In the vast sea of idols, it’s easy for any artist to be lost among the flotsam and jetsam. That is where a handy marketing team comes into play. It’s their job to help idols shine above the murky waters of K-pop. Unfortunately for some, certain strategies carry a cost to their image and career.
Rookie group Pritz is an example of one such group receiving the ire of the public. They gained infamy as “that group wearing those Nazi uniforms” because of their stage outfits. The black outfits feature a red armband with a pair of crossed arrows on a white background, reminiscent of the swastika, a symbol that carries a very dark history. Those unfamiliar with the symbol need only look up “Adolf Hitler” to gain a better understanding of the weight it carries. Glamorization of this symbol diminishes the pain of the many lives affected by a campaign of genocide.
Adding more insult to injury, the outfits are worn in their “Sorasora” MV as well, which their company, Pandagram, has already stated they won’t amend despite the backlash. This would be enough for any company to back off, but Pandagram took things another step downward, and used a “watermark” that resembles the Japanese Imperial flag for the background of the group’s album jacket. Cue the public outrage and calls for the group to be banned from music shows.
But wait a minute…if their company knows these symbols are problematic and damaging, why would they persist in promoting the group as is? Why not just simply remove the offending material altogether? Welcome to the insidious side of marketing.
Marketing has only one goal: promoting the product to a mass audience. In K-pop, the product is — obviously — the idols. These companies invest a lot of money into their “products,” so they need to pull out all the stops to get the public’s attention. After all, attention means buzz, which means becoming the trending topic on search engines, leading to clicks for more information, and shares among social media. It really doesn’t matter if the marketing campaign paints the artists in a bad light, as long as the companies get your eyeballs, and hopefully, your money. Attention is a widely sought commodity; idol image be damned.
Another example of some questionable marketing would be Zico‘s “Tough Cookie.” Sure, the song and MV received a lot of criticism, but the response of Seven Seasons leads one to wonder it if it wasn’t all just a slick ploy to raise his status in the music industry. Despite the success of Block B‘s previous albums, perhaps, Seven Seasons lost confidence in Zico as a solo artist, and thought it wouldn’t hurt to give him a boost of buzz via controversy. The marketing clearly worked in Zico’s favor as the song managed to top several music charts. At the cost of disappointing many fans, the strategy helped guarantee that the diss track wouldn’t land him into K-hip hop obscurity.
Since we’re on the subject of diss tracks, let’s talk about A Kor‘s Kemy. “Do the Right Rap” was a diss track aimed at Park Bom, which inflamed a lot of fans of the singer who came under scrutiny for a drug scandal only weeks before the song dropped. According to A Kor’s agency, however, the track was only meant to be a submission for a rap contest, and never supposed to leak to the public.
Still, look at what happened the moment the “leak” went viral. Suddenly, A Kor goes from being another typical rookie group to “that group with the girl who dissed Park Bom.” Although it meant gaining the fiery curses from an entire fandom, the media play earned the group some notoriety. Again, the key point of marketing is to promote the product to a mass audience, and nothing is more massive than going after a member of a highly popular girl group.
But let’s say a company doesn’t want to boost interest by angering a gang of passionate fans. Maybe they want to generate buzz by a method that never seems to fail: sex. That was the case for Four Ladies and their debut for “Move.”
Their salacious teasers brought on a mix of reviews that ranged from pure disgust to rabid support for women expressing their sexuality. Comments went back and forth over whether the concept had crossed a line because of the racy choreography mixed with skimpy attire. That didn’t matter to their company, though, since it meant the MV would generate more views than if they had worn more fabric and not featured a dance move that looked like a personal health exam. Regardless of any negative outcries of sexism and objectification, the marketing did its job again.
Or did it? How much did each of these artists profit from the damage to their image? Given the weight of a couple of these controversies, it appears little changed for the idols in terms of industry status. If anything, the one person who benefited the most from shock marketing is Zico. Even though some fans were left disheartened by his solo, many others rose to his defense, strengthening his stock all the more. The strategy wasn’t really necessary, but it didn’t hurt him badly either.
As for the others mentioned, that’s up for debate. After the blowup over Kemy’s track, A Kor took a brief hiatus, but soon returned with another song to promote, as well as two new members. Kemy even released another solo track, but that one didn’t gain as much attention.
Four Ladies remained largely under the radar, with only a couple of appearances on music shows. Of course, that was after amending their choreography to fit broadcast standards.
Pritz is the probably biggest loser in this game of shock strategy. It’s one thing to anger a group of people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs, but it’s another to anger your fellow citizens with a historical symbol that carries even more infamy in the country. Pandagram claims they didn’t use noise marketing for attention, but what else do you call it when a rookie group appears in search engines only for controversial material?
There are so many more questions that should be asked but aren’t. The question that fans should always ask when coming across these marketing ploys is, “Was it worth the sacrifice?” Is it justified to hurt others for the chance of gaining a few more fans? Should a company exploit idols in degrading and defaming ways, all for the sake of a couple extra MV views?
When companies resort to this level of marketing, it undermines their artists by propagating an image of shock for one’s controversial actions versus one’s inherit talents. Zico and Kemy are both fantastic rappers who don’t need to perpetuate the tired idea that real hip hop is purely diss tracks. Four Ladies could probably gain more attention if they polished their vocals and dancing routines a bit more. So could Pritz. Their companies don’t need to do this.
Fans don’t have to be won this way. Fans will follow the talent, if it’s there, so please stop insulting our tastes and intelligence with these cheap marketing tactics.