Much has changed since I left South Korea at the age of nine. It has become a global powerhouse in many facets. It is a leader in technology, not just in Asia but globally; the film industry has been making noise internationally thanks to cutting-edge scripts and unique art direction; singers and talent have become idols in the region; athletes are making their mark and soccer players are now playing for some major European teams ...
But when it comes to advertising, surprisingly, not much has changed. I've been looking for that one spot that makes me say: "I wish I did that." I have yet to come across it.
Korea is a consumer haven with an insatiable brand obsession. So it is genuinely puzzling why there are so many faceless brands. Are Koreans just not creative? Aren't there any brave clients out there? It seems as if every client uses the same talent because of their domestic celebrity status. The majority of advertising appears to be brand interchangeable - just switch the logo and no-one will ever notice.
I believe Koreans are creative, talented and hardworking. They have to be in order to be global leaders and survive the fierce competition within their own domestic market. Korea would not be where it is today without taking risks.
So why hasn't advertising evolved like everything else? So how can Korea break out of its time-warp?
It must start with a collective effort from one client and one agency. Together, they must be willing to think outside of the box and break the mould. Since my arrival, I have heard these phrases so often: "It's like this in Korea" or "You can't change the Korean mentality."
Koreans now live in a modern, consumer-driven society and they love brand-named products, but there is a definite need for change.
It's a fact that today's consumers now live in a 43-hour day, with more than 16 hours of interaction with media and technology. So how can marketers get them to take notice and pay attention in such an environment? The key is to create work so compelling that people will actually seek it out of their own accord.
Nowadays, consumers have huge choice.They can decide what, when and how they want to be reached. Therefore, if you can't reach out to consumers the way you used to, create something so engaging that they will reach out to you.
The challenge of changing advertising in Korea rests with one brave client and one brave agency, both willing to break from the norm.
Once this step has been taken, it won't be too long before the tables and heads start to turn. Hopefully, that'll be the catalyst Korean advertising needs to step into the 21st century. It's that simple, and it's that tough.
Wain Choi is the executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather South Korea.