Why change a successful brand?There will be no more Hi Seoul Festival. The Seoul Cultural Foundation held a press conference on September 21 and announced that the Hi Seoul Festival scheduled for five days from Sept. 28 will be renamed “Seoul Street Arts Festival.”
Hi Seoul Festival began as a way to turn people’s passion expressed on the streets and in public squares during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup into a festival that began in March 2003. It received the grand prize in the Culture and Festival section at the Public Administration Awards in 2008, and the festival has become a major event in Seoul. Yu Kyung-suk, director of the World Festivals Research Center, said that it is a global trend to use city festivals such as Munich’s Oktoberfest and Sapporo’s Snow Festival for marketing purposes, and the Hi Seoul Festival became a successful brand with its cheerful and fun image based on its title.
Then, why change the name? Festival art director Kim Jong-seok said that the name was changed to enhance its identity, as mostly street arts programs have been presented over the past three years, emphasizing that there was no political intention.
But people are not convinced. Experts say that it was already forewarned when the city scrapped the Hi Seoul branding campaign and announced “I Seoul U” as a new brand campaign for the city. Hanyang Cyber University professor Seo Gu-won asked if the change was to erase any trace of previous Seoul mayors, Lee Myung-bak and Oh Se-hoon.
Earlier this year, there was another controversy over public branding. In July, the Ministry of Culture and Sports’ “Creative Korea” branding campaign was met with backlash. In addition to suspicions of plagiarism, it seemed to be an awkward way to support the Park Gun-hye administration’s creative economy agenda since the “Dynamic Korea” branding campaign was working fine. Critics doubt that it will be used by the next administration.
Some might not like Hi Seoul. People with sophisticated taste may find the name to be plain. However, if it has lasted ten years and anyone living in Seoul recognizes it, its familiarity and awareness are meaningful. It takes great deal of time and money to promote a brand. If non-political elements like public branding are changed every time a president or a mayor is replaced, what will Korea be left with? Professor Seo said, “Many internationally renowned brands have a history of more than a century. What’s more important than symbolism and freshness in branding is continuity.”
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 23, Page 33
*The author is a cultural news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.