The sheer pace of change in South Korea may cause problems, John Tylee
Seoul represents the Asian market in microcosm - a high-rise monument to
rampant consumerism and the mass mugging of the environment.
The smog hovering over the capital of South Korea is the legacy of more
than two million Hondas, Daewoos and Hyundais that condemn its eight-
lane highways to perpetual gridlock.
Ozone warnings, accompanied by official pleas to use public transport
and bicycles, are as frequent as they are futile.
Small wonder that delegates arriving for last week’s International
Advertising Association congress greeted the forecast that the number of
cars in Asia will double by the millennium with mixed feelings.
‘When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, the knowledge that the gross
domestic product has risen by 2 per cent isn’t much consolation,’ one
South Korea, whose isolationism once earned it the sobriquet of the
Hermit Kingdom, has evolved with the reckless speed of a rollercoaster
into the sixth largest advertising market in the world. Its total
adspend grew by 18.7 per cent in 1995 to dollars 5.7 billion on the back
of a deregulated market and foreign expansion.
Meanwhile, its capital has risen from the ashes of the Korean War as a
city of spectacular ugliness. Paddy fields that once grew rice now
sprout hotels instead, provoking massive physical and social changes.
‘The pace of change hasn’t allowed people to make the mental and
psychological adjustment,’ Neil Drewitt, the media planning director of
Korad Ogilvy and Mather, Korea’s fifth largest agency, says.
South Korea’s dilemma, however, serves only to highlight the problems
and opportunities that prevail across a region of 259 million potential
As Vijay Crishna, a former Bombay agency executive and the chairman of
India’s Godrej-GR Appliances, puts it: ‘What lies ahead are major social
pressures and infrastructure problems on the one hand, and huge
marketing opportunities on the other.’
For Western advertisers and agencies, the speed of Asia’s growth is
almost incomprehensible, reflected in a multi-channel TV market twice as
large as the Western European network.
Martin Sorrell’s WPP says it expects its business in the Asia Pacific
region to increase by 15 per cent this year, almost double the
Michael Bungey, the chairman of Bates Worldwide, marvels at the pace of
Asia’s new-media revolution as signalled by the growing numbers of homes
‘The train is already travelling at 40mph,’ Warren Guthrie, the chairman
of Leo Burnett in Taiwan, observes. ‘But we’re still trying to paint the
Certainly the Asian economy, using Japan as its model, has built up a
powerful head of steam. It is already growing at more than twice the
global rate and is being given further impetus by China, India and
Vietnam as they join the economic elite. The prediction is that by 2010
the region’s economic output will be greater than that of the EU and the
North American free trade area.
High levels of domestic savings, allowing strong investment, is one of
the reasons for Asia’s economic surge. Another is better education,
which has improved the quality of a workforce steadily moving from low
yield agricultural jobs to more productive manufacturing roles.
In addition, increased interdependence in trade and investment between
Asian countries is helping the region’s economy to become self-
But is the Asian economic miracle durable, or will it falter as the
Soviet economy did in the 50s through a lack of technological progress?
No way, insists Peter Weldon, the vice-president of global marketing and
brand management at A. C. Nielsen in Hong Kong.‘The challenge for us is
to keep up.’
An expanding and prosperous middle class is driving the new Asian
consumerism, Shinji Fukukawa, the chairman of Japan’s Dentsu Institute
for Human Studies, says.
But it’s the spending power of middle class teenagers, the ‘shock
troops’ of Asia’s consumer revolution, that marketers are most
impatient to harness.
Star TV, majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and the
only pan-Asian satellite TV network, has already proved a unifying force
among the young through its Channel V music video service.
Lachlan Murdoch, Star’s vice-chairman, says: ‘What we as broadcasters,
producers and advertisers must do is strengthen our relationship with
young people to understand what influences the styles they adopt, their
purchasing decisions and their leisure time.’
But the biggest mistake advertisers can make is to treat Asia as a huge
homogeneous market. Dr Doo-Hee Lee, of Korea University’s school of
business administration, warns that the collectivism culture is
weakening and consumer trends are linking social classes across Asian
Nor should it be forgotten that old enmities run deep. FIFA, the
governing body of world soccer, may be about to learn this lesson the
hard way after making South Korea co-host the 2002 World Cup with Japan,
its detested former invader and occupying power.
‘Whoever dreamed that up,’ a Seoul agency executive comments, ‘must be