From Screens to Cart: How Hallyu Wave fuelled the demand for Korean Products in India

Hallyu Wave

As KDramas, KBeauty & KPop gain a cult following in India, especially since the lockdown, Korean brands & products saw a surge in demand. We take a look at how the Hallyu Wave (Korean Wave) completed the cycle of Content to Commerce while paving the way for entry of newer Korean brands.

Parasite winning Oscars was perhaps the official stamp of success on Korean content’s international appeal. Not that they needed any official attestation for mere observation is enough to realize the popularity of Korean Pop Culture worldwide. Or as kids these days call it – the ‘Hallyu Wave’!

In India, the roots of Korean content and culture’s popularity go way beyond ‘Gangnam Style’ (2012) or the Korean wave of cultural export seen in North-Eastern states back in 2014. India’s association with Korea is as old as the 90s kids when brands such as Samsung and LG set foot in the market and enjoyed acceptance that even a few homegrown brands have struggled to achieve. What followed was mere natural progression with the arrival of the internet, social media, e-commerce, and now OTT. 

The pandemic, however, gave the Hallyu wave its due diligence in India. Names like ‘BTS’ and ‘Hyun Bin’ need no Google search now (except to be sure of the pronunciation) and KBeauty regimes have been integrated almost seamlessly into skincare routines back home. But, can this Korean Culture burst convert into a business opportunity for Korean brands? 

Hallyu Wave – The Lockdown Chapter 

The Hallyu Wave in India has been driven majorly by 3 active elements – KDramas, KPop, and KBeauty. There are other contributing factors also such as Korean cuisine, automobiles, and electronics that have been popular in the country for a long time now. 

Beginning the content chapter, my brush with KDramas happened rather late into the lockdown, when out of curiosity I started watching, ‘What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim’. Needless to say, it was addictive and I was done with all of ‘Park Seon-joon’s’ shows on Netflix within a month. It was only later that I would find out that the discovery of KDrama and KPop by newer audiences during the lockdown is actually one of the strongest content trends to be seen in the industry. 

According to Mansi Shrivastav, Head – Content Acquisition and Syndication, MX Player, with the lockdown, viewers experimented with all types of content including universal stories that transcend language and cultural barriers. Currently, on MX Player, Turkish and Korean dramas are a major driver in the international category with Korean romantic comedies, love stories, and family dramas working well. 

“To give you a comparison – our Hindi dubbed Korean shows alone are catering to an audience that is comparable to what an English movie channel is currently doing, effectively proving that even niche content is able to find a sizable audience on our platform,” Shrivastav exclaims. 

This has been the case for most content platforms. On Netflix India, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean titles drove the most viewership after English. Popular Korean Drama, ‘Kingdom Season 2’ was in the India Top 10 series row in March 2020, and titles such as ‘It’s Okay to Not be Okay’ (in July and August), ‘Crash Landing on You’ featured in the overall Top 10 lists on the app multiple times. It is important to note that ‘Crash Landing on You’ has emerged as a phenomenon in itself with die-hard fans quoting the show and lauding it on social media. 

Lockdown also witnessed the launch of Dish TV’s VAS (Value Added Service), Korean Drama Activ. According to Sugato Banerji, Corporate Head- Marketing, D2H, Dish TV India, the channel already has 500 hours of premium fresh content dubbed in Hindi and aired with English subtitles. 

“We started selling this channel around September 3 or 4 and by month-end, we had collectively around 2 lakh subscribers for the platform. We have never seen such a response for a VAS service,” Banerji tells Social Samosa. Korean content’s entry on Television serves as an important litmus test to understand the penetration of Korean content across age groups. 

Also Read: Inside: Korea Tourism Organization’s attempt to revive tourism with #TakeMeBackToKorea

In addition to the lack of fresh content during the lockdown, a dominant factor (in addition to the KDramas having similar values, opulence, and society make up) that led viewers towards KDramas was a vacuum created by Pakistani & Turkish content that once aired on Indian television actively. One would remember the popularity that shows like Humsafar & Jackson Heights enjoyed. 

“Pakistani content also performed well at one point due to similar plots and story treatment. The vacuum left by these dramas in the scope of the last 18-24 months has been fully occupied by Korean dramas,” Banerji adds. 

KPop has been another integral driver of the Hallyu wave in India. According to statistics by Spotify India, the audio streaming app has had nearly 41 bn KPop streams since the release of the first KPop flagship playlist back in 2014. As of February 2020, the boy band, ‘BTS’ has more than 8 bn streams on Spotify.  

KPop girl band, Blackpink too has seen unparalleled popularity worldwide and in India. In fact, Netflix recently introduced a documentary on the journey of the band.

