I've Been Watching Too Much TV

Korean advertising is baffling. There, I said it. Yesterday, my midday NCIS break cut to commercial with a lineup of Korean men in thigh-high, shiny red, 6-inch-stiletto-heeled boots. They wore tuxedo jackets as well, with brilliant red bow ties. Most of them had that Kpop look: 18, disgustingly fit, and too stylish to be allowed. The man in the middle, however, looked six hours into a beer bender, with a permed afro that had to be ironic. They then conga-lined to frenetic music for about thirty seconds, after which the unkempt one gave an oily grin and mimed making a telephone call. A sparkling red phone number flashed by, and I was dumped back to my regularly scheduled program.

This, by the way, is normal.

As far as I can tell, there are three kinds of Korean TV commercials.

1) The luxury home/life commercial. Most of these are pretty straightforward. A Korean family marvels at the technological wonder that is their refrigerator. Or their air freshener. Or the most fantastic coffee in the universe. The thing that unites these ads is the setting: always a big house with a vast green lawn visible through the window. This one, for example, has what looks like an entire forest out beyond their deck.

The problem? This setting absolutely, positively does not exist anywhere in Korea. 90% of the country lives in high-rise apartment buildings. The other 10% are either crowded into houses so densely packed you can barely walk between them, let alone fit a lawn, or they're farmers living in the middle of nowhere. And then they're growing crops where all that grass would have been.

2) The Song And Dance Number. Many of these commercials are harder to figure out if you're not fluent in Korean. Generally, they're just a famous actor or musician singing or dancing their joy for some product or other. Thankfully, this one is pretty obvious.

3) The WTF Commercial. These are the ones that make absolutely no sense. Interestingly, these may involve products that even foreigners without a lick of Korean could figure out (such as this one for a rice drink, or this one for air filtration products). But they are inevitably characterized by how they break your brain and leave it gibbering in helpless confusion.

They are also, often, quite funny.

Here's one for... Tae Kwon Do New Zealanders... I think.

And this one is... fart guns? Spectacular levels of snot?

Here's a rather sexist offering from Snickers.

And this one's for... well, it involves a duck. I know that much.

I know that a lot of my confusion is because I don't know Korean. But I'd like to think some of the above examples would be baffling even if I were fluent. I mean seriously? Fart guns?

And it isn't like this level of insanity infects other forms of advertising. For example, Korea has a ton of  billboards, but they're often utilitarian, with just the name of the store or the product on offer.


Sometimes there will be simple pictures, such as fashionable models for clothiers or vegetables and fruit for grocers. Occasionally, you'll see funny illustrations.

Grocery store
Grocery store

But things are so sparing usually, that it's impossible for me to distinguish an ad for a restaurant from these instructions on how to get a gas mask in the subway in an emergency.

gas mask instructions
gas mask instructions

So I end up baffled. Just... utterly confused. This country is truly a land of contradictions. Their TV commercials are insane. Their signs are spare and utilitarian. And there are fart guns.

There are fart guns people. Just think about that.