Selling culture to high-end crowd

A group of foreign diplomats, scholars and businessmen attend a screening of the Korean movie, ''Miss Granny,’’ at CGV Yongsan in Seoul last Friday.
/ Korea Times

By Kwon Mee-yoo

It is in the interest of CJ, the food and entertainment chaebol (family-owned conglomerate), to extend the life of “hallyu,” an overused term describing the international success of Korean cultural products in recent years.

The consumption of Korean music, film, fashion and food jumped in Asia and other parts of the world since the early 2000s, prompting the government to advocate the country’s cultural products with zealous mercantilism.

However, critics argued that the country’s aggressive marketing has been breeding weariness over Korean cultural products as foreigners recoiled from the smell of nationalism. The government has since been moving to reduce its role in touting music, film and television shows and let the market play it out.

CJ still believes there is value in identifying the “Koreanness” shared in the country’s cultural products. To enable a deeper understanding of these styles, sentiment and ideas, the company is aiming its promotional activities more toward influential foreign residents it regards as “opinion leaders.”

CJ recently started its bimonthly “Friends of K-Culture” program, where it invites high-profile foreign individuals such as diplomats, business people and scholars to private cultural experiences.

Several ambassadors were invited to a screening of the Korean comedy “Miss Granny” last Friday at the CGV Yongsan multiplex in Korea.

The movie, which is about an old lady who after a mysterious photo shoot is granted a second youth, was provided with English subtitles. The film was well-received by the audience who believed the story captured Korean cultural elements and sentiment convincingly.

“I like to be involved in Korean culture and try to attend as many events as time allows. For this event, it is also interesting that a company like CJ is trying to make an effort in giving back to society,” said Alberto Giacchini, a professor on the Sejong-Syracuse MBA program, who was invited to the screening.

“I would love to experience some up and coming K-pop entertainers and interact with local people from diverse backgrounds.”

CJ, which started out as a food company, dramatically increased its investment in entertainment and media in the past 20 years through subsidiaries such as CJ E&M, CGV and CJ Hellovision. It also controls CGV, Korea’s largest multiplex theater chain that also operates in the United States and China.

Mark Brazeal, an American employee of CJ’s Creating Shared Value department, which manages the Friends of K-Culture project, said there had been a demand for high quality cultural experiences for foreigners here.

“CJ has food, movies, music and more, almost every aspect of Korean culture,” he said.

Friends of K-Culture held its first event in January with a cooking class on Korean traditional holiday meals such as “tteokguk,” or rice cake soup, which was held at a studio in the CJ Foodworld building in Seoul.

Planned future events include a visit to live K-pop program at Mnet, CJ E&M’s cable music channel, and a class on “kimchi,” Korea’s staple dish of fermented cabbage.

The program began with invitations to ambassadors to Korea and expanded to their employees, foreign professors and students. Currently, the program has a small community gaining presence through word of mouth, but Brazeal said it would open up to everyone in the future.