Same is the KPop popularity seen on Twitter. In September, Twitter celebrated 10 years of ‘KPop Twitter’ revealing that there were 6.1 billion K-pop related Tweets in the past 12 months worldwide. As per their data (from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020), India ranked 11th among the top 20 markets for #KpopTwitter – both by unique voices and by Tweet volume and unsurprisingly ‘BTS’ was the most mentioned KPop artist in India (seriously, their popularity and social media following demand a different article altogether). 

Next in line is KBeauty and while they have been prominent since 2018, during the lockdown its skincare products witnessed a rise in demand. 

“The KBeauty trend has had a significant impact on beauty routines introducing innovative formats of skincare like sheet masks, serums, and sleeping masks, focusing on unique ingredients such as rice water, chia seeds, and snail essence,” a Nykaa spokesperson informs. “Consumers are intrigued by the glass skin concept and the origins of the ‘no-makeup’ makeup look which can be traced back to South Korea.”

Ecommerce platform Shopclues, which houses over 50+ Korean Brands also echoes the opinion. In February this year, Shopclues entered in a MoU with the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) to identify outstanding Korean enterprises and support their entry into the Indian retail market. The brand also created an exclusive category, K-Avenue, dedicated to Korean products. 

The key dominants of the Hallyu wave in the country have grown significantly stronger over the last few months. The question that arises now is – has the penetration of K Culture resulted in an increase in demand for K products and does it make India a conducive market for more and more K brands to enter? 

Hallyu Wave – Can Content Convert to Commerce? 

The impact of culture on consumer behavior has been proved time and again. Add the influence of movies/shows and other forms of content to it and you have successful brand case studies on your hands – organic and paid, both. One example that comes to mind is Yakult flying off the shelves in the USA post the release and success of ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’.

With Indian consumers now being exposed to ‘Ramen’, ‘Binggrae Banana Milk’, and the range of beauty products, has the Hallyu content wave created an increase in demand for Korean products? 

“Even though K-beauty brands have been present in the market for some time now, the growing popularity of K-pop and K-drama have led to an increased demand in the country due to the TV characters indulging in skincare routines on-screen,” the Nykaa spokesperson informs Social Samosa. 

K- beauty brands such as FaceShop, Tony Moly, Laneige, Klairs, Etude House, and luxury brand, Sulwhasoo have entered the Indian market through Nykaa.

Shopclues too saw an uptake in Korean personal care and food products such as face masks, foot masks, eye masks, instant noodles during the lockdown and expects to see further increase as Korean content penetrates deeper. “As more people become aware of Korean culture through their music and shows, there will be better recall value for Korean products. As the popularity of Korean TV shows and dramas among the Indian viewers increases, we should also see a spike in the sale of Korean merchandise,” a spokesperson tells us. 

Moving beyond cosmetics. Instant Ramen brand ‘Samyung’, has been popular in the country ever since the Korean fire noodles challenge went viral globally and have been in demand on platforms like Amazon. 

The demand for Korean products isn’t restricted to bigger e-commerce platforms. Seo Young Doo, a Korean entrepreneur who studied in JNU back in the early 2000s was quick to spot the growing demand for Korean products in India. His venture ‘Kori Kart’, an e-commerce one-stop-shop for Korean products, launched in 2018, has now added a range of products in addition to cosmetics. Young Doo is of the opinion that the increasing penetration of the Hallyu Wave played an important role in catalyzing the consumer demand. 

In an interview with Forbes India in August 2020, Young Doo shared that ‘Kori Kart’ witnessed nearly 40% – 50% spike in sales in the previous months. He shares that the lockdown led to an increased demand for instant noodles and skincare products. 

KPop merchandise too has found exclusive followership with the deeper penetration of the Korean Wave. In addition to popular band merch being available on Amazon, there are a number of newer sites catering to KPop fans in India. These include Beyoung, Edgy Apparel, Phoenix, and Kpopmerch.in.

To understand consumer sentiments around Korean products better we take a quick look at Google Trends around the term ‘Korean Products’ in India for 2020. 

Under the Food & Drink category, search demand for Korean products has gradually increased over the year with a visible spike in May. We also see a few high points in June, August, and September. 

In terms of regions, the interest peaked from Manipur, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi. 

Beauty & Fitness as a search category for Korean Products too saw an increase in May followed by a dip in June. However, the rest of the year witnessed mostly consistent interest traffic. Most interest for the category was seen from Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal – in this order. 

When we look at content as a product, OTT/Media platforms too are keen on doubling down their efforts in acquiring new Korean content owing to the increase in demand. 

“We have recently inked a deal with SBS, a leading national South Korean television and radio network for 20+ new shows and are in active conversation with other prominