Korea Launches Ad Campaign Addressing Social Abuse Known as ‘Gapjil’

Screenshot YouTube

According to a survey released earlier this year by Korean job portal Incruit, 97 percent of Koreans polled said they have at some time witnessed mistreatment by a person in a senior position at work.

The survey found that “evading responsibility for their duty” and “affecting the whole team atmosphere according to their mood” were the typical traits of a “gapjil boss,” The Korea Herald reported.

Gapjil” (갑질), which refers to an arrogant and authoritarian attitude, has become an increasingly popular term in everyday conversation and in the Korean media, more so following internationally-publicized incidents involving Korean Airlines executive Heather Cho and other members of her family, who came under fire for the abusive treatment of subordinates — incidents that led to a widely-spread petition calling on the government to ban use of the word “Korean” in the flagship airline’s moniker.


President Moon Jae-in was reported as saying that “gapjil is a leading workplace evil” during a meeting calling for comprehensive measures to address the problem.

These and other hierarchical clashes taking place across the Korean demographic, not only between boss and subordinate but in everyday society, highlight a significant concern that has drawn people at the highest levels of political power into the discussion of how to address the problem.

Earlier this year, President Moon Jae-in was reported by the Korean Broadcasting System as saying that “gapjil is a leading workplace evil” during a meeting calling for comprehensive measures to root it out.

Public Awareness Campaign

In an effort to increase public awareness, the government-funded Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation (KOBACO) recently launched a public awareness campaign called 벼슬 (Byeoseul) – a term which has the dual meaning of a rooster’s comb, while also signifying someone in a higher position.


In the graphic 30-second campaign spot we see three gapjil scenarios, including a woman in a clothing shop, a man in a restaurant, and an older airline passenger, all completely losing it.

The underlying theme of the campaign is a simple, meaningful message: to win respect you must give respect. The ad drives the Byeoseul concept home with each of the trio emiting “clucks” rather than the harsh vitriol. It’s quite an effectively produced spot.


Public reaction to the campaign has been mixed, with some commenters on the KOBACO website saying the ad itself pushes hierarchical stereotypes and teaches violence. Commenters on YouTube echoed similar dissatisfaction, while others praised it as a step forward in addressing the issue.

Ongoing Campaign

This is not the first time that KOBACO has launched a campaign to raise awareness regarding gapjil. In 2016 it released another spot which looks at the issue from the perspective of people in jobs that most frequently experience abuse.

The approach in the earlier ad, which portays people working in the service industry singing about gapjil, is a much more reserved approach than the recent effort.


Problematic Brands?

A keyword research study released last year (link in Korean) by media data monitoring firm BigKinds, tracked which brands had the highest incidents of gapjil appearing in the media from 2014-2017.

Topping the list was food franchise Mr. Pizza, followed by e-commerce site WeMap (위메프) with American tech giant Apple in third, and global Korean conglomerate Lotte ranking at number four for gapjil-related mentions in the media.



Yeeun Kim

Yeeun Kim

Yeeun is a South Korean based contributor to Branding in Asia

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