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Lessons from
K-pops Global Success
SEO Min-Soo

K-pops global reach terman and Live! With Kelly this year.

On the heels of the successful launch of Korean In addition to highly well-received international
TV dramas in foreign markets, K-pop began to tours, K-pop has experienced explosive online
make inroads in China, Japan and Thailand in popularity. Views for K-pop videos reached 2.3
the early 2000s. In recent years K-pop has ex- billion on YouTube in 235 countries in 2011.
panded into Europe, the Middle East and the
Americas in a second Korean Wave. K-pops K-pops stature now transcends economic
current reigning girl group, Girls Generation, terms; it has become a strategic asset with halo
made their nationwide US debut with an ap- effects on Koreas brand and its products. The
pearance on The Late Show with David Let- economic effects of the second Korean Wave

60 | www.seriquarterly.com
SEO Min-Soo

are estimated at about 5 trillion as of 2010.1 that Korean companies can leverage K-pops
techniques for their own benefit.
The success of K-pop groups did not come
overnight. Rather, the emergence of K-pop is
the result of methodical planning and execution K-pops Success Factors
that offers lessons to any company setting its
sights on the global market. This report analyz- This report adopted a four-pointed cultural di-
es K-pops success factors, and suggests ways amond model2 to determine the four factors

1 Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange.

2 Griswold, W. (1994). Cultures and Societies in a Changing World. Pine forge Press.; Alexander, V. (2003). Sociology of the Arts: Exploring
Fine and Popular Forms. Blackwell.

July 2012 | SERI Quarterly | 61

Lessons from K-pops Global Success

|Figure 1 Number of Views of K-pop Videos on YouTube (2011)


Russia Canada
UK 46,477,940
22,705,547 Europe Kazakhstan North America
Mongolia Japan 423,683,759
Middle US
France East Asia China Korea 155,325,204 240,748,112
26,591,412 India
Taiwan 189,027,731
Africa Hong Kong 76,937,448
Saudi Arabia Thailand
42,719,685 Philippines 74,251,012 South America
Malaysia Mexico
98,693,969 34,237,580 Brazil
Australia 21,090,241
Singapore Peru
68,546,360 27,132,121 25,503,082
Vietnam Indonesia Chile
100 mil.-500 mil. 177,358,800 81,128,637 <Views by Region> 13,777,557
10 mil.-100 mil.
1 mil.-10 mil.
100,000-1 mil. Asia 1,662,650,415
10,000-100,000 North America 289,271,024
Less than 10,000 Europe 173,862,484
South America 119,078,862
Oceania 30,820,231
Africa 9,630,772
Others 1,340,903
Note: GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity per capita.
Source: JoongAng Ilbo. The number of views of K-POP videos on YouTube reached 2.3 billion in 235 countries last year. (January 2, 2011).

that drove K-pop to new heights: preparation, product overseas. The process is systematically
delivery, consumers and content. designed, starting with selecting prospective
stars, putting them through a rigorous training
In the preparation stage, K-pops major produc- regime, producing shows and promoting glob-
tion companies lay the groundwork for moving ally. Training in particular is highly engineered,

|Figure 2 K-pops Diamond Success Model

Active use of
social networking services
Preparation Consumers

Systematic fan base
Singing and
choreography styles

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SEO Min-Soo

|Figure 3 Four Stages of Star Preparation

1 2 3 4
Preliminary Research Casting Training Producing Global Promotion

Focus on finding Nurture best Tap global sources Use local partners
talented aspirants candidates for years of creative work networks

5-10 Years of Training

with aspirants undergoing five to seven years of In the producing stage, companies seek out
instruction in singing and dancing. Even after ideas from global sources. Managers work with
this process, there is no guarantee of actually top experts in music and choreography to per-
appearing on stage. Thus, only the best of the fect the appeal of their upcoming artists. Cre-
best ever reach the eyes and ears of the public, ative input is sourced globally from experts in
ensuring K-pops continuing competitiveness. many countries and in multiple industries.

