High-rise dwellers find gold in a paint job on their blockReturning home from an early summer vacation in June, Kim Yang-su found that she no longer lived in a Samsung apartment building. The side of her building in Yeomchang-dong, western Seoul, proudly proclaimed that it was a “Raemian.”
Raemian is the brand name that Samsung Co. has slapped on its apartments since 1998. With Korea’s apartment buildings looking notoriously generic, construction companies have tried to differentiate their projects by giving them fancier names, a tactic that has been remarkably successful ― a good name can boost the value of apartments by hundreds of millions of won (hundreds of thousands of dollars).
In Ms. Kim’s case, the residents of her building had long been complaining that the name of their building was outdated and that the builder should change the name to “Raemian” on the official housing registration record. After all, both apartment brands were made by the same construction company.
The company, however, refused. The residents decided to go ahead and change the name anyway, hiring their own painters to decorate the side of the building with the turquoise, blue and silver Raemian logo. With no legal grounds on which to stop the painting, the company said, there was little it could do.
“We heard that it was easy for another Samsung apartment in Dangsan-dong to change its name to Raemian and we decided to do the same,” she said. “I don’t see what’s wrong with this when we’re just trying to secure our property.”
It turned out to be a savvy investment: Just earlier this month, the price of Samsung-turned-Raemian apartments jumped by 10 million won ($10,400), according to a real estate agent. In comparison, the prices for other apartments of the same size constructed by Daelim, Hansol and Keumho stayed about the same.
It was hardly the first apartment building in Korea to be renamed. The residents of “LG Apartment,” in Sadang-dong, southwestern Seoul, took it on themselves last October to paint over the building wall, suddenly transforming it into a “Xi Apartment,” which is the new name the company has given to GS residential buildings since 2003.
If the residents had wanted to change the registration name on the building, they would have needed to obtain permission from both the construction company and the district office, but they merely wanted to change the exterior ― hence the “Xi Apartment” building is still registered under the “LG Apartment” name, making the paint job legal.
Despite the construction company’s insistence that a mere name-change would not affect their housing prices, the residents say their apartment building should follow the trend in brand naming. Eventually the construction company saw the light ― and the profit ― and changed the name of an LG apartment complex in Mullae-dong, western Seoul, to “Xi.”
A survey of over 100 real estate agents in Seoul and Gyeonggi province by Real Estate 114, a Web site on real estate information and an online network for agencies, backed up the residents’ claim ― 64 agents said they believed the new brand name had indeed been a decisive factor in raising the price of housing. As for apartment units of the same size and built under similar conditions during the same period in the same district, 34 percent of the agents said those with the best brand value could cost at least 100 million won more, while 27 percent said the branded ones can make a 200-million-won difference in the sales price. The rest said the brand difference would probably be around 50 million won.
The importance of brand naming for apartments has grown so much it has now become a profession. Chung Ji-won, 34, is a professional brand namer who specializes in buildings. She works for Brand Major, a brand naming company based in Seoul. These days, she says, she’s not facing a shortage of work.
Since Korean construction companies started using fancy apartment brand names in the early 2000s, she has come up with nearly 40 of them, accounting for more than half the brands. She is responsible for Hyundai’s “I’Park,” Posco’s “The #” (Sharp), Isu’s “Brown Stone” Samsung’s “The Tower Palace” and “Raemian,” and SK’s “Trenue.” The list also covers Daewoo’s “River City” and Ssangyong’s “Kings’s Garden,” the jumbo studio complex in the Gwanghwamun area.
One of her initial works, Raemian, helped build her career. Starting as a mere new marketing strategy to boost the housing industry after the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the name she suggested turned out to be hugely successful.
A combination of the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “futuristic, beautiful and safe,” the name also sounds like the French term “Les miennes,” which Ms. Chung said means “my family.”
Park Chan-soo, a professor of business administration at Korea University, estimates that the brand value of Raemian was 1.7 trillion won as of 2003, putting Samsung at the top of the construction industry for the first time in 40 years; the company had long trailed behind Hyundai. The amount is more than one-third the consolidated value of the listed shares for Samsung Co., the group’s construction arm, whose total share value was 4 billion won as of Aug. 14.
