[OUTLOOK]Dynamic dunces in brandingIn the era of globalization, the importance of having a “national brand” is growing. At present, Korea’s national brand is “Dynamic Korea,” which according to the government’s explanation implies the country’s power, forward-looking attitude and endless potential. Sure enough, “Dynamic Korea” is the phrase most frequently used in government publications and signboards at international airports.
In retrospect, the phrase has taken a very “dynamic” course indeed as it emerged as a national brand. Around the end of Visit Korea Year 2001, the Kim Dae-jung Administration launched a project to establish a national brand in time for the Korea-Japan World Cup. According to government documents, it took less than a month for “Dynamic Korea” to be born, conceived during a meeting of the concerned goverment agencies to make and spread an English catchphrase that accurately represented Korea, and ratified during the joint briefing session for the preparation for the 2002 World Cup and the Asian Games, presided over by the president.
During that short period of time, the government reportedly gathered opinions from foreigners residing in Korea, Korean embassies and legations abroad and non-governmental groups abroad, and also conducted an online opinion poll over the Korean Broadcasting System.
Let’s set aside the fact that the decision-making process had been rushed. It is still hard to ignore the fact that experts in related fields had little involvement in the process. If the government had thought that it was the natural body to lead the project just because it was about the brand of the nation ― not a product or a company ― and that the support of the public justifies the absence of expert opinion, Korea is, without a doubt, a backward nation when it comes to public relations. The fact that the national brand was created as a part of preparation for sporting events is not something to be proud of. It might have been necessary to rush the project. Yet Seoul’s efforts seem less than earnest when compared with China, the host of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which hired a foreign company specializing in public relations to implement a five-year plan to develop a national brand.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration constantly tries to pump up the “Dynamic Korea” national brand. Currently, a national image review committee headed by the prime minister has been operating in the government. The committee’s 10 government members are ministers or vice ministers, and most of the 9 “civilian” members have close connections with the government. Perhaps “Dynamic Korea” is the most appropriate “code brand” for the Roh administration. When the government advocates replacing existing power in the name of political participation and changing the world in the name of reform, the country has no choice but to become dynamic. “Dynamic Korea” also befits the administration’s drive to rewrite history into a series of various movements, struggles and resistance organizations.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being dynamic. The national brand can coincide with the interests of the administration. The essence of the problem is whether the catchphrase is appropriate for the time and whether it reflects creativity and dignity as a national brand. Korea is not a savage country with no civilization and tradition, nor an underdeveloped nation that has a long way to go, nor a socialist nation in need of a permanent revolution.
It is a country that takes pride in its 5,000 years of history and has grown into one of the leading nations in the world through its successful industrialization and democratization. Must it propagate a “dynamic” image? The phrase has no rhythm in English. At least as far as the rhythm of the phrase is concerned, Korea’s brand is hardly competitive against those of Southeast Asian nations.
In the time when culture is national power and charm is national wealth, we need to give “Dynamic Korea” a second thought. It lacks not just the original identity of Koreans but also a philosophical foundation and aesthetic elegance. “Dynamic Korea” is too mediocre and banal to be used as a national brand in the 21st century. “The land of the morning calm” had been praised as an unofficial national brand for nearly a century whether one likes it or not. It is very regrettable that this long-cherished catchphrase is being abandoned and fading away in its last few years.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies of Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jun Sang-in