While I was in the lovely town of Colfax I saw something that bugged the marketer in me. I’ve repetitively blogged about how shitty Korea is at promoting itself, but in a small (and new) restaurant in Colfax I saw more living proof.
The lovely BAG and I sat down for dinner. On the table was a two-sided menu of drinks. All of which featured something I might never have heard of before, “Han Asian Vodka.”
But I had heard of it before at a joint down in Big City. A Thai place (Hint: not Korean) where they served a lovely drink called a “Han Solo.” Lo and behold, on this small-town menu, I saw the same drink. And a whole host more, which you can see on the graphics Terrifying Teefs and Dangerous Digits courtesy of the BAG).
I saw that this whole setup had to be engineered by the “Han Asian Vodka” Company. Once is a coincidence, twice is an attempt at branding.
…… and for christ’s sake I can’t even type that shit… “Han Asian Vodka” is Soju. Good old Korean Soju and yet here it was.. starting to creep into a niche, but without its real name.. So I went and talked to the bartender, who also turned out to be the owner.
I asked her if she was ‘featuring’ the whole “asian vodka” thing because it allowed her to, without a hard-liquor license, make mixed drinks (like a “hangarita”) without having to resort to wine. I knew the answer was “yes” but I wanted to find out how she had come to do this thing. After some chitchat she me that the whole thing had been presented to her as a marketing package by the folks at “Han.”
I asked, “well you know that it’s just soju, but it’s not even from Korea?”
She told me I was wrong and pulled out the bottle, “see, it is soju from Korea, but it is bottled and distributed in Taiwan.”
And I just about had a stroke, because once again I was face to face with a massive, hideous, total, and moronic, failure of Korean marketing.
Soju is “vodka” in the sense it is fermented and prepared that way. But its alcohol content is slightly above that of wine, and thus just fits in with the “soft” alcohol category of the ABC in California. Therefore, with it’s vodka-like taste (it reminds me of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Soju is “a beverage not completely unlike vodka.” Look it up, pointdexter!) it is the perfect “soft” booze to make drinks that “hard” drinkers like to order. At the very least, it can tart up a drinks menu that could previously only feature beer and wine.
But it took a TAIWANESE company to figure this out and to prepare an entire marketing campaign, with drink names and recipes included, for bars in the United States. They not only bothered to figure out what the US wanted (A thing Korean marketers are constitutionally incapable of) but the found the solution (heh, that’s a soju joke!) in Korea and created an integrated marketing plan around it.
Of course the Taiwanese didn’t call their product “Soju,” instead they renamed it “Han Asian Vodka” and thus the essential Korean nature of the drink is erased from it. Korea will never reap an iota of benefit from this.
The name, BTW, is clever, for Koreans will read the “han” and believe it is in reference to the Korean people. They will believe this, of course, because they know nothing about the United States and would never think that 19 our of 20 US citizens would identify the word “Han” as having to do with China and would never once think about Korea as part of “asia.”
But when the news of this gets back to Korea? Somewhere, in some obstructed bowel of some governmental building in Seoul, some guy in a tailored suit and snappy tie will exchange congratulations with other similar factoti, about how the “Korean Wave” continues to cover the world.
In reality? A brilliant marketing opportunity (similar to how Korean BBQs in the US don’t pump their .. well… their BARBEQUE!) was lost to Taiwan.
Stupid Korean marketers!