‘Korea’ brand got hotter in 2012Psy’s “Gangnam Style” did more than set an all-time YouTube record for viewings. It moved the needle on Korea’s international image.
In Samsung Economic Research Institute’s annual survey of national brands, Korea moved up to 13th in overall substance and advanced to 17th in overall image in 2012. The rankings exceeded the benchmarked OECD average and appeared to show that government and private sector efforts to boost the Korea brand are paying off.
Still, more strategic nation branding action is needed to shore up weak areas and maintain strengths as countries worldwide try to establish favorable sentiment and trust in their pursuit of soft power.
The survey covered 50 countries, measuring substance and image in eight categories: economy/corporations; science/technology; infrastructure; policies/institutions; heritage; modern culture, people; and celebrities.
More than 13,000 opinion leaders in 26 countries participated in the survey conducted in October and November.
The U.S. was first in substance, where it has been since the survey began in 2009. It also ranked No. 1 in image for the first time. Other top 10 countries included Germany, France, the UK, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Korea’s image rise in 2012 was attributed largely to “Gangnam Style,” surging sales of Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S smartphones and Korea’s successful hosting of the Nuclear Security Summit. Its ranking for image had not budged the two prior years.
In substance, Korea’s overall rise was powered by outstanding performances at the London Olympic Games; upgrade of the nation’s credit rating by the three major credit rating agencies (Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s); and the movie “Pieta” receiving a Golden Lion award in Venice International Film Festival.
By category, Korea ranked in the top 10 substance rankings of science/technology (6th), modern culture (8th) and celebrities (7th). In heritage, Korea rose from 33rd to 29th. It fell in the economy/corporation and policies/institutions categories. Modern culture and celebrities categories advanced.
In image rankings, all of Korea’s categories advanced except for heritage, which was unchanged. Economy/corporations broke into the top 10 for the first time, continuing a steady rise from 15th when the survey began in 2009. Science/technology also was in the top 10, where it has been since the survey’s inception.
The key takeaway in overall image is how infrastructure is combining with modern culture to be new pillars in branding Korea. Infrastructure image has been rising steadily and in 2012 exceeded the OECD average for the first time since the survey began.
Meanwhile, modern culture, principally K-pop music and TV dramas that often display Korea’s infrastructure as backdrops, is steadily attracting new international fans.
Substance during the past three years has seen various swings among the categories. In particular, the science/technology category, which had been the pillar of Korea’s brand, retreated to the 2010 level. People, another pillar, dropped from its 2011 ranking.
Koreans’ self-perception and overseas perception advanced slightly in all categories except for economy/corporations and science/technology.
Support is needed to further strengthen economy/corporations and science/technology, while improving the policies/institutions, infrastructure, people and heritage categories.
To improve substance in the short-term, the image of policies/institutions could be improved by actively publicizing national policies and diverse institutions.
Parallel efforts to improve institutions to global levels will also be needed.
Even though substance improved substantially for celebrities and modern culture, image overseas continued to receive low ratings, suggesting that Korea needs to communicate in a way that connects its soft power with the nation.
In particular, internal communication should be boosted in the category of economy/corporations, which has a higher perception overseas than domestically.
*The writer is research fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute. Visit www.seriworld.org for more SERI reports.
by Lee Dong-hun