Korea, fizzling

Korea, Sparkling logo

An unruly mob of louts and freeloaders from the travel and journalism trade gathered on the top floor of New Zealand House yesterday evening to honour the launch of the “Korea, Sparkling” tourism brand. When it had been launched so successfully down below in Trafalgar Square not two weeks beforehand, some of us wondered why it needed another launch so soon. But the free bar was doing a roaring trade (our KNTO hosts encouraged us not to hold back), and snouts were in the food troughs way before the presentations started.

The room’s PA system crackled feebly, and the brand marketing video started. Glossy visuals were accompanied by the standard American voice-over you hear on a film trailer. It was a video prepared by the company who came up with the “Korea, Sparkling” brand, and it would have been nice to have heard what it was all about. But in front of me the KNTO guy was bantering with the Korean Air guy, and behind me a gaggle of Korean girls were chattering merrily. As the 30 second Korea, Sparkling advert was introduced in a low-key way, the beau from Korean Air started chatting to the belle from Asiana. It was his turn next, and so it was only poetic justice that as he enthused unconvincingly, against the background of his powerpoint slides, about their partner airlines and lounge facilities in Heathrow Terminal One the crowd started getting more restive. One well-mannered member of the audience tried to shut people up, but the effect was only momentary.

Next up was the chap from Asiana, with a similar presentation to the Korean Air one. The Asiana belle continued chatting to the Korean Air beau throughout her colleague’s presentation.

One thing I did glean from the proceedings is that when an airline says their seats are flat, they don’t mean horizontal. They mean straight. Check the small print before you get taken in.

At the end of the evening there was a raffle, with return tickets to Seoul on those flat but inclined seats – one from each airline. The chap from the Guardian had already left, so missed out on his prize. Korea, Sparkling golf umbrellas were among the other prizes, presented in tubes together with inappropriate jokes about pole-dancing.

When even the people who are paid to promote the brand can’t take its launch seriously, how are we poor souls who are trying to keep an open mind supposed to react?

As we left, we were handed some goody bags. And there were indeed some goodies within. June’s Seoul Magazine (the one with the article about the Mud Festival), a travel guide and map. A Korea, Sparkling T-shirt. An unexplained but aspirational brochure about a seaside expo in 2012. And an intriguing package. Wrapped in a reasonable imitation of good-quality mulberry paper adorned with the Korea, Sparkling logo was a box containing was at first sight was a leather key fob. On further investigation the fob turned out to be a 1 gig USB stick. Now that’s cool. Something traditional yet 21st century. That’s one of the messages about the Korea, Sparkling brand. But I wonder whether there was an unintentional message about Korea embracing 21st century manufacturing philosophy: the production of the memory stick had been outsourced to China.

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