Purpose: The 21st century has witnessed an explosive growth of both South Korean popular culture (K-pop) and automobiles (K-car) in Western societies. However, K-pop appears to maintain its success better than K-car. This paper will evaluate the origins of K-pop and K-car and determine the distinguishing factors that led to continued K-pop compared to K-car success.
Design/methodology/approach: Suggested claims of artistic/cultural and social/industrial traditions unique to South Korea as causes of the growth in K-pop and K-car success in literature will be evaluated based on historical growth in sales of both products in the US market. Factors of continued success will be evaluated based on how well both industries have been able to maintain their (perceived) brand authenticity, which emphasizes ‘Korean’ cultural values.
Findings: Unlike claims regarding the importance of traditional culture in shaping business success in emergent states, this paper shows that the success of Korean music and cars is not due to artistic/cultural values. Rather, while optimally identifying progress within industries such as digitization in music, South Korea’s unique ability is to deploy its industrial machinery to transform bolder performances and designs originating elsewhere into inoffensive forms with broad cross-cultural appeal. Especially, K-pop’s continued success can be explained through better attention to perceived authenticity, without distinguishing its products too much from known, Western perspectives. Results
also indicate that Korean products do not perform well when companies attempt to take on a leadership role in the industry or develop bold new designs that deviate strongly from Western principles.
Originality/Value: The paper provides unique insights in the similarity of product design and branding, providing tools for evaluating perceived authenticity of a brand and its potential impact on sales. It shows that attention to traditional cultural values may not be a (sufficiently) appropriate strategy for international success. From a Central European perspective, lessons learned by the Korean car and culture industries may lead to new strategic uses of branding and marketing local products and of different forms of governmental/industrial structures to emerge out of the periphery.