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[Opinion] Test Market

Posted March. 16, 2005 22:23,   


South Korea is emerging as the “test market” of the world. Advanced IT products such as mobile phones and MP3 players are the most frequent items of this test market. Korean consumers buy new mobile phones once every 18 months on average, the shortest period globally. In the case of the younger generation, the period is shortened to less than a year. Every time a new model is released in the market, many Korean consumers eventually yield to their urge, no matter how well their current phone is functioning. In the U.S., there is even a saying that when it comes to mobile phones, South Korea is the most advanced nation, and the U.S. is a third world nation.

Prestigious automobiles, cosmetics, whiskey, and other luxuries are not excluded. Last year, Toyota released its new Lexus lineup, “New ES330,” first in the Korean market. British American Tobacco also announced the launch of its highest-grade premium cigarette, “Dunhill Top Leaf,” in the Korean market. The Royal Salute 38 Year Old, the world’s best whiskey costing 1,700,000 won per bottle (770mL), was available in the Korean market for the first time. When it comes to the extravagance with liquor, it is no exaggeration to say that middle class Koreans are better off than some rich people in foreign countries.

Korea is also the test market of Hollywood films, too. Every year, about 120 million Koreans go to theaters, and their response has served as a leading indicator to see whether the film will succeed globally. Last year, the film “Phantom of the Opera” was released in Korea, one month prior to its showing in the U.S. An action film, “Constantine,” starring Keanu Reeves, was also released in Korea 10 days earlier than it was in its own country. This trend is probably the result of an improved and particular sense of the Korean film audience, who has increased the market share of Korean films to 50 percent. Now, Hollywood seems to recognize the appreciative eye of Korean audience.

What is the background of this trend? Experts find the driving force behind this in the Korean consumers’ passionate attitude. As soon as any new Internet infrastructure or the latest product is available in the market, they are quick to find out its strengths and weakness and post their reviews on the Internet. Others suggest that the long-criticized characteristics like hot tempers and impatience have made it possible. Situations that usually take years to occur in Europe take three to six months to happen here. Bad things can sometimes change into good things. Likewise, shortcomings, when used properly, can serve to gain advantages.

Oh Myong-chul, Editorial Writer, oscar@donga.com