Marketing in Korea is all about the Small Screen, Mobile Strategy a Must

How’s this for the level of mobile saturation? According to the Pew Research Center, 88% of South Koreans use a smartphone, way ahead of second-placed Australia with 77% penetration, followed by Israel at 74% and the U.S. with 72%.

Even more telling from the Pew numbers is the demographic breakdown. Smartphone penetration for Koreans ages 18 and 34 is 100%. Yes, you read that right —complete saturation.

And their parents and grandparents? Smartphone ownership for those 35 and up currently stands at 83%, a full 13 percentage points ahead of second place Australia and an epic 52 points ahead of neighboring Japan, Pew found.


It should come as no surprise why brands in Korea must be laser-focused on their mobile marketing efforts–over and above any other.

“In Korea, mobile communications has become the channel to reach consumers, but it is also now the new battleground for companies to provide the best overall customer experience,” said David Richardson, a 30-year veteran of Korean market research and president of David Richardson & Associates.

This is more than just mobile lip service. CMOs in the country appear willing to throw serious money behind mobile advertising–as much as US$1.25 billion this year, according to Nasmedia–solidifying the country’s position as the world leader in mobile internet ad spending as a share of all digital ad spending.

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Traditional marketing channels are feeling the pressure, as a result. Television, in particular, is locked in a real-time battle with digital in Korea, said Tyler Kim, managing director of PR firm Weber Shandwick, in Seoul.

“Some 80% of TV viewers use their mobiles while they watch TV,” Kim said. “When an ad or some boring content comes up, they immediately turn their attention to their mobile devices.”

When approaching the Korean market, Richardson believes firms need to fully commit to an integrated mobile marketing approach to be effective. “Today’s Korean marketers need to leverage the unique role search engines, blogs, internet cafes, websites, app stores and apps, SMS, and social media play in both the discovery stage and the after-sales service experience of brands.”

Crucially, they also need to create compelling content to engage consumers. A prime example was an integrated mobile campaign introducing the Audi A4 to Korea, which tapped into an array of mobile technology while also encouraging consumers to generate their own content.

South Korea is the world leader in mobile internet ad spending as a share of all digital ad spending.

“The smartphone app used OCR [optical character recognition] and augmented reality technology. Customers could look around the car with 360-degree viewing as well as change the car’s colors,” said Joon Chang, creative director at digitalDigm, the Seoul-based creative shop that designed the campaign. “They could also quickly locate Audi A4s around them, take pictures, and upload them on social networks. This led them to disperse content on their own.”

When designing campaigns for Korean consumers, Richardson said it’s important to tailor to local expectations.

“Korean consumers get quickly annoyed whenever they have to do anything extra, such as clicking to go to another page,” he said.“Integrating online and offline experiences that address this desire for effortless results and choice might be Korea’s biggest contribution to the development of marketing over the next decade.”

A version of this article by Mr. McGill originally appeared on Adobe’s

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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