Korean Air Tries Sensory Branding – on TV


korean air sensory

The company cited by Brand Sense author Martin Lindstrom for doing the best job of sensory branding is Singapore Airlines. Now, Korean Air seems to be making its own major effort to appeal to multiple senses… via the primarily visual medium of television.
I’ve seen this ad air a number of times, and was struck by the number of appeals to different senses. Most of the commercial looks like a luxury fashion ad – only near the end do we see a glimpse of a Korean Air jumbo jet followed by a few seconds of an attractive flight attendant.

korean air perfumeMost of the ad, though, is composed of a montage of video snippets that both epitomize, in a surreal manner, a luxurious lifestyle and appeal to senses other than purely visual. The most unusual of these is a segment that shows a woman applying perfume; that seems oddly irrelevant unless the intention is indeed sensory appeal. In addition, the images include various taste elements – sipping champagne and a plate of food are the most obvious.

Other sensory images abound: a champagne cork popping; the champagne bottle visibly misting after opening; a woman reaching out to touch a shiny, sensuously curved, sculpture. Watch it and you’ll find others. Perhaps to minimize distraction by the visuals, the commercial is done in a monochromatic approach. While it would have been tempting to overwhelm the visual sense with lush, rich colors, that might well have prevented the viewer from processing the more subtle sensory appeals. Overall, this is an interesting ad; one wonders if Korean Air is incorporating sensory elements throughout their other marketing as well as their actual services.

  1. Jonathan Salem Baskin says

    I just posted a blog entry about the print version of Korean’s latest campaign (at http://dimbulb.typepad.com) and, as a brand marketer, I can’t for the life of me explain why they’d waste money doing what they’ve done. Senses aside, making the connection between this campaign and any perceptible, let alone measurable, impact on its business – not on some similar vague distraction called ‘brand’ – is about as predictable and relevant as watching for the trails of particle decay in a cloud chamber. I’m all for sensory elements, but using the senses actualizes the connection between what Korean Air is promoting, and how consumers register and remember it, right? I’d posit that the ‘outbound’ version of sensory engagement is BEHAVIOR…and the only thing I can image a reader doing after seeing the new print ad is, well, turning the page and forgetting it.

  2. Roger Dooley says

    I agree that this campaign seems destined to have minimal short term impact. For most of the commercial, one has no clue that it’s even for an airline. Indeed, my first guess was that it was a fragrance ad until I saw the closing frames. Kind of the ultimate soft sell.

    I checked out the print ad you discussed – that one is so vague it makes the TV commercial look like a blatant product pitch!


  3. Anthony John says

    The television ads are not only sensual but sexual in a non-subtle way. The naked statue, the lips on the envelope, and the way the man is holding the champagne bottle when the cork blows. C’mon, you don’t have to be a perv to pick up on that one. The soft focus at the end with the vertical up and down movement of the woman as she opens her mouth says more than fly me. You don’t have to be Fellini to see the sex in this one.

    Anthony John

  4. Kathryn Anderson says

    I have been puzzled by the TV ad since the first time I saw it. I even searched on the internet trying to find out what in heaven’s name the woman puts in her mouth. A tissue blotting her lips? A very thin Swedish cracker? Anthony John says it’s an envelope.

    As a former reporter, editor, writer and small time sometime commercial writer, I bow to the fields’ experts. But, I have to tell you this one left me feeling creepy and confused. The bizarre (are we supposed to think high fashion?) white outfit at the beginning and the not-so-subtle sexual undercurrents don’t fit, flow or make sense. What are you selling me? All the anglos in the ad, especially the couple who looks as if we interrupted them in bed, certainly don’t prepare me for a Korean air line.

    My initial (and continuing) reaction was “what bullshit! They’re trying to get me to go to the Olympics in China on Korean Air and they seem to think it’s a Paris fashion show. Show me pilots, destinations, prices, competence and things unique to the airline, not phony sexuality and fake Kabuki moves by the flight attendant (I know, it’s Japanese) who seems to offer a most unappealing pile of sticks pretending to be food.”

    Maybe men find this ad more appealing. As a woman and an editor, I find it creepy, very unclear, and off-putting rather than interesting or piquing my curiosity.

    Believe me, wondering about the tissue/cracker/envelope has solidly lodged in my brain to remind me to AVOID an airline that seems so incompetent in presenting their mantra (excellence in flight) with NO information about the price, safety, destinations or quality of the flight.

  5. Patricia, Long Island, NY says

    I think the commercial is extremely ear catching and it keeps you interested in it until you realize what the ad is about, you want to see and hear it again because it is so pretty and the music is so mesmerizing and just does something to the ear so I have to say, compliments to the marketing directors. Sex sells as we all know, and in the end of this beautiful commercial, is when you see the Korean Air logo and that’s what stays in your mind. I hope to see it over and over again. The colors are so perfect, as the male model holding the champagne bottle is. Bravo…. Love this commercial and wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks. Now make a song out it. I will be first to buy the music in it. Excellent.

  6. Kathryn Anderson says

    I’m still trying to figure out what the woman is holding in her lips (top of this blog). Envelope? What is she doing? Cracker? With her lips?
    Tissue? It wouldn’t stay straight.
    Anyone have any theories of what and why?

  7. John Farren says

    Let me say that first, I do not have a marketing degree. That being said, I absolutely love this commercial, and I will tell you why- it conveys a sense of the finer things in life. Granted, not sure what the woman and the lipstick have to do with flying, however, everything else clicked. The music is the clincher. Chillout is incredible, and the music seals the message… Perhaps that is what everyone is missing in this.

  8. Jonathan Salem Baskin says

    I don’t think anybody needs a marketing degree to form a meaningful opinion of an ad, and loving it is great. But unless it motivates the viewer do subsequently DO SOMETHING, it’s really a waste of creativity and money, isn’t it? Why would a company spend a second trying to evoke feelings that may or may not evaporate into the ether the moment the ad is finished?

  9. Roger Dooley says

    Jonathan, the key question is whether those feelings DO evaporate. If they leave a lingering impression of the company that is evoked by later ads or by a purchase opportunity, they have done their job.


  10. Margaret says

    Does anyone know who’s the artist to the music, this is what caught my attention.

  11. Dan says

    The artists name is Robert Matt from Germany.
    The song’s name: Breathing the Blue

  12. Margaret says

    Thnx Dan ur the man.LOL

  13. Judy says

    It’s a letter she’s putting her lipstick on. And I like the commercial in terms that it make me feel good. Keep in mind they are betting on most people not paying to close attention. It’s subliminal. It’s stricktly meant to be alluring to the senses. Not so dumb. I’ve never once before thought about Korean Air. So in a way they accomplished their goal. Even if you think it’s not that smart… Maybe that’s all they want. JK

  14. beth says

    The lipstick is on an envelope. The word across the screen is “pledging.” It represents a highly sensuous “pledge” written within the envelope that she is sealing with a kiss. It is intended to speak of the the loving care and devotion you will receive by flying Korean Air. I think the message is simple, and quite erotic in a way.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks, Beth!


  15. David Schwartz says

    The ad is a bad attempt at creating a luxury brand:

    1. Disconnect between “Korean” and luxury – No cultural precedent, so far. Hyundai? Not yet.

    2. Tiffany blue – Surprised there is no lawsuit

    3. Asian models – Retro ’80s sexism

    4. Music – For Rave and trance fans. Most are backpackers and don’t fly first class

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