Selling Wine to Korean Women


Writing about sexual symbolism in advertisements for so long, it takes a lot to shock or surprise me these days.

Still, I confess I burst out laughing at this one.

Writing about sexual symbolism in advertisements for so long, it takes a lot to shock or surprise me these days.

Still, I confess I burst out laughing at this one.

Lest you feel that my sense of humor is a little crass however, then perhaps you need the context. Last week, I was skimming an article in the Korea Times about the rivalry between the French wine Beaujolais Nouveau (보졸레누보) above and the Korean rice wine Makgeolli (막걸리), and suddenly noticed this:

Recognized as a simply old-fashioned drink for a long time, Makgeolli is popular with trend-savvy young female customers in the current boom. The biggest group is women in their 20s and 30s, and some of them ended up placing orders for [the new] Makgeolli Nouveau (막걸리누보) when they came to reserve its Beaujolais counterpart, according to Hyundai Department Store.

Now I’ve written a lot on gender-based Korean advertising in recent months, including that of tea-drinks, health-drinks, and attempts to make soju more appealing to women, so I was interested in finding out if that preference was partially the result of (or led to) similar marketing: after all, gender-based advertising is often more indicative of advertisers’ stereotypes and prejudices rather than any empirical evidence that it actually works. And in the case of that for “girly” Korean drinks in particular?

Well, recently at least that has meant nothing more sophisticated than either the use of a lot of pastel colors and/or the breaking of the convention that bottles must be pointing straight-up and in the bottom right-corner of advertisements. Instead, they pop up in a most satisfying manner almost anywhere, and usually at somewhat less than a 90-degree angle (see here and the bottom of here).

Obviously I can see the humor, and even like this one (aimed at men), but I’m beginning to find its repetitiveness kind of patronizing too.

Refreshingly, I actually saw little evidence of either feature in the marketing for Makgeolli Nouveau (see here and here for examples) though. But you can imagine what frame of mind I was in then, when I finally turned my attention to advertisements for Beaujolais Nouveau instead, and was greeted with the magnificent specimen above!

( Source )

In fairness to Korean advertisers, Beaujolais Nouveau certainly seems to be considered a girly drink worldwide also. In Japan it is poured into spas and promoted as giving smooth skin for instance, and the (presumably) international labeling of previous years’ wines similarly featured pastel colors and flowers and so on.

This possibly explains why the “Peninsula Beaujolais Nouveau Party” at Lotte Hotel in Seoul last Friday boasted a lingerie fashion show too.

But more to the point, the text “신의물방울”, in the top-left corner of the advertisement, translates as “The Water Drops of God” or Kami no Shizuku, a Japanese comic book about wine. Extremely popular, and not just in North-east Asia, there is a wealth of commentary on it, so for interested readers I suggest this post at the manga blog Precocious Curmudgeon for the best summary, with many links to longer news articles. Focusing on the original advertisement here though, in one of those links it is argued that the comic’s greatest impact has in fact been on South Korea, with over 1 million copies sold, and the authors were “stunned to be greeted like stars”  on their first visit there in 2007, even finding themselves introduced to candidates during the presidential election.

You can imagine then, the effect on sales here (and worldwide) when Beaujolais Nouveau was featured in it a few years ago, and accordingly in 2007 Japanese distributor Mercian hired the illustrator to design new labels for the drink. Presumably, a Korean language version of that is what we are seeing here.

For those of you more interested the wines themselves though, I recommend this article from Slate more information on Beaujolais Nouveau itself, albeit not a very flattering one (indeed, a rival Japanese food and drink comic book to Kami no Shizuku describes the drink as “little more than a French prank that the Japanese have fallen for hook, line and sinker”), and the recession has recently forced it to be sold there 10% cheaper than in previous years and in plastic bottles.

( Source: unknown )

Meanwhile, for more information on Makgeolli Nouveau I recommend two articles in turn recommended by connoisseur Tom Coyner: the first from early November on the reasons for Makgeolli’s renaissance, and which mentions that women make up only 10% of drinkers of regular Makgeolli but 30% of the fruit-flavored ones; and the second from Wednesday on the difficulties of expanding the market from its current 3.6% of all alcohol sales. In addition, you may also find this article from February about the Japanese role in its resurgence interesting, and finally all of the above should be placed into the context of the Korean government wanting to promote more domestic rice consumption, as evidenced by its attempts to promote “Garaetteok (가래떡) Day,” named after stick-shaped rice cakes, over the more commonly recognized “Pepero Day” earlier this month.

But has anyone actually tried either? Despite writing all that, I actually only started drinking wine and beer myself about 3 months ago(!) at the tender age of 33 (I preferred various cocktails), but if it tastes okay then I certainly wouldn’t mind trying something sweet and cheap like Beaujolais Nouveau. Any variety of Makgeolli however, would be just too weird: I have tried it, and concluded that something that looks like milk should not taste like wine!^^

Update 1: Water Drops of God is being made into a Korean Japanese drama series featuring Bae Yong-jun (배용준), and is scheduled to start next month.

Update 2: As Gomushin Girl has pointed out in the comments, labeling Makgeolli as rice “wine” is probably incorrect. Adding to that, this post at The Marmot’s Hole makes is clear that serving it in a wine glass is particularly inappropriate.


Posted in Japan and East Asia, Korean Advertisements Tagged: Beaujolais Nouveau, 막걸리, 막걸리누보, 만화, 보졸레누보, 신의물방울, Kami no Shizuku, Makgeolli, makgeolli nouveau, Manga, Manhwa, The Drops of God, The Water Drops of God

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