Aishwarya Ramesh
Marketing

Ramen, skincare, BTS and K-dramas… A look at the rise of Korean culture in India

Since the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, India has seen an increased interest in Korean dramas, cuisine, etc. What does it mean for the ad world?

Gone are the days when Ekta Kapoor reigned supreme as the queen of drama. Ever since the Coronavirus pandemic struck, OTT platforms have seen an increased spike in interest for streaming Korean dramas. These shows have a wide range of themes – romance (Crash Landing On You, What's Wrong With Secretary Kim), fantasy (Strong Girl BoonSoon, Zombie Detective), mystery (Born Again, Extracurricular), historical (Empress Ki, 100 days My Prince) and high school dramas (Boys over flowers, Master of Study) - to name a few.

Interest in searches for 'Korean Drama' in 2020 on Google
Interest in searches for 'Korean Drama' in 2020 on Google

Netflix India recently acknowledged the growing popularity of Korean dramas in India. The streaming giant published a video in collaboration with influencers Supriya Joshi and Krutika – explaining how and why these shows have caught the audience’s imagination.

It’s not just these shows that Indians are interested in. Now, there is an increased interest in Korean music too. When Spotify released data from its 2020 edition of Wrapped, it revealed that BTS was the fourth most streamed artiste/boy band in India. Their album Map of the Soul: 7 was the third most streamed album in the country.

Also Read: Spotify announces Wrapped 2020 - a look back on the year's music trends

Spotify India has acknowledged BTS fans in their past ads. The band themselves are aware of their fan base in India and they have acknowledged them in a promotional messages for music streaming app Gaana, as well as an interview with NDTV earlier this year.

Content platform FilterCopy also published a video that acknowledged BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan) fans in India and the struggles they face, trying to get people to listen in, purchase merchandise, see a live concert of the band, etc.

The seven member boy band has caused quite a wave in the advertising and marketing world. Internationally, they have appeared in advertisements for brands like Samsung, Hyundai, Coca Cola, and Fila.

Korean girl band BlackPink is also making waves worldwide. Netflix released a documentary of the band on tour and one of the members - Lisa have collaborated with MAC Cosmetics for a line of makeup.

BlackPink became famous when they collaborated with actress and singer Selena Gomez for a song titled 'Ice Cream', which went viral thanks to the catchy beat being danced to, on TikTok.

‘Hallyu’ or the Korean Wave is the term used to describe the spread of Korean entertainment and culture in other parts of the world. The term first made its appearance in the mid-1990s, when Korea forged diplomatic relations with China in 1992.

As a result of the relation, Korean TV shows and music became popular in Chinese speaking communities. In 1997, South Korea had taken a loan from the IMF worth nearly $12 billion dollars. The South Korean foreign ministry tasked diplomats with promoting Korean pop culture overseas. However, attempts to make the music and drama popular in other parts of the world did not succeed beyond China, Japan, Hong Kong.

K-pop made its mark in the international music scene with Psy’s song Oppa Gangnam Style – released in late 2012. It became the first K-pop music video that made the world sit up and take notice. The Hallyu wave finally left its shore.

The song was the first K-Pop title reach the 2nd place on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the U.S.A (competing with Justin Bieber's song 'Baby'). The song also topped the charts in more than 30 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Canada, and Australia.

The ‘Korean Wave’ craze expanded to include Korean traditional culture, food, literature and language, creating more and more enthusiasts. Since lockdown started in India, Google Search trends reveal an increased interest in Korean food. We spotted packets of Shin Ramyun ramen noodles on supermarket shelves. Shin Ramyun is the highest selling noodle brand in South Korea and is exported to more than 100 countries.

Interest in the search term 'Korean Noodles' this year
Interest in the search term 'Korean Noodles' this year

Korean noodles also gained popularity after videos of YouTubers eating spicy noodles caught the public attention. The YouTubers had tears streaming down their faces as they struggled to finish the bowl of noodles.

A simple search for ‘Korean food’ on Amazon throws up a range of products beyond ramen noodles, including kimchi sauce (made from spicy cabbage – similar to a pickle), roasted seaweed sheets (a popular ingredient in ramen and to make sushi with), instant tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and spicy shrimp flavoured crackers (which can be consumed like one would eat potato chips).

Korean Food on Amazon
Korean Food on Amazon
Korean snacks on Amazon
Korean snacks on Amazon

It was in early 2019 that e-commerce skincare and makeup aggregator Nykaa made Korean skincare easily available in India. Korean skincare is well known for being made with natural ingredients and not tested on animals.

Korean skincare on Nykaa
Korean skincare on Nykaa

Korean actors and actresses are rarely seen with a flaw on their skin, which becomes an indirect testimony for the efficacy of the products. On the Nykaa app, Korean beauty has a category of its own and the aggregator is constantly adding new brands under this umbrella.

The Indian implications of the Hallyu Wave

Aalap Desai, NCD, Happy McGarryBowen India admits that he has been an avid anime fan for some time, and finding someone who even knows about it in India is rare.

"This behavior is not restricted only to Japanese anime. I feel Indians were never comfortable consuming content in foreign languages because we hate reading subtitles," he explains.

Aalap Desai
Aalap Desai

He recalls watching the movie 'Parasite' with his friends in the theatre after it won an Oscar and he says it turned into an introduction to Korean culture, for them and, for most Indians.

He adds that from there onwards, their journey continued on OTT platforms and with songs. "The shows have an emotional quotient similar to India. The songs have a melody and energy quotient identical to India. Adoption of it was a natural trajectory," he opines.

Desai mentions that we as an audience ran out of shows to watch during the lockdown, and we were more open to that Korean show that was recommended by a friend. BTS becoming the fourth most streamed artist in India is also a part of that opening up of our minds, he adds.

He hopes that this will continue into other foreign languages too. "There is something beautiful Bong Joon Ho said in his Oscar acceptance speech. He said, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Indians have started crossing this barrier," says Desai.

Carlton D'Silva, co-founder, House of Awe agrees that Korean music and dramas are popular in India, but mentions that it could be difficult for brands to ride the Hallyu wave.

“Brands usually target Bharat more than India, and I don’t think the penetration of Korean dramas as well as music is prevalent. I’m not sure if people in India are listening to music apart from Hindi music or music in their local langauges. That’s why I don’t think it’s entirely relevant for brands to ride on a foreign language like Korean to enhance their brand,” he says.

Carlton D'Silva
Carlton D'Silva

He acknowledges that when a large audience gravitates towards a particular type of content, it’s because they feel it’s really good. “A lot of people who are coming back from the States might also be bringing back this habit with them. However, in India, we’re seeing a huge rise in the ‘Make in India’ movement and if companies try to bring Korean culture into their marketing, that might go against their brand,” he concludes.