[Outlook]Puzzling political advertising

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[Outlook]Puzzling political advertising

It takes something extraordinary to win a gold medal in figure skating in prestigious international events such as the Olympic Games. Only athletes from a country that is good at sports in general and has good sports infrastructure can do it.

Figure skating was regarded as a sport that Korea had no chance of competing in until just a few years ago. But now we have produced a superstar, Kim Yu-na, who has become a national hero.

It fills Korean hearts with joy to think of Kim’s performances being broadcast live around the globe.

Kim’s very existence proves to viewers around the world that Korea has become prosperous enough to enjoy figure skating.

People believe that Korea improved its image by hosting the Olympic Games and the World Cup, but it is hard to find any single individual who has boosted the national brand as much as Kim has.

All Koreans feel close to Kim, and she reportedly makes a very tidy income by appearing in advertisements.

Quite a lot of companies put her in their commercials, so we can assume that the money she earns from this is substantial.

Why do companies pay huge sums of money to have Kim in their advertising campaigns? Advertising experts will come up with countless theories and hypotheses to answer this question.

One is the reference group theory.

According to this theory, a person has an object of reference and consumes by that standard. If a celebrity is positioned as a typical consumer of a certain product, consumers think the specific brand’s item is reliable and purchase it.

Since Kim has a good complexion, consumers tend to believe cosmetics that she uses will make their skin smooth as well.

They are likely to buy bandages that Kim uses, believing that if she uses a certain company’s bandages, they will be good for their wounds, too.

Kim’s popularity can be explained with the conditioned reflex theory as well.

People get a warm feeling when they look at pretty models. When an ad uses a good-looking model to create a pleasant atmosphere while promoting the company brand, people get a good feeling about the product.

If a commercial brings out pleasant feelings by showing Kim and then presents a car or a refrigerator, consumers are very likely to feel positive about the product.

Or, we could use the match-up hypothesis to understand Kim’s enormous popularity. The theory goes that if the product being advertised matches with a celebrity’s image, it causes a positive emotional response.

If a celebrity who looks smart promotes a particular product, consumers regard purchasing that product as a wise thing to do. If an untiring athlete endorses a car, consumers tend to believe that the car must be powerful.

According to this hypothesis, a mineral water producer must have expected that Kim’s image as pure and innocent would make its product also appear pure and clean.

There are many theories that can explain Kim’s popularity as a spokesmodel, but there are other commercials that are much more difficult to pin down.

One example would be when governors, mayors or county heads appear in advertisements. It’s difficult to figure out what they serve as a reference group for, what kind of positive reflex they can cause, or how their images match up.

Their choices of media for advertising are also hard to explain through advertising studies.

If they want to attract companies to their areas, it would be more effective to meet entrepreneurs face-to-face or to publish books and give them away.

But governors, mayors or county heads ignore such methods and always prefer billboards outside buildings, even though entrepreneurs usually do not usually read them carefully.

They are not alone.

High-ranking officials of public organizations or corporations who aim for such positions are also willing to have their advertisements appear on billboards.

When an election campaign starts, billboards are filled with posters of people.

If municipal governments secretly just want to promote their own image and reputation, while maintaining a pretext of promoting their local governments, such advertisements are nothing but a sham paid for with public money.

Advertisements for local governments must be explainable by advertising studies.

Only then can advertisements and local governments successfully attract and sustain the attention of the public.

*The writer is a professor at Korea University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Min-hwan
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