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[In depth interview] Building ‘Korea the brand’ will take years

‘Posters of traditional Korean masks sometimes make foreigners wonder if the country is still a developing nation. We should aim to redefine the image of Korea.’

July 29,2009
Euh Yoon-dae, Chairman of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding
To raise Korea’s national brand value, the government is about to embark on an ad campaign to emphasize the country’s technological prowess on such media outlets as CNN and the BBC, ahead of the September G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Euh Yoon-dae, chairman of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, is at the center of that effort. The JoongAng Daily spoke with Euh Friday at his office.

“Political fights, labor-management problems and North Korea issues have worked against Korea’s ranking in the national brand index. We are seeing progress, and within two or three years, the country’s brand competitiveness will improve dramatically,” Euh said. Euh, who was president of Korea University from 2003 to 2006, was appointed by President Lee Myung-bak to head the council, an advisory organ that aims to improve Korea’s brand power and redefine its image as an advanced nation. Established in January this year, the group briefed the president last week about its progress over the past six months.


Q. During the Presidential Council on Nation Branding’s report to the president last week, you announced plans to develop a single identity for government ministries and offices. Tell us more.

A. The Presidential Council on Nation Branding advised the ministers and the president that it will be more effective to present the ministries and offices through a unified design. We will be in charge of the project of unifying the various logos used by ministries and offices, because the logos currently being used are too diverse. It’s hard to say whether the logos represent a government body or not, and we want to give a sense that they are all parts of the administration.

The council and the Samsung Economic Research Institute recently developed a new “country brand index.” How will this system be used in the future?

The initial purpose of creating the country brand index is to assess objectively how Korea’s brand has improved after the council starts working, like a self-evaluation. To secure objectivity, we asked the Samsung Economic Research Institute, an outside, nongovernment body, to create the model.

There are already some other systems that can evaluate national brands such as Anholt’s Nation Brand Index and the East-West Nation Branding Global Index. But I believe strongly that the SERI model will be more efficient and accurate than other systems now in use. We want to evaluate nations around the world using our index in cooperation with a major global newspaper or journal such as Fortune magazine. By bringing on influential foreign media as a cosponsor to the SERI index, we will be able to make the best use of it.

The council plans to promote Korea’s brand on global media such as CNN and the BBC through an ad campaign during the G-20 summit in September. Please tell us more about the plan.

We recently held a survey on what best reflects the identity of Korea in order to promote its national brand. Technology topped the poll. In second was hansik, or Korean cuisine, and third was TV dramas. For this global advertisement on the eve of the September G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, we want to concentrate on Korea’s identity as a global economy. That will be more efficient than simply airing [general] image ads.

It’s been reported that the national slogan “Dynamic Korea” and the tourism slogan “Korea Sparkling” will be changed.

“Dynamic Korea” has actually been received positively. Korea started using the slogan in 2002 and enormous investment has been made to promote it. It is actually quite popular abroad, so we have reached the conclusion that it will be kept for the time being. Still, the council will consult with experts at home and abroad to decide on a new one. A preliminary survey will begin next month.

In contrast, experts at home and abroad were skeptical about the effectiveness of “Korea Sparkling,” the slogan used to promote local tourism. It was established in 2007, so less investment has been made, and the council decided that it should be replaced.

Ironically, the slogan was created by Simon Anholt, whose London-based company is also behind the success of New Zealand’s “100% Pure” campaign. The new tourism slogan will again be outsourced to a foreign branding specialist, because the campaign will target foreigners and this is an area where efforts by native Koreans have limitations. The project will be handled by the National Tourism Organization, with our assistance.

One thing is clear, however. The campaign must feature what Korea is best at. While most tourism campaigns feature history and folk culture, it is more important to show where Korea stands right now as a modern, industrialized nation. Posters of traditional Korean masks sometimes make foreigners wonder if the country is still a developing nation. We should aim to redefine the image of Korea.


President Lee was disappointed that Korea’s national brand was ranked 33rd among 50 major nations in a survey, while the country is the world’s 13th-largest economy. What can be done to change this?

What the president complained about during the meeting was politics. He worried that the pandemonium in the National Assembly would be portrayed negatively abroad, although the government is trying very hard to improve Korea’s image.

Political development is not something that can be achieved overnight. In two to three years, there will be significant improvement in areas holding back Korea’s brand, such as domestic politics, labor-management relations and North Korea. The competitiveness of Korea’s brand will improve in a few years based on current efforts.

The amount of official development assistance, or ODA, has also grown and the number of volunteers will increase drastically in three or four years. That will contribute greatly to improving Korea’s brand power.


There has been criticism that Korea’s ODA, $797 million in 2008 according to a March 2009 report by the OECD, is too small relative to the size of its economy.

The national income reached $20,000 only recently. It’s probably too early for Koreans to realize that we are living affluent lives. Remember that Koreans are always worried about contingencies. The country suffered an economic crisis 12 years ago, and this time, the global financial crisis also influenced Korea greatly. Such perception will change gradually, and ODA will grow in coming years.

The United Nations target for ODA of 0.7 percent of gross national product is only met by a few nations. The United States and Japan are somewhere around 0.2 percent. Of course, Korea’s ODA is about 0.09 percent of GNI, and I admit we need to work on that.

Is there any plan to develop and supply English-language content to promote Korea’s brand abroad?

We are working on creating programs in English because it is widely used around the world, but it is also important to remember that China and Southeast Asian nations are important partners for trade and economic and social exchange. The council is working as a control tower, providing guidelines to the Korea Tourism Organization, the Korean Culture and Information Service and other offices in charge of promoting Korea overseas in order to improve the quality of their work.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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