by Sam Levin
South Korea is on a PR campaign in the Bay Area. Starting last month, a series of sixty-second advertisements paid for by the country have been exclusively running on local Bay Area CBS and CW channels.
The ads are somewhat unique since it is apparently the first time Korea has paid for this kind of general infomercial which promotes Korean food, culture, and tourism, says Ben Schweng of Oakland's Koreana Plaza - one of four local sponsors. Koreana Plaza, along with local restaurants Sura, Ohgane, and Seoul House, are funding about half of the ad campaign, with the Korean government paying for the rest.
The idea originated from the Korean government in conjunction with its promotional project "Taste Korea," along with a few local Korean Americans who helped connect the government with CBS, says Theresa Lee, owner of Sura.
The unusual ads feature locally imported food from Korea, espousing the health benefits and lack of MSG. Highlighted is the Korea-based CJ Freshway Co., which distributes products locally and internationally. The ads, which are intended to celebrate Korea, do not market a clear product but are instead promoting most the nation itself.
In one of the ads, local Korean Americans tout the products and the "fusion of culture" that the brand Annie Chun's - the American version of CJ - brings to the United States.
Schweng said that the ad campaign is designed to promote Korea in a way that has not been done before, and he said that his uncle, Koreana Plaza owner Byong Joo Yu - who is active in the KoreaTown-Northgate Community Benefit District - has wanted to help finance something like this for years. (Schweng is also a board member.)
Lee said they supported the campaign because they want people to know that "Korean food is very healthy, and at Sura we have natural ingredients."
"This should be a gateway to understanding the culture," Schweng said. "It's not even really a commercial." It is a chance to see how nourishing, delicious, and healthy the food is, he said. Whether this is an ad for some yummy dishes, or an act of foreign diplomacy, these minute-long commercials are new to the Bay Area and will continue to air into the summer.