In the casting stage, production companies fo- In the global promotion stage, entertainment
cus on finding bankable stars. Trainees are companies actively network with overseas part-
found through auditions or recommendations ners. Companies plan overseas marketing from
from existing celebrities. Auditions are also held the earliest stages of planning, including form-
overseas. ing partnerships with major record labels like
Music Japan and Avex to reduce the risks inher-
SM Entertainment, a leading K-pop producer, ent in overseas promotion. K-pop promoters
has been holding global auditions since 2006 also release albums specifically for local mar-
in the US, Canada and Thailand, with 300,000 kets to overcome cultural barriers.
performers applying annually for 300 posi-
tions. In delivery, K-pop now relies heavily on social
networking services (SNS) like YouTube, Face-
The training stage represents a long-term in- book and Twitter for worldwide exposure. The
vestment by entertainment companies. Train- speed at which K-pop clips can go viral has sig-
ees daily regimen includes not only singing and nificantly reduced the time and expense needed
dancing but also acting, foreign language skills to build awareness in foreign markets. The im-
and personal development. Training is conduct- pact of SNS is apparent when comparing the
ed by teams of experts, and trainees must pass time it now takes for Korean entertainers to
periodic evaluations to stay in the program. gain popularity compared to the pre-SNS era.
Performers can see their names on marquees
only after several years of this regimen. In Japan, K-pop singer Boa took five years to

July 2012 | SERI Quarterly | 63

Lessons from K-pops Global Success

establish herself after her first debut in 2001. pop conventions. Visually, K-pop uses tight cho-
Dong Bang Shin Ki, a group which debuted in reography to sustain high energy and interest,
2004, took four years to make an impression. In while an ever changing range of fashions and
contrast, Girls Generation emerged as the top styles ensure that its performers remain fresh
band on Oricon Chart in 2011 on the day their and appealing. K-pops formula has met with
first original album was released in Japan by broad appeal across a myriad of nationalities
riding the wave of SNS. and languages.

Information technology (IT) is also related to

the consumer component of the K-pop dia- Applying the K-pop Strategy
mond. In contrast to Korean TV dramas,
whose fan base consists of middle-aged women, K-pop creates direct economic value and
K-pop appeals to young people, particularly branding effects for Korea. K-pops songs, sing-
women, who are already comfortable with SNS ers and fans provide opportunities for compa-
and mobile IT. These young fans not only listen nies to develop new products and marketing
to K-pop, they also create their own K-pop-in- strategies, as well as new ways to broaden their
spired entertainment. In Thailand, homemade markets.
videos of people imitating the moves of their fa-
vorite K-pop singers has become a popular The first K-pop strategy businesses can use is
trend. This viral transmission of K-pop has launching K-pop-based products through a
spread to Europe and the Americas, with fans one source, multi-use method. The game and
learning K-pop lyrics and dance moves. animation industries can develop characters
using K-pop content and stars. K-pop songs
Lastly, from the content perspective, K-pop has and singers can form the basis for blockbuster
assembled all the ingredients to draw fans from theater productions, as with the hit Broadway
around the world. Musically, K-pop relies on musical Mamma-mia, which used ABBA
simple melodies that incorporate western-style songs.

|Figure 4 K-pop Utilization Strategy by Component

Utilization Strategy & Industry Interdependence High Middle Low

K-pop Songs
Catchy melodies New
1 Creation of value-added by producing
K pop-based products
Style (dance & fashion) Software,
2 Utilizing K-pop related themes for Fashion,
tourist packages Characters, Cosmetics,
Distribution, IT,
K-pop Singers Tourism, Cars,
Food &
Talent New Maximizing marketing effect by Restaurants Electronics
marketing collaborating with stars
Perfected visual styles Others

K-pop Fans 4 Raising consumer interest by using

K-pop stars as representatives

Worldwide, all regions New

SNS users
5 Targeting
the transnational-market

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SEO Min-Soo

The second K-pop strategy Korean businesses

can use is to develop tourism packages designed
for K-pop fans. Tour packages that combine
concerts, shopping and music locations can be
developed. More than 1 million people will visit
Korea to go to large events starring Korean
Wave stars. This is already being arranged by
Japan Travel Bureau (JTB), the biggest travel
agency in Japan. JTB offers Korean Wave tour
packages with concerts and shopping in coop-
eration with Koreas duty-free shopping centers.
In 2011, Japan Travel Bureau organized a major
concert featuring popular K-pop stars Big Bang
and Kara. This two-day/three-night package
attracted 2,000 Chinese tourists in 2011.

Culture clusters involving K-pop can be built

around settings from two of Koreas most pop-
The emergence of
ular dramasWinter Sonata, filmed on K-pop is the result of
Nami Island, and Jewel in the Palace, filmed
in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. At the same methodical planning and
time, exclusive spaces (K-pop theaters) for peo-
ple to enjoy K-pop can attract more visitors.
execution that offers
lessons to any company
The third strategy is to collaborate with K-pop
idols in new product development and market- setting its sights on the
ing. By connecting stars image with product
concepts, companies can enjoy substantial mar- global market.
keting effects. When American hip hop star
Kanye West helped design shoes for Louis Vuit-
ton, the shoes sold out immediately despite a
price of $1,000 per pair. Global fast fashion
company H&M and global cosmetic brand
Elizabeth Arden are also collaborating with
pop stars like Madonna and Britney Spears.

The fourth strategy is to use K-pop stars as

models for advertising related products. Makers
of food and beverages, cosmetics and clothing
can bridge customers psychological distance to
products by using familiar K-pop singers that fit
the products image. Daesang Corporation, one
of Koreas largest food companies, hired popu-
lar girl group Kara to model in its Hongcho

July 2012 | SERI Quarterly | 65

Lessons from K-pops Global Success

(drinking vinegar) advertisements in Japan. duction process in K-pop, which creates global
After the ads appeared, Daesang achieved 47 stars by emphasizing basic skills. K-pop singers
billion in sales in the second half of 2011, 15 are recognized globally not only for their at-
times as much as sales for the first half. tractive looks but also for their excellent singing
and dancing skills. This results from rigorous
Lastly, companies need to turn their attention and lengthy training, in music, choreography,
to K-pop fans in emerging market economies. composition and foreign languages. Companies
Koreas exports to the Middle East and Latin can benchmark the K-pop training system in
America have been growing at an exponential their human resources management and instill
rate. Exports of beverages to Iraq have soared a hiring process that focuses on basic skills and
1,981 percent year-on-year. Car exports to Ka- growth potential. By providing systematic edu-
zakhstan have grown 275 percent year-on-year. cation and training that maximizes individual
Mobile phone exports to Peru jumped 102 per- potential, companies can produce their own
cent over last year. Korean companies hoping global stars.
to capitalize on K-pop can thus devise market-
ing strategies that use SNS platforms. SM En- Lastly, companies should learn from the exam-
tertainment President Lee Soo-Man once said ple of K-pop production companies long-term
that people who view its content on YouTube planning, which overcame initially weak brand
and Facebook are SM citizens. Indeed, young power. Latecomers with no name and compa-
people who listen to K-pop are often trendset- nies targeting emerging markets can benefit by
ters in their country. adopting K-pops committed approach to rais-
ing customer accessibility over attaining short-
More specifically, companies can take different term profits.
approaches in emerging markets and advanced Translation: RHEE Oak-Jung

countries when tapping the interests of overseas

K-pop fans. In emerging market economies, al- Keywords
ready popular K-pop can be used to boost sales K-pop, YouTube, Facebook, Korean Wave, Girls'
of Korean products there. In the US and Euro- Generation
pean countries, rather than emphasizing na-
tional brand, K-pop stars and company brands
can be linked in marketing.

K-pops groundbreaking success challenges as-
sumptions that Korean culture, especially
when presented to outsiders, must always mean
traditional culture. Korean companies can
learn from this success by reassessing their ex-
isting business models and aggressively retool-
ing them to capture overseas markets. SEO Min-Soo is a research fellow at SERI. His areas of exper-
tise include art management, the culture industry and culture and
art policy. He holds an MA in Psychology from Seoul National
Companies can also pay attention to the pro- University. Contact: msoo.seo@samsung.com

66 | www.seriquarterly.com