience is more important than anything. People really want to touch and experience the product by themselves. If they cannot do it, they can feel it through friends or other people. I realized nowadays that the customer is not just a customer anymore, they get involved in making some products and making some commercials. They are so creative; they have their own media, vloggers, and celebrities, and can spread something to the people very quickly and effectively. It’s a trend, you have to work with them, they’re no longer just customers. We have to think about them as a friend, as a colleague, as business partners. More brand experience can get more engagement with the customers and with to the people. I think brand experience can get through so many mediums. Brands have to say something through the media, they can just spread out to the people who are near the consumer. That’s kind of a very clever strategy to show their brand indirectly, very strongly.

What trends in Brand Engagement are you seeing that could be a really good thing for 2019?

Through this award show, I realized that people like a more analog way. They don’t want to be passive, they don’t want to watch through the SNS, they want to feel it and experience it. There has been a very interesting ice cream project in Japan. It’s very simple and clever, they launched their product with a very special spoon, it has a sculpture knife behind it, and then once they open the ice cream, they can sculpt. Suddenly, they made people artists. Once they bought the ice cream product and opened it, they try to make something. Some of the customers are really good, but that’s not the end, they take photos and they spread it out through their SNS. From the beginning, some people can have experiences the analog way, but once they start to spread out, it can get bigger. That’s a very smart way and I really like those kinds of campaigns, because without much investment, they can get what they want. I’m sure that will be a big trend.

Do brands put a lot of investment or money on social media?

Nowadays, some clients don’t want to invest their money in clash media like TV or radio. They put everything in social media so that’s true but some very clever clients cover brands (as it) sometimes it doesn’t have a good impact because too much brand exposure makes customers uncomfortable. Once they realize it’s from a brand, they don’t believe it’s true. I think nowadays, we have to develop a more sneaky way of indirect marketing.

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