From the confusing new slogan I.Seoul.U to the viral sensation of Gangnam Style – an inside joke about the city’s success that was lost on most foreign viewers – Seoul is a city struggling to define its brand. But why?

In November 2015, a much-publicised process of crowdsourcing ideas and putting them to a vote culminated in the city of Seoul unveiling its current English-language slogan: “I.Seoul.U.” It met with more ridicule from the local English-speaking community than most of the South Korean capital’s international PR moves (including, but hardly limited to, photoshopped versions for the long-suffering village of Fucking, Austria).

“The arrogance, the vitriol and the self-appointed expertise evident in this explosion of online bile is extraordinary,” wrote Korea Times columnist Andrew Salmon as he surveyed the announcement’s aftermath. He argued that “the stark simplicity of I.Seoul.U may well speak to tourists hailing from these high-potential target markets” who have “on the whole, a poor command of English”.

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