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The K-Wave – South Korea’s Trojan Horse to popularize their culture and home-grown brands

If you're someone who watches K-dramas or have been watching them for quite some time or someone who is a big fan of K-pop, then you have arrived at the right destination.

The popularity of K-Pop and K-dramas, that is the South Korean entertainment industry has been massively increasing in these past couple of years. From capturing the hearts of millions of people all across the world through their songs, dramas and films, the South Korean industry is now one of the most recognised and important industries for the growth of the nation.

But how did they manage to do that?

How did they go from being concealed from the world's eyes to being recognised as one of the world's leading and most inspired industries?

Let's find out through the Rajesh Srinivasan

Find your Trojan Horse

In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans after Paris of Troy abducted Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta.

When the Trojans rejected to return her, the Greeks formed an army and decided to fight back.

The Greeks fought for almost nine years. But couldn’t succeed.

Finally, they pretended to return home, leaving behind a large, hollow, wooden horse in which they hid some warriors.

Sinon, a Greek soldier, tactfully convinced the Trojans to bring the horse within the fortified city walls of Troy.

That night the Greek soldiers who were concealed inside the wooden horse sneaked out and unlocked the Troy city’s gates for the rest of the Greek army.

The Greeks penetrated and conquered the city of Troy, ending the war.

The war is one of the most important occurrences in Greek mythology and has been described in many works of Greek literature.

Metaphorically, a Trojan Horse is an innocent-looking container for hiding something within to travel past defences and other barriers cleverly.

You hide the true purpose and intentions behind your actions.

Let us see how South Korea used media as a trojan horse to spread its culture around the world and boost their image and economy.

Hallyu – South Korea’s Trojan Horse

The Korean Wave (Hallyu) refers to the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy exporting pop culture, entertainment, music, TV dramas and movies.

The Korean Wave or Hallyu (a Chinese term meant to describe the growing popularity of the Korean entertainment industry) phenomenon did not occur overnight.

It has been slowly spreading since the 1990s – much before BTS ARMY and Squid game crashed into our hearts with K-dramas and movies like Crash Landing On You, and Parasite that won the Oscar.

The Hallyu wave was born out of the Asian financial upheaval that badly smashed South Korea in 1997.

The country was soaking in debt after borrowing from the International Monetary Fund and had to use the funds to revive its exhausted foreign currency reserves.

Amid these financial disorders, South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung

came up with an idea to employ the country's entertainment industry as an economic engine.

They crafted a coherent strategy.

The Ministry of Culture was realigned, and huge funds were infused into the Korean film council to propagate the country's pop culture while guaranteeing that universities developed talent.

Several Government ministries like food, foreign affairs, sports and tourism invested diligently in the entertainment industry.

This strategy helped the South Korean entertainment industry gain global popularity and lured consumers not only in South Asia but even in the United States to embrace the country’s culture and cuisine, fueling sales of its products varying from mandu dumplings to water purifiers peddled by BTS band.

According to Bloomberg Quint, Food sales of frozen dumpling maker CJ Cheiljedang Corp. bounced 19% in Asia and Europe and 8% in the U.S. after two members of the popular Korean-Pop band BTS fought publicly over mandu, Korea’s popular style of dumpling. Nearly half of CJ’s sales in the food business came from overseas in 2020, rising sharply from just 14% in 2018.

Instant noodle maker Nongshim's stock spiked soon after one of “Parasite”’s female characters cooked two of its products - Chapagetti and Neoguri to demonstrate how some wealthy Koreans might make cheap ready-made noodles exciting by adding expensive beef. The overseas sales revenue of Nongshim’s surged 24% year-on-year in 2020, to $990 million, after the movie received the Academy Award for Best Picture 2020.

The company considers “Parasite’s rage contributed to the sensation for its instant noodles.

It also reverberated at home, with a 60% surge in domestic sales of the two products following the Oscar win.

The Seoul-headquartered firm is building a second factory in the U.S., to increase its capacity to sell up to 850 million bags of noodles in North and South America.

Nongshim’s biggest product, Sinramen, is South Korea’s most popular instant noodle.

Dalgona, a nostalgic honeycomb-like sugar candy also known as Ppopgi, has reemerged and gained popularity after “Squid Game”’s competitors had problems slicing it into shapes.

Some restaurants in the U.S. are now offering the candy -- which originated during the Korean War and used to be marketed by vendors in front of school gates for children to devour after class.

The candy has also gone viral on social media, with people attempting to cut the hard candy into shapes including stars and circles, just like the players of the lethal “Squid Game.”

Key idea

This media strategy of South Korea is a good example of how brands can be a part of the culture, use media as a vehicle to spread it, improve their perception and change their behaviour.

From the dresses we wear to the type of food we eat to the cars we drive.

Part of our everyday decisions about what we buy is primarily determined by our culture and belief system.

But the underlying secret is these value systems are largely fuelled by the media we consume.

Movies, News, and Influencer content – are some of the biggest shapers of our belief system.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman says, “People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness.”

Media content has soft power. Rather than the hard forced advertising which pushes people to buy products, the subtle power of movies, news and other content enter into the consciousness of people slowly.

It further stimulates them to buy a product when the occasion arises.

Behavioural psychologists also call this Availability heuristics

The availability heuristic, also known as availability bias, is a mental shortcut that counts on immediate examples that come to a given person's mind when assessing a specific topic, concept, method or decision.

The availability heuristic functions by prioritizing irregular events based on recency and vividness.

About the Author

Rajesh Srinivasan is a Modern Marketing Strategist, Author and a Tedx Speaker. His mission is to turn organizations into Centres of Marketing Excellence. He can be reached at

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