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Instant ramen with a hint of Apple

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Dec 03,2011
Yakult is already viewed as a pioneer in the domestic market after it successfully challenged the nation’s spicy, and hugely popular, boil-in-a-bowl noodles with its Kkokkomyeon brand. Now it is setting another precedent with an advertising campaign that has some comparing it to the inventiveness of U.S. electronics giant Apple.

“Kkokkomyeon is comparable to Apple’s iPhone,” said Park Jae-hang, a senior marketing official at Innocean Worldwide. “When the iPhone first hit the shelves, other competitors including Google, Nokia and Samsung began pouring out smartphones with similar features. Yakult released white soup ramen, and its rivals quickly released similar products. What both companies have in common is that they created solid new markets.”

The noodles in question also have a product name that softens its image and offers a sense of the playful: Kkokkomyeon is a contraction of the Korean sound of a rooster crowing and the word for noodle.

Whereas Korean TV commercials for instant noodles are almost without exception formulaic affairs - think of an athlete or TV celebrity noisily slurping down some soupy noodles to show how delicious and irresistible they are - Yakult again broke the mold by airing an advertisement on Nov. 22 that has more than a passing resemblance to Apple’s latest ads for its iconic iPhone series.

The company said it deliberately benchmarked what it saw as a winning model to go where no Korean instant noodle maker had gone before, as it aims to further ramp up its rivalry with Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun and Samyang Foods’ Samyang Ramyun, the country’s top two brands by market share.

Similar to how Apple’s Korean iPhone ads explain the latest features of the gadget in a calm and methodical manner, the Kkokkomyeon spot begins with a bold caption asking “When is Kkokkomyeon most delicious?” This is followed by answers such “When you stick it in 500 milliliters of water,” and the apparently obligatory final shot of a star, in this case comedian Lee Kyung-kyu, enjoying his noodles with his daughter.

Innocean Worldwide’s Park said Kkokkomyeon’s marketing strategy resembles that of the iPhone as both products are strongly linked to their respective creators.

“Apple’s identity is closely linked to Steve Jobs, as is Kkokkomyeon’s to Lee Kyung-kyu,” Park said. “Lee played the role of brand creator.”

When Lee first concocted Kkokkomyeon during a cooking contest on the KBS variety show “Qualifications of Men” in March, Choi Yong-min, a Yakult official who was judging the contest, approached the comedian about commercializing the product, which hit the shelves of local discount stores five months later in August.

Choi said he knew instantly it was going to be a hit, a revelation that left him bereft of sleep that first night as he panicked about seeing his competitors muscle in and sign Lee before he committed to Yakult. Choi called the star the next day and they signed a contract to begin mass production in April.

As the news of the collaboration went viral on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, Yakult quickly pitched a marketing plan to exploit the free publicity it was receiving. Two months before the product was officially released, Yakult invited bloggers to sample it. It then took this feedback and used it to perfect the noodles.

When the final product was unveiled in August, the company continued to market it on SNS by showing how it was created. As of the end of November, the company has sold 60 million packets, said Yakult spokesperson Lee Seung-ki.

On Nov. 1, the company released a cup-noodle version of the product and sold 9.5 million units in the first month. In order to avoid going out of fashion, Yakult said its staff keep close tabs on customers’ opinions by tracking them on the Web. This process led it to alter the cooking instructions on the back of the packet in October after learning that consumers found their noodles more tasty when boiled in 500 milliliters of water rather than 550 milliliters.

Yakult also added a QR code to the front of the packet. When this is scanned by a QR code-reading smartphone app it plays a video clip that shows Lee giving instructions on how to best cook it.

Kim Jae-sung, a PR representative at Samyang Food, said Yakult created a new niche for ramen in Korea in a market that was formerly dominated by red pepper soup-based products. This new trend also led to a spike in sales of Samyang’s Nagasaki Champong, another newly released white soup ramen.

Meanwhile, Ottogi, the nation’s third-largest instant noodle maker, released a Chinese-style chicken noodle soup on Nov. 10 and sold over 6 million packets in 20 days, it said.

By Park Hye-min, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]



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