Posted : 2013-03-20 17:37
Updated : 2013-03-20 17:37

Soap opera, literally

Song Hye-kyo in the SBS TV drama, "That Winter, the Wind Blows"
/ Korea Times file

Viewers frustrated over blurring boundaries between dramas, commercials

By Do Je-hae

At the cosmetic store Aritaum at the D-CUBE department store in western Seoul, a group of young women in their 20s sample the "it" lipstick of the moment, the "Silk Intense Lipstick" line from Laneige.

In the media and among consumers here, the line is known as "Song Hye-kyo lipstick." "They are a bit pricy for a Korean-brand lipstick, but they are the most popular item in the store these days," a salesperson said.

What consumers are going for is the polish and elegance of actress Song Hye-kyo, who stars in the TV drama "That Winter, The Wind Blows" with Zo In-sung, who has made a successful comeback from military service. Song has been the face of Laneige for the last six years, appearing in TV and magazine advertisements.

In one scene from the drama, Zo waits for Song while she gets a full makeover at a Laneige store. Laneige is just one brand getting exposure through the drama, in addition to tuxedo maker Parkland and Hyundai Motor Company.

Such prevalent product placement (PPL) prompted many viewers to leave hostile comments on the melodrama's official website since it first aired on Feb. 14.

The Korea Communication Standards Commission (KCSC) recently issued a warning to the three major broadcasters, KBS, MBC and SBS, to exercise restraint with PPL marketing in TV dramas and shows.

"Aside from merely exposing a product on screen, there are instances where broadcasters are using captions or dialogue to highlight certain products. Such instances are violations of the current PPL regulations," an official with the KCSC said. The KCSC is considering applying fines for such violations.

But there is still confusion as to how much PPL is legal. Programs with high viewer ratings are subject to more scrutiny and criticism, whereas violations from less popular programs tend to go unnoticed.

Downsides of PPL

Product placements are indirect advertisements where consumers are exposed to products or services in TV programs or films, in exchange for monetary compensation from advertisers.

PPL became legal here in 2010, with some restrictions. It is allowed in entertainment and culture programs, given they constitute less than 5 percent of air time, and must run under 30 seconds per brand. Since then, broadcasters have actively used PPLs to generate more advertising revenue.

Generally, PPLs aim to insert images of the intended products without giving the impression of an advertisement. However, some industry experts say the prevalence of PPLs distract viewers and harm the quality of programming.

"Right now, we are seeing more dramas where PPL is dictating the content of the program. This could undermine the quality of Korea's broadcast content in the future," culture critic Ha Je-geun wrote in a recent blog posting.

TV dramas are not the only vehicle for PPL these days. PPL marketing is also appearing in musicals, movies and webtoons.

Undercover cop thriller "New World, which opened in theaters in late February, featured its main character smoking cigarettes by KT&G and others using Blackberry smartphones.

The webtoon "PEAK" on DAUM, which revolves around a mountain rescuer, exposes the logo of the sports brand Kolon on clothes worn by major characters.

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