Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Market Me, Daddy

Oh, I like this. The Korea Times has another column by Tom Coyner (left), this one titled "Korean Slogans Comical To Foreigners." The piece is actually less coherent than that -- he mentions marketing slogans like "Hi Seoul" and "Korea Sparkling" in a couple of sentences, but mostly Mr. Coyner rambles all over the place, bitching about the renegotiation of the beef-import agreement with the US:
Furthermore, as zany an impression the irrational anti-mad cow disease demonstrations may have made on foreign executives earlier this year, what probably was more significant was President Lee having to order his subordinates to return to Washington to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the U.S. beef imports resumption agreement.

More than many Koreans may realize, Korea suffers an image problem when it comes to contractual compliance. To be fair, this is one aspect of how Koreans conduct business amongst themselves.

Yet in a global economy, while one needs to act locally, one also needs to think globally when it comes to the basics of business. And that includes the validity and reliability of consummated contracts.

When President Lee sent his representatives back to Washington to renegotiate the beef import agreement, many foreign business managers recalled unpleasant memories and stories about misadventures in doing business in Korea.

After all, if the word of the Korean head of state cannot be trusted, what may one expect in working out a deal with a Korean company's CEO?

Given this, Korea needs more effective national branding. ...
"Branding" is one of the buzzwords in marketing circles these days. (Naomi Klein's No Logo has a good account of what it means and how it works; I've mentioned here before how the US has tried to "brand" itself -- if you're dropping bombs on people, torturing them, throwing their society into chaos, and the saucy wogs have the cheek to get upset about it, the remedy is to hire a PR expert to sell them a New Image of America ... In fact, it's not a remedy at all, but I'm sure the PR experts get paid bountifully anyway, and throwing money at the private sector is what America is all about.) From his babbling in this article about "
Kotler's Four P's of marketing" -- and holy moly, "Back in 1981, Al Ries and Jack Trout came out with a fifth P, Positioning"! but what about the sixth P, Progress in the Positioning of Pointless Promotional Pandering? -- I'm inclined to suspect that Mr. Coyner was hitting the Jack Daniels while looking at the marketing texts on his office bookshelves.

On the sanctity of consummated contracts, it should be remembered that the Free Trade Agreement between the US and South Korea which included beef imports had not been ratified at the time of the protests (still hasn't, as far as I know), so the "contract" was not "consummated" and there was no reason it shouldn't have been renogotiated under public pressure. Plus, of course, the US, like every other country, breaks contracts and agreements all the time. A relevant example here (though there are many others) might be the agreement Bill Clinton made back in the 1990s, offering to help
North Korea build special nuclear reactors for the production of electricity if the North would dismantle its existing reactors that could (perhaps) be used to make weapons; the US reneged on every point, and then had the chutzpah to attack Kim Jong-Il for breaking the agreement several years later when he restarted his old nuclear program. The whole function of contract law is to govern the renegotiation or cancellation of "consummated contracts."

But here's my favorite bit. Why, Mr. Coyner asks, do Korean bureaucrats deploy these comical marketing slogans?
Korean bureaucrats are not stupid. They are highly educated and often spend money on international marketing companies.

The problem seems to be that the tried and generally true approaches by these PR and marketing companies are mangled in the bureaucracies, often at inception. ...

Instead, and too often, cheap short-cuts are implemented that rarely, if at all, adequately survey what foreigners perceive Korea to be and what messages may positively impact on foreigners.
Mr. Coyner himself, says his bio at the foot of the column, "has worked in both HR and high tech sales & marketing in Korea, Japan and the United States. Soft Landing Consulting focuses on improving sales results of primarily foreign firms in Korea and Japan." So there you have it: give Tom Coyner more money, O Korean bureaucrats. Don't pinch those won! This (like other KT columns by foreigners I've seen) is actually an infomercial for the writer's company. What a cushy gig; I wish I could get one like it.