Ajeossi finally catching up to modern trends

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Ajeossi finally catching up to modern trends

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In Korea, there is a slang word describing men in their 40s and 50s who are out of touch with contemporary consumer trends.

Ajae, derived from ajeossi, the Korean word for “middle-aged man,” in the past had negative connotations, evoking images of an authoritative man with outdated fashion sense.

But as the Korean population ages, men in their 40s and 50s are making up a larger pool of the population and becoming an increasingly powerful consumer group.

There are indications that the cultural perception of ajae is becoming more positive. In a recent survey conducted by online research company Macromill Embrain, 41.9 percent of respondents associated the word with adjectives like friendly, stable and diligent.

Movies catering to middle-aged men saw particular success in theaters this year. Out of 15 Korean movies that attracted more than 10 billion viewers, nine were crime, drama or action flicks that featured male actors in their late 30s and 40s such as Hwang Jung-min and Kwak Do-won.

The most recent release, “Asura: The City of Madness,” is a violent crime drama starring an almost exclusively male cast in their 40s.

Ajae are even appearing on reality television shows originally meant for pop idols and young celebrities. Actors Cha Seung-won and Yu Hae-jin, both in their 40s, made cameos in “Three Meals a Day,” where they were sent to the countryside to live and cook for themselves.

Retail figures show ajae spending habits are also changing, with more middle-aged men purchasing fashion and grooming products than in the past.

According to online shopping site 11th St, the percentage of male shoppers in their 40s and 50s increased from 36 percent in last year’s first quarter to 41 percent in this year’s second quarter.

Items that recorded the largest growth rate were clothing and accessories, which rose 82 percent from last year’s first quarter to this year. Purchases of health food and imported luxury goods went up 61 percent and 51 percent each.

NH Investment and Securities has recommended investing in fashion brands with strong menswear lines, such as Shinsegae International, which recently released a brand called “Man on the Boon,” and Hyundai Group fashion retailer Handsome, which saw a 20 percent increase in sales during the year’s first half from the men’s clothing line.

“Ajae are becoming a new target consumer group,” said Hong Sung-bae, a researcher at NH Investment and Securities. “With the prolonged economic slump, the buying power of younger people in their 20s and 30s has fallen, whereas interest in fashion among men in their 40s and 50s is showing constant rise.”

Ajae have also long been a big consumer group in gaming. Men now in their 40s make up the first generation of Korean gamers that helped bring the industry to where it is today.

“Middle-aged men are rising as an important user group in the mobile game industry,” Hong said.

“Compared to other demographic groups, they make more revenue per user, which is why mobile game companies have taken their tastes and preferences into account when devising new games.”

The war action game Mobile Strike hired Arnold Schwarzenegger for its ad campaign, considering his iconic image in the “Terminator” series that was a hit in the ajae generation.

Among the slew of mobile games currently under development, many are inspired from online games that were popular from the late 1990s to early 2000s. Netmarble will soon release Lineage II, a legendary online game originally developed by NC Soft.


BY JANG WON-SEOK [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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