Korean pop culture has taken China by storm, and it’s having a big influence on Chinese shoppers. The phenomenon, known as Hallyu, includes Korean pop artists and television shows, and retailers are starting to take notice.
The Korean drama My Love From the Star has led to a shopping craze for products featured on the show as well as goods endorsed by the show’s stars.
When Song-yi, a main character on the show played by Gianna Jun, celebrates the first snowfall with the traditional chimaek, a meal of fried chicken and beer, Chinese imports of Korean beer hit $1.04 million in March, a 201% increase compared to the year before. In fact, Breweries in Korea are now “aggressively targeting the Chinese market,” and Chinese beer drinkers now have a number of Korean beers to choose from, including a variety of beers from Hite Jinro and OB Beer.
Jimmy Choo is another brand that received a sales boost from the show. After the brand’s $625 Abel pump was worn on the show, stores in Shanghai and Beijing were quickly sold out of the shoe, according to The Wall Street Journal. Yves Saint Laurent’s “rosy coral #52” lipstick worn by Jun and a Samsonite backpack worn by Kim Soo-hyun have also seen sell-outs nationwide.
Samsung Mobile in China has already inked the show’s two stars to a $2.5 million endorsement deal and Kim caused a near riot as fans squeezed in to see him at his appearance at the Beijing Auto Show. According to Want China Times, Kim has earned at least 110 million yuan (US$17.6 million) from his appearances in Chinese commercials, and he earned an additional US$480,000 for a single appearance on a quiz show on Jiangsu Satellite TV.
Kim Soo-hyun and Gianna Jun aren’t the only Korean stars finding fame in China. According to Inside Korea, Lee Min-ho, the star of the Korean drama The Heirs, recently beat out Kim Soo-hyun for the title of most popular Korean actor in a March survey by Kugou.com in which he won 510,764 votes out of 1.35 million cast in total.
The popularity of Korean soap operas in China has led to crossovers in other popular Chinese shows. According to KpopStarz, Korean pop stars Fei of MissA and Nichkhun and Chansung of 2PM will appear on the Chinese dating show If You Love.
China Daily has a reasonable explanation for the increasing popularity of Korean shows in China: “Chinese TV screens are flooded by knock-off and/or poorly made soap operas. Most of the Chinese TV dramas either distort the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, which is a distortion of history, or blindly copy foreign programs. The lack of good stories has of late resulted in loads of TV series on time travel or fights in the harems of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors. These, in short, are the bane of Chinese TV productions.”
Though Korean dramas began to catch on in China beginning with 1997’s “Star in My Heart,” the new wave of success for Korean dramas is largely due to embracing online streaming. Inside Korea points out that the streaming services allow Korean dramas to skirt Chinese censorship and allow Chinese viewers to watch Korean shows almost simultaneously with Korean fans. Since their premiers, The Heirs and My Love From the Star have gained billions of views on Chinese streaming video websites such as IQIYI.
Korean retailers have taken notice of the Hallyu wave in China, which has led to explosive expansion among Korean retailers in Chinese cities. South Korean retailers took up 4.17 percent of Hong Kong’s new leases in trendy shopping areas last year, according to South China Morning Post. Furthermore, six new Korean retailers have opened stores in Hong Kong during the first quarter of this year, triple the number that opened in the first quarter last year. South Korean cosmetic brands, including Etude House, Innisfree, The Saem, and Nature Republic, have also opened stores in Hong Kong over the last two years.
As the crossover between Korean and Chinese pop culture continues to grow, look for more Chinese and international brands to expand their product placements and endorsements in Korean pop culture exports.
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