“Ever since then, construction companies have started to realize that names and brands do play a big role in image-making and how people perceive them,” Ms. Chung said.
They also realized that Ms. Chung had a talent for picking apartment names. The following year, she worked with Hyundai Development Co. The company had separated from the Hyundai Group and could no longer use the word “Hyundai” for its apartments. Its executives were leaning toward the name “Hi Apartment,” because they thought the “H” in the name hinted at the reliability that the big conglomerate Hyundai once enjoyed. Ms. Chung, however, had a different idea.
“The company was starting all over. I thought we should get rid of the ‘H,’” she said. So she came up with the name “I-Park” ― the “I” standing for “innovation.” The builder is so satisfied with the name that it is also being considered as the new name for the company in the future.
The next years brought more successes. Things also got more challenging: Brands have tried to come up with increasingly simple names that roll of the Korean tongue easily, while the increasing number of names makes it harder to find something that sounds different ― one reason why so many apartment names integrate English words or phrases.
“Clients usually want to go safe with the names,” she said. “They want the names to end with English words such as ‘ville,’ ‘town’ or ‘place’ so that it will sound like a house.”
When she suggested that LG’s new apartment brand should be “Xi” (pronounced “Zai” as in the Greek alphabet), her clients thought she had gone mad. “They told me I wasn’t naming an electronic gadget,” she said.
But she explained that the “X” was related to LG because the letter was already used on the LG television sets “X Canvas” and the LG laptops “X Note.” It also dove-tailed nicely with LG’s image for electronics by standing for “Extra Intelligent,” emphasizing the high-tech aspects of the apartments.
“They are very happy with the name,” she said.
Posco apartments were seen as sturdy but not cozy; the company, after all, is primarily in the steel business. So Ms. Chung suggested that the company use the “#” emblem, pronounced “Sharp,” to symbolize both the steel frames and that the houses have been “hightened and softened by the half step” suggested by the musical notation. The company also hired the actor Jang Dong-gun for its commercials. In just eight months, the brand image jumped into the top 10, ranking seventh, in the real estate industry.
Just a decade ago, when Ms. Chung started the job, brand namers merely came up with names for their clients. “But we now go so far as to help our client develop better communication skills with consumers by using brand images,” she said. “That’s why we prefer to be called ‘brand coordinator’ instead of simply going by ‘namers.’”
She said the news that apartment residents have been “tampering” with their brand names is disturbing. She spends a great deal of time these days counseling her clients on how they could maintain an advanced image ― something that’s difficult to do when the new brand names are being slapped on much older buildings.
“I advise the builders that they will have to make official standards if they want to convince the residents that their actions could hurt the company’s new brand image,” she said, “or make another, separate brand name to at least distinguish their new buildings.”
So far, the management of the Raemian and Xi brands are still trying to come up with a response to deal with the problem.
With the greater workload and emphasis on branding, her team now earns an average of 150 million won per project. In the past, she said, they were lucky to receive 10 million won. It usually takes the team from two to four months to decide on the brand name.
“Sometimes I get ideas as soon as I hear our clients explain what they want,” she said. “But normally, I keep saying names out loud during the day until I find one that sounds just right.”
After the initial meetings, the team members compare and contrast over 1,000 potential brand names (their meeting room is well-stocked with thesauruses). Several meetings later, the list is narrowed down to a few hundred. By the time they present their ideas to their client, it is a choice of only two.
According to Ms. Chung, good names can even change the look of an apartment building. Despite their fanciful names, most apartments in Korea still look very similar. But she said she has noticed that some new buildings are being built to look at least a little different.
Isu’s “Brown Stone” buildings, for instance, are built party out of real stones, the rooms have higher ceilings and golden emblems decorate the outer building to make it look fancier.
For Lotte Castle ― a name Ms. Chung did not come up with but calls “cute” ― the company decorated the facade with glitzy gates with eagle emblems in order to better suit the name.
The worst names, she says, come from nondescript ideas. Some try to sound funny to just stand out, while others want a name that sounds trendy, even though it could soon be outdated.
“I give names that can pass for 70 out of 100 points,” Ms. Chung said. “It’s up to the companies to make the best out of it by making [the brand] live up to the name, or disappoint us by not making buildings that reach the standards we proposed.”
by Lee Min-a