No 'universe'? Good luck with your marketing!
To add some zip to its ad campaigns, a food company is conjuring up a universe in which a chicken sings rebelliously and a goat weeps.
“Don’t define me as mere ramyeon,” sings Buldak the swashbuckling anthropomorphic chicken in ramyeon maker Samyang Foods’ promotional video.
The big buzzword in Korean marketing circles these days is universe, fictional worlds built around characters like Buldak, the personified symbol of Samyang Foods’ popular spicy noodle Buldak Ramen. Don't call them mere mascots like Captain Crunch or the Hamburglar. These characters have stories and, put together, the stories create a world or universe. The stories refer to the product, of course, but also evoke emotions that enhance customers' appreciation for the product, or simply entertain.
Studio K110, the local advertising agency behind Samyang’s ad campaign, was acquired by Kakao last December. Kakao said its strength as a content creator was the major reason for the acquisition.
“Universe-based campaigns can be marketable content by themselves,” Nam Woo-ri, creative director of Studio K110, told the Chosun Ilbo in January, 2022. “They can be serialized, and the video itself is content."
Samyang released two videos for its ad campaign, one in September 2021 and another in December, where Buldak and former mentor Samyang63 butt heads over how ramyeon should taste.
Samyang63 is a goat-themed character who symbolizes the company’s classic Samyang Ramen, which has been a steady seller since 1963. In the first video, Samyang63 is a self-aware old fogey. He sings, "I've barely been noticed for 60 years" in a three-minute song dubbed "Ordinary Yet Extraordinary." Though Samyang63 laments that everyone thinks he’s nothing special compared to Buldak, he believes that “the best taste is the familiar one.”
Buldak represents the spicy new product, Buldak Ramen. In her video, Buldak declares that she will “break all the shackles” and “defy the stereotypes" in a song called “Blaze for Greatness.” Soyeon of K-pop girl group (G)I-DLE performs the voice of Buldak.
“The videos really were unique for an ad campaign, with all the musical elements and character designs,” said Lee Hye-ryung, a spokesperson for Samyang Foods' public relations team.
“Samyang Ramen is a key product of ours, but since it came out decades ago, we wanted to convey its brand story and what it symbolizes to younger consumers who do not feel as connected to it as the previous generations did,” said Lee.
Since it was uploaded on Dec. 17, 2021, Buldak’s video has received over 12.6 million views as of Friday. Samyang63's, which was posted two months before Buldak's, was viewed 9.9 million times, both amazingly high numbers for advertisements.
Binggrae, a major food and beverage company in Korea, is working on its own universe, also created by Studio K110. Famous for its banana milk and ice cream, the company has made Prince Binggraeus its embodiment of the brand identity.
Prince Binggraeus carries an orb that looks like a tub of Binggrae's popular vanilla ice cream, and wears a crown that resembles the distinct jar-shaped container of the company's iconic banana milk, which has been a steady seller since 1976.
Now in the third chapter of his story, Prince Binggraeus has bravely fought against The Duke — who turned out to be his father! — risen to the throne, battled a mortal enemy, gone to a royal academy, and fans are still waiting to see how his story will unfold.
"It's more like watching a movie than an advertisement," read a comment below Binggrae's YouTube video. The latest Instagram post of Binggraeus, which was uploaded last Monday, garnered over 7,000 likes in a day. Binggrae’s Instagram account gained 17,000 new followers over three weeks since Binggraeus’ debut in February 2020, up 17.5 percent from the previous 97,000. The number hit 171,000 as of April 2022.
Thanks to the prince, Binggrae became the first food company in Korea with over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube in February 2021.
“Prince Binggraus was popular because the younger generation tends to be familiar with the digital environment, prefers unique experiences and likes to share fun times with each other through social media and messenger services,” said a spokesperson for Binggrae.
Probiotic drink maker Hy has also created its own universe.
Hy, formerly known as Korea Yakult, came up with new mascots targeting digital natives: a virtual K-pop idol group called Hy-Five.
Each member of Hy-Five represents a popular product: "hot frappuccino boy" Kupffer for Hy's hovenia-based drink Kupffer's; green-haired girl Yachoo for vegetable drink Haru Yachae; the attractively coiffed Ddoori for MPRO3; blond boy Kurr for Yakult Light; and finally, the leader of the group Wirr for yogurt beverage Helicobacter Project Will. Hy-Five released its first single “Superhero” last September, which was followed by “You’re My Love” in December. Both songs are available on local music streaming services including Melon and Genie. The performance video for their debut song garnered about 160,000 views, while the music video for the second song was viewed over 670,000 times as of Monday.
Food manufacturers with long brand histories were the first to adopt fictional storytelling into their branding. Binggrae released Prince Binggraeus in the company’s 53rd year, and Samyang Foods’ ad campaign for Buldak and Samyang Ramen was created to commemorate its 60th anniversary. Hy was established in 1969 and came up with Hy-Five in its 52nd year.
The companies' goal was to spruce up their brands' images, and the fact that consumers were already familiar with their products helped them create product-inspired characters and connect with the younger generation.
It's not only food companies involved in universe-building.
Hyundai Motor released a YouTube video for its “metamobility universe” in collaboration with non-fungible token brand Meta Kongz in which a gorilla character, Meta Kongz, drives Hyundai’s Pony hatchback from the Earth to the Moon. The carmaker announced that it will open an official NFT website in May and issue NFTs featuring Meta Kongz’ character.
LG Household & Healthcare released NFTs featuring mascots for its skincare brand Belif in March. Belif’s Billy is a fairy who works in an herb shop connected to the “Other World,” the world of fairies. The herb shop is located somewhere in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to Billy, and offers products made of magical herbs.
Companies are trying to appeal to the so-called MZ generation, or millennials and Generation Zs born between 1996 and 2010.
“The Hyundai NFT universe will extend the Hyundai brand experience, especially with the MZ generation, in a completely new way,” said Thomas Schemera, Hyundai Motor’s global chief marketing officer.
"Unlike traditional media [like television], consumers have access to content whenever they want, and the companies are adjusting their promotional content to such a shift in the media environment by using interesting characters," said Lee Eun-hee, a consumer studies professor at Inha University.
“Because social media channels enabled bilateral communication between the companies and consumers," he said, "companies are communicating with the consumers through their characters on their social media platforms.”
BY SHIN HA-NEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]