If you’ve ever paid attention to the sidebar here at Seoulbeats, odds are you’ve been fortunate enough to be graced by the presence of HyunA and her Toyota Corolla. For those who haven’t, you can probably either take a look to your right— provided it is still there, or check out the screen shot. (I’ve also highlighted the ad for those who don’t think the car is a big enough giveaway.)
It’s not all that surprising to see K-pop idols take over a significant sector of the CF industry. CFs are one of, if not the biggest, money makers for K-pop stars. Starring in as many CFs as possible is a mark of national popularity, as in the case of Miss A’s Suzy and Girls’ Generation. It’s for that reason that we see all of those quarterly, midyear and year-end tallies for celebrities with the most CFs. What is unique in the K-pop sector though, is that you have popular pop music singers sing songs specifically for advertising a particular product. HyunA’s Toyota promotion falls in that category as she has made a music video for “My Color,” a song basically all about being super attractive by owning a Toyota Corolla or something along those lines. To be entirely honest, I’m not quite sure what the song is trying to say beyond product placing through the line “Toyota, places, Corolla, places,” and the excessive repetition of the Toyota tagline, “Let’s go places.” I also don’t claim to understand what the whole “my color” concept actually means. The song itself is pretty generic yet catchy, as long as you disregard the annoying pre-chorus and rap. I actually even find myself humming the chorus from time to time. Regardless of the quality of the song, however, HyunA does sell the car well by being her usual, very seductive self.
HyunA though, is not all that unique in making a music video for her sponsors. 2PM sang a song (conveniently called “My Color” as well) a few years ago while promoting Samsung’s Corby Phone. Complete with the always compulsory “JYP” whisper at the beginning, “My Color” is actually a legitimate song with a legitimate music video that just so happens to be littered with phones and pretty girls. No one would ever notice that it’s really a CF masquerading as a music video, not at all.
I may be joking about the 2PM music video being un-advertisement-like, but there have been occasions where the impact of the music video and song essentially supersedes the product being sold. The most famous of these MV/CF hybrids are the music videos for Girls’ Generation and f(x) who both promoted the LG Chocolate phone through different versions of the song “Chocolate Love.” The song became very popular, and ironically, “Chocolate Love” is often regarded as one of f(x)’s best songs. Another surprising thing about “Chocolate Love” is that the song, which started out as just a CF song, actually became a promoted song for f(x) in non-advertising avenues. They preformed the song live for KFN, Children’s Day, and multiple other events besides the one for LG CYON promoting the phone—there’s even an English version they promoted in France. Another great example would be the popularity of Big Bang and 2NE1‘s “Lollipop,” which was a song released for the promotion of the LG Lollipop phone that pretty much skyrocketed 2NE1’s popularity before they even debuted.
Sometimes advertisers go as far as to create new musical groups to promote a product. JYJ’s Junsu (while he was in TVXQ), BoA (the main model), Tablo, and a pianist named Jin Bora made the project group AnyBand for AnyCall Samsung, through which they promoted two songs: “TPL” and “Promise You.” The group made a single music video for both songs and also had a concert which included supporting performances by TVXQ and Epik High. In my opinion, the project group sounded amazing together (you literally had some of the best singers and rappers in K-pop in one group) and I only wish there were more releases from them, advertisement or not.
SM Entertainment in particular has been rather bold when it comes to their idols’ promotions for products through music, and are even shameless advertisers themselves when it comes to product placement in music videos and dramas (for example,”Genie” High School in To the Beautiful You.) I’m not entirely sure about how effective those ads are anymore as most of us have been practically desensitized to all the permanent banners on MVs. Although, many of us should remember the initial outrage. My favorite form of SM product placement, though unrelated to music itself as an advertisement, has to be the Girls Generation music videos, where they literally have the product they’re advertising in the music video. Along the lines of the previous examples, SM has also been part of “company-wide” music-based advertising campaigns, such as “Younique” with Hyundai, for which we’ve even reviewed an album and a music video.
Clearly, companies are spending huge sums of money to have K-pop idols support their products just by their presence alone. It feels like every other day that we seem to hear something about Girls’ Generation promoting a product that gets sold out faster than you can count to three just because they promote it. K-pop idols, male and female alike, are always working for make-up companies, and you see their faces littered across beauty shops in Korea and on websites online. K-pop endorsements certainly don’t end there since they promote everything from water filtration systems to school uniforms.
If the faces of idols are enough to sell a product, why do companies need to make music videos and songs which certainly costs them even more? The reason is probably to increase the memorability of the advertisement. As I just mentioned earlier, most people have been desensitized to the presence of the banners in SM music videos due to sheer overexposure. Many of us probably don’t even notice that they’re still there (Yes, I went and checked the latest SHINee video just to make sure.) Overexposure to print ads usually ends up becoming detrimental, because over-stimulation is something people are biologically designed to ignore. ( The reason you tend to smell something strongly only for a short time period, or how you can listen to conversations in a noisy room is very much related to this.) If I see fifty thousand Genie ads on SHINee’s music video, by ad number ten, I’ve already tuned out or have left altogether.
Music, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to work that way. We watch performances of the same song multiple times over, make playlists that we play over and over—there’s even a button on iTunes that plays a single song on infinite loop. Songs don’t just stick to our brains, they stay stuck. “Chocolate Love” and “Lollipop” are still songs I enjoy and associate with the LG phones they promoted, even when the phone isn’t on sale anymore. The beauty of K-pop as an advertising medium is its parasitic quality, wherein catchy songs tend to just not leave, no matter how much one tries. Advertisements have taken advantage of that quality, and to great success. I won’t be surprised if we see K-pop based advertisements well into the future.
Seoulmates, do you find “musical advertisements” to be as successful, if not more successful, than print ads? What are some of your favorite promotional songs?
(YouTube, Images via SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, J.Estina, Toyota)