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Azmi Yafi, the chief operating officer Mena at Cheil Worldwide, left, and Keesoo Kim, the company's chief executive Mena. Satish Kumar / The National
Azmi Yafi, the chief operating officer Mena at Cheil Worldwide, left, and Keesoo Kim, the company's chief executive Mena. Satish Kumar / The National

Korean pop's the question

The Life: Cheil Worldwide, South Korea's largest advertising agency, says its work is inspired by everything from the Korean work ethic to K-Pop.

The subject of South Korean pop music does not crop up too frequently in UAE business meetings - but one advertising firm wants to change that.

Cheil Worldwide, South Korea's biggest advertising agency, hopes to bring a bit of its home culture to its customers in the Middle East.

Its pitches to global clients are informed by everything from the Korean work ethic to the country's own brand of popular music, dubbed "K-Pop".

"We are an international agency with a Korean soul and Korean roots," says Azmi Yafi, the agency's chief operating officer in the Middle East and North Africa.

Cheil, which is listed on the Korea stock exchange, has more than 50 staff at its regional headquarters in Dubai and recently launched operations in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

It says its Korean roots are important when dealing with its clients around the world - although in the markets in which Cheil works, the local culture is also key.

K-Pop is a music genre growing in popularity globally with girl bands such as 2NE1 becoming international names.

There is often no clear leader to K-Pop acts, with band members typically promoting themselves through the heavy use of social media.

Big brands can learn from the way such musical acts are structured, according to Mr Yafi.

"They send pictures of themselves without make-up and you wouldn't see any other star doing that," he says. "People will love you as a brand provided you present yourself the way that you are. And that's what K-Pop does."

Cheil's main Korean clients active in this region include Samsung, which is an official sponsor of the London Olympic Games, along with local companies such as the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and Emirates Islamic Bank.

Yet while the company has not yet used K-Pop in any specific pitches in this region, it is keen on the idea.

One approach Cheil emphasises in all its client pitches in the Middle East is the Korean work ethic, says Mr Yafi.

The company's philosophy centres around tuhon - a Korean word that approximately translates as "achieving the impossible".

As part of this, Cheil promises to deliver advertising briefs to all its clients within 24 hours.

"The client's bane is that, when they brief you, they don't know when you're going to start working. Our promise - part of tuhon - is that we deliver a brief to them to look at and approve within 24 hours, for every client. And we start the work immediately after that," Mr Yafi says.

Such a work ethic has helped Korea to transform itself from one of the world's poorest countries to a thriving economy.

Yet some in the advertising industry doubt it is possible to turn around an advertising brief in just 24 hours for anything but the simplest of campaigns.

"On the surface, it invites scepticism," says Lance de Masi, the president of the UAE chapter of the International Advertising Association.

"There could be certain challenges that one could respond to in 24 hours. However, none but the most basic challenges come to mind."

Mr de Masi says inspiration in advertising can come from anywhere, and so the K-Pop references do not seem outlandish. But advertising is meaningless unless it is regionally relevant, he cautions.

"Use whoever you wish as inspiration," says Mr de Masi.

"But at the end of the day, if it's not regionally relevant, it's just ... sending messages. And sending messages is not communication."

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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