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K-Fever: a Case Study

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The Impact of Korean Popular Culture on Consumer Behavior

The Korean wave hit Asia in the early 2000’s, initially through television dramas, and has gradually skyrocketed in popularity, expanding its reach to the film and record industry as well. Its success is owed to the effective combination of Western pop-culture with an added Asian flavor, across all its industries. With the sudden influx of Korean boy or girl pop groups led by pop idols worshipped by many fans, the media industry managed to tap on the popularity of certain idols, starring them in television dramas and hence garnering support from fans all over Asia. Together with popular drama series came its respective memorabilia, such as posters, bags, accessories – you name it, they have it. This paper serves to explore how the wave of Korean popular culture (commonly known as the Hanryu) on television today has had an impact on the behavior of people who participate in this Hanryu culture, not only through purchases of memorabilia, but also through changes to their lifestyle.

The Influence of Hanryu on Consumer’s Buying Behavior
Media, and the television to be specific, can be seen as a medium for informal learning, as well as influence. It is sometimes known as a socializing agent, which can influence who we are and what is expected of us. Just like how advertisements serve to increase the perception that consumers have towards a certain brand or product, occasionally using attractive endorsers or impactful slogans, Hanryu has a similar effect on influencing consumer perception of drama memorabilia.

However, the differentiating factor that Korean dramas have on influence is that it sells an appealing lifestyle to its viewers. Most dramas (e.g. Boys Over Flowers) are centered on wealthy families in high-class societies, family-oriented consciousness, idolism and tear-jerking love affairs, which appeal to a specific target audience, especially teenage girls and middle-aged women. Its viewers are consistently being impressed by on-screen fashion as well as high-society living. As such, it is no surprise that on-screen memorabilia are being snapped up by Korean drama fans, aspiring to carry the same bags, wear the same clothes, visit certain sightseeing destinations and be alike their idols. This can be explained by viewers taking the on-screen characters to be their aspirational reference group. Korean dramas also tend to exert normative influence on its viewers, whom hence assume what they see on television to be the “norm” of what their lifestyles should be like.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; Boys over Flowers

Girls’ Generation Collectibles; Cheetos
As such, with this observation of Hanryu having an effect on buying behavior of memorabilia, I would like to explore in this paper whether the Korean wave has the potential to alter the behavior and lifestyle of people who are caught up in it as well.

How Audiences Engage with Television Dramas
A study done by Kristin C. Moran states that people, especially the youth, are easily influenced by what they see on the television. Moreover, television programs contain certain cultural contexts that teach young viewers cultural norms and expectations. This in turn teaches them ways to interact in daily life, specifically those that are related to dating and establishing intimate relationships. In gradual process, youths can easily imitate and learn the values, behavior and attitude implied by these foreign series through the characters’ acting.

Scene Depicting Courtship; Winter Sonata

As such, such Korean dramas can become an avenue where meanings are created through audiences’ interaction with programs, and as such, start to identify with the characters in the drama, thus feel as if they are “having ideas, attitudes or intentions similar to those of the appealing character, or acting in a manner similar to the character”.

Perception and Emotions on Behavior
Perception refers to the process whereby the brain generates a conclusion regarding incoming stimuli that activates our sensory receptors. Using the theory of perception, it is possible that audiences experience similar pleasures associated with what is occurring on-screen. Thus, upon repeated exposure to such dramas, there is an increased likelihood that the brain starts to perceive such on-screen lifestyles to be achievable in real life.

It is also a frequent observation that perceptions of audiences towards particular idols and actors can change after watching Korean dramas. Korean drama series are also usually created hand in hand with rising Korean pop idols, and the drama hence aids the process of market creation for the Korean pop industry. It also helps to enhance consumer identity related to their idols among fans. This evidence proves that idolism has been used to manipulate the attitudes of audiences, making them want to watch series because their favorite idol is acting in it (e.g. I watch Boys Over Flowers because of Lee Min Ho).

That being said, emotions are naturally evoked from watching these television series, making the viewers deeply attached to its story and characters. Thus, it is possible that the flow of events in the drama series can have an effect on how its audiences view life and its challenges. Though sometimes unrealistic, the audiences may perceive it as possible in reality, and start to expect outcomes in life akin to what they see on television (e.g. fairytale endings and perfect relationships). Similarly, audiences start to perceive whole new definitions of beauty due to the flawless physiques of their on-screen idols. In extreme cases, some fans even go under the knife in attempts to look like their favorite celebrity (who has, most of the time, had a lot of work done).

The Pretty Faces of Girls’ Generation

Another aspect of lifestyle changes that has been influenced by Korean popular culture is also the dance subculture. Many Korean pop fans, boys and girls alike, under the influence of Korean dance groups such as Girls’ Generation, Super Junior and SHINee, have rushed to pick up a new dance genre known as K-pop, characterized by upbeat music with integrated elements of hip hop, jazz and groove. It is also surprising to note that though Korean is a different language altogether, a major portion of fans are made up of people from Asia and the rest of the world, who do not speak the language. Some fans even try and pick up the Korean language so as to fit into the K-pop subculture better. We however do not see such trends in music of languages other than English having such a widespread reach to other countries, nor is it as apparent seeing people scrambling to learn a different language solely due to interests in music of a foreign language.

Experimental Design
To test my hypothesis that Korean popular culture leaves a somewhat permanent effect on audiences’ lifestyle and behavior, I propose to run an experiment as follows:

* No specific time line was given for this paper; hence this experiment should be run over a span of at least 1 year. * There will be two groups of participants, each group containing at least 50 subjects. One group is limited to subjects with no prior exposure to Korean popular culture, and the other group to subjects who are already somewhat interested in Korean popular culture. * The subjects are chosen within the above limitation using random selection of participants between the age group of 15 to 35 years old. * 6 popular Korean drama series will be shown to the subjects over the course of 1 year at allocated intervals, and subjects will also be given a subscription to the South Korean television channel, KBS World, which broadcasts reality shows, documentaries, dramas, music videos and more to view at their own discretion. * At the end of one year, the statistics on how frequently each group watched the subscribed KBS World television channel would be collected, and plotted on a graph to see if there were any increments in time spent watching the channel after prolonged exposure to the Korean drama series. * Participants from both groups will also be given an identical questionnaire to complete before and after the experiment is carried out, to measure any significant changes in their lifestyle and behavior. The questions can be tweaked slightly when used before and after to ensure that the subjects do not realize it is the same survey. After the results are collected, they should be contrasted with the questionnaire filled in before the experiment, to see how much the subject’s behavior has changed. * If my hypothesis proves to be correct, the results should show a somewhat significant difference in the way the subjects answered the questions, perhaps more apparently in questions like describing their ideal Valentine’s Day date and qualities they look for in a potential mate. * The difference should also be more pronounced in the group that had no prior exposure to Korean popular culture, signifying a greater effect that watching a year’s worth of Korean drama serials has on behavior and lifestyle. * Sample questions that can be included in the questionnaire are shown below:

Sample Questions
Close Ended Scale Questions (Scale from 1 to 10) 1. How much do you see yourself following drama series closely? 2. How interested are you in visiting Korea during your next vacation? 3. How interested are you in picking up dance as a hobby?

Close Ended Questions (Re-arrangement) 1. Please re-arrange the following variables from the most important to the least important: Family, friends, romance, career, religion, and wealth. 2. Please re-arrange the following variables based on the most important determining factors that motivate you watch a television serial to the least important factors: Overall quality of story, humor, emotional involvement, artiste appeal, peer recommendation, and narrative fidelity.

Open Ended Questions 1. Have you recently recommended any television programs to your friends?
If yes, which ones, and why? 2. What are some factors that influence your product choices when shopping? 3. Describe your ideal Valentine’s Day date. 4. If you had $1000 worth of vouchers, what would you spend it on, and why? 5. What foreign languages are you most interested in picking up, and why? 6. What are the 5 most important qualities you look for in a mate? 7. Name 5 of your favorite non-local dishes. 8. If there were 3 things you could change about yourself, what would they be? 9. Name 5 of your favorite television drama serials.

What has been discussed in the previous paragraphs serves as evidence aligned with the fact that Korean popular culture serves to sell a lifestyle to its audience, instead of just providing them with music, dramas and films. Hand in hand with repeated exposure to such dramas and shows, as well as the intensity of the emotions invoked while viewing Korean dramas, the Hanryu has made an impact on how its audiences view reality, and also has introduced a K-pop “way of life” through its subculture. That being said, it seems that Korean popular culture, once introduced to willing recipients, hence has the potential to alter the behavior and outlook of life of its audiences somewhat permanently.

[ 1 ]. Wang (2009), The Impact of Foreign Programs on Taiwanese Youth and the Significant Role of Media Education, CCSE Journal.
[ 2 ]. Hoyer, Macinnis (2010) Consumer Behavior 5th Edition
[ 3 ]. Ibid.
[ 4 ].
[ 5 ].
[ 6 ]. Moran, K. (2003). Reception Analysis: Latina Teenagers Talk about Telenovelas. Global Media Journal, 2(2).
[ 7 ]. Wang (2009), The Impact of Foreign Programs on Taiwanese Youth and the Significant Role of Media Education, CCSE Journal.
[ 8 ].
[ 9 ]. Fiske, J. (1989). ‘Moments of Television: Neither the Text nor the Audience’
[ 10 ]. Cheney, G. (1983) ‘The Rhetoric of Identification and the Study of Organizational Communication’, Quarterly Journal of Speech 69: 143–85.
[ 11 ]. Wang (2009), The Impact of Foreign Programs on Taiwanese Youth and the Significant Role of Media Education, CCSE Journal.
[ 12 ].

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