Some of the most interesting creative work being put together in the South Korean ad world these days is coming out of a Seoul-based film production shop called Dolphiners.
Founded by filmmaker, Shin Wooseok, the work is a breath of fresh air in an industry otherwise crowded with domestic Korean brands stuck in a cycle of overreliance on celebrity spokespeople glamming for the camera.
As Cheil Worldwide VP and CCO Wain Choi noted earlier this year: Advertisements in Korea “tend to use celebs that are famous at the moment to promote brands regardless of relevancy. Without a clear concept, it is very difficult to come up with great work.”
While Shin and the Dolphiners team gives clients the celebrity face they want, they do so with cleverly, and often comedically done narratives. Like this series of very funny ads they produced for Canon starring soccer legend Ahn Jung Hwan. (subtitled)
The creative method might seem commonplace in other parts of the world, but the work by Dolphiners is largely considered outside the box in the Korean ad market.
Branding in Asia recently spoke with Wooseok Shin about being a filmmaker and an ad maker, some trends in the Korean industry and the difficulty with “stupid clients” making “stupid demands.”
What have you been working on lately?
Recently, I have been working on advertising projects for Canon, Samsung Electronics, Uniqlo, and Kia Motors. Other than the advertisement projects, I also just finished a video contents series produced by YG Entertainment, and have undertaken a scenario for a movie that my team is going to produce.
Your background is more in film. What got you into the advertising field and how do you compare the two creatively?
That’s actually a very good question. My goal and fundamental basis have always been about films. So, my talent is also based on those. I believe my talent in the film industry has always influenced and been utilized in my works in the advertising field.
“I have naturally positioned myself as an outsider to approach commercial films and viral projects, and that could possibly be one of reasons why my works are unique unlike those of other Korean commercial film directors.”
About 10 years ago, I started Dolphiners, to create my own works. Ever since then, despite trials and errors, I have convinced myself that my talent in the film industry does work for the advertisement business. That is why I started directing both films and commercials.
Even though I run a production company and work as a commercial film director, I have never actually thought of myself as a person who works in the advertisement industry. I actually have a very limited knowledge about this field, and, personally, I have always had different goals and directions.
Because of this, I have naturally positioned myself as an outsider to approach commercial films and viral projects, and that could possibly be one of the reasons why my works are unique unlike those of other Korean commercial film directors.
Of course, films and advertisements do have very different characteristics. The advertisement has to take account of the number of viewers, and popular trends and it has to have a very condensed but clear narrative in accordance with the running time.
“I do not watch campaign works done by others because I try not to be influenced by them. These days, many advertisements plagiarize others, and irresponsibly claim that it was just a ‘reference.’ I do not tolerate it, so I just do not watch other people’s works. “
You can, however, find unique characteristics of my films in my advertisement projects. Even though, there is a difference in medium, genre, and format, every single work contains a unique characteristic and style of a director like DNA.
Sometimes, unfortunate occasions happen when everything (I mean a quality of a project and even success) is ruined because of demands of clients. But, I can’t help a project become successful if stupid clients make stupid demands.
Many observers here have noted that brands in Korea overly make use of celebrities in ads. What are your thoughts?
I totally agree with that. Personally, I want to challenge and overcome this long trend that has become like a custom. Of course, every single project requires different models. The Korean advertising industry, however, relies too much on big names for their popularity, image, and influence. Because of this, some celebrities take advantage of it, and they sometimes make unreasonable demands.
I feel discontented with this trend. When a project’s plan is correctly made and finds the appropriate person for a role, I think this unfortunate trend can be corrected. I personally want to challenge it and create a good precedent against it.
What are some creative trends you like in Korea these days?
There is an ongoing trend known as “doped advertisements.” These advertisements are like radically creative and imaginative works as if directors are on high on dope while they are making them.
I love imaginative works, so I have paid attention to this trend. Also, there is another trend called “Byeongmat” among young South Koreans. This trend is hard to define, but I suppose I can describe it as “utterly clueless, and sometimes lousy.”
But that ridiculousness makes the “Byeongmat” content funny and become a main cultural code.
Recently, there are more and more doped advertisements, but they are created without good production quality. Those contents have no clear understanding of key codes and messages that they should deliver. They only have exaggerated elements in an effort to create hype. It is just a pain in my butt to watch them.
Can you share some of your favorite campaign work done by others in Korea?
I do not watch campaign works done by others because I try not to be influenced by them. In these days, many advertisements plagiarize others, and irresponsibly claim that it was just a “reference.” I do not tolerate it, so I just do not watch other people’s works.
Here is a reel of some short spots for Speaking Max language app. There is also a director’s cut of a viral spot that features Santa getting in trouble with the Korean authorities.
More: Q&A -Cheil’s Wain Choi on Korean Advertising, Celebs in Ads and ‘Pure Ideas’