Yesterday we told you about the high suicide rates in South Korea and how in an effort to stop the trend, companies are staging mock funerals. As a result of that post, we received a lot of questions and feedback about how the pressure to succeed begins at such an early age in the country. In particular, people were fascinated by the national exam and the fact that there is a helpline to call if a student is stuck in traffic on their way to the testing center.  With only one chance to take the test that will determine whether or not a person is able to attend an elite university, teenagers freak out.

Freaking out on its own is nothing new for teenagers. But in hyper-competitive South Korea, students need to always look calm and collected during the exam. This means that any sign of stress, even a zit, can be a sign to one’s peers that you’re cracking under the pressure. That competitive nature helps explain why an acne commercial began airing in the Asian nation in November, the same time that testing locations for the national exam were first assigned. The video’s target audience is school-age girls, but the message applies to school-age boys just as well.

While the focus on clear, perfect skin takes on a joking sense in the advertisement, in South Korea, beauty is highly prized and is viewed as directly related to the overall success one can achieve. I remember I was introduced to a South Korean client in 2001 and she informed me that I would have more success than my predecessor because she had pockmarks on her face from chicken pox and I did not. That sort of supportive work environment is the reason that South Korean parents are pushing their daughters to have plastic surgery before graduating high school.  It is also the reason that the beauty industry in South Korea generates over $10 billion per year. Sadly, now the country is moving in the direction of performing plastic surgery on dogs.


Jamie Butler

Jamie Butler

I'm a former publicist, now pensioner, who lives outside of London with my husband and am enjoying my free time, especially with both daughters gone to university.