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LEE Min-Hoon

Fun Advertising is in Fashion

LEE Min-Hoon

May 6, 2009

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With the global economy in recession, consumers worldwide are keeping their wallets shut. Here in Korea, consumer sentiment has improved, according to the Bank of Korea's latest survey, but private spending will likely remain fragile, given the decline in disposable incomes due to layoffs and salary cuts and prolonged fear and anxiety stemming from uncertainty about how long the deep downturn will last. That won't restrain the daily cascade of ads that we see and hear everyday, but at least some of the sales pitches may lift some of the gloom.

A mounting number of companies are injecting fun in their marketing. A special promotion at an online shopping mall, for example, is offering visitors with a discount coupon of up to 200% of the amount they purchase at the website if they find the Ppeong Twigi (puffed rice) street peddler hidden in top-selling items. Another fun marketing ploy was adopted by a restaurant that displayed a sign offering free food to anyone who dines in a bikini.

Winds of change are blasting through various industries. Advertising is no exception. The focus on fun marketing not only is a response to the tough economic challenge, it taps into a vigorous second-generation Internet culture (web 2.0), which employs new digital technologies and consumer interaction. The traditional approach to advertising - "telling" a sales message to potential consumers - is being nudged aside by a "pass along" process in which consumers are motivated to voluntarily convey a marketing message to others. This change in the advertising industry can be readily seen in an analysis of the domestic TV commercials aired over the past three years.

A survey on advertising from 2006 to 2008 by the Korea CM Institute, a private body specializing in advertising research, shows the growing importance of emotional factors, including humor, in advertisements that elicit favorable consumer response.

Unlike the 1990s and early 2000s when the attractiveness of models, the level of corporate credibility, and the background music were picked as crucial factors that determine the likelihood of favorable consumer response, today's ads point to a shift toward having and delivering fun. In particular, the humorous advertising leaves the deepest impression on would-be buyers. Survey respondents recalled funny ads months after the ad campaign ended. In other words, humor in advertising has both short-term and long-term effects. Getting laughs raises the attention rate of targeted consumers and temporarily boosts brand recognition of the advertised product. In addition, humor leaves a lasting memory of the product and eventually improves its brand image.

The perception of consumers towards TV commercials is also changing. TV viewers are no longer passive. They are increasingly interacting with various parts of producing of commercials.

Before, consumers would usually change channels when broadcasts took a break for a slew of TV ads. The English word "zapping," became part of the lexicon for watching TV. Today, however, an increasing number of consumers are paying more attention to the commercials since they regard the commercials not as a byproduct of cultural content but a cultural content itself. Given the shift in perception, the online advertising site TVCF ( www.tvcf.co.kr ) is gaining popularity among avid TV watchers and businesses that try to gauge consumer response to new commercials. The website allows visitors to watch selected TV commercials again, to get the information about the models and voice actors, to download background music of the commercials, and to leave their remarks and comments.

In reshaping the contours of advertising, today's fun commercials have three characteristics. First, they attempt to please the consumers by using creative concepts and material instead of relying on a funny gesture or expression. Given that consumers are bombarded with information every day from various mediums, it is extremely difficult to get them to focus on a specific commercial. The ads with a creative fun idea are more likely to draw better response from consumers.

Second, with consumer report programs enjoying a rising popularity, the commercials that increase a sense of reality and break way from stereotypical commercials bring more fun to consumers. With a copy of "Train your brain everyday," Nintendo DS, for example, has ordinary people with familiar faces appear on its commercial. In the commercial, a man who looks like an ordinary, middle-aged man living in our neighborhood, plays the Nintendo DS and is impressed by the great fun it has, thereby breaking way the stereotype that the Nintendo DS is only for young people.

Third, commercials that not only use a variety of ways to evoke laughter but also deliver a constant message like the ones offered by campaign commercials are more popular than the ones that simply bring a quick laugh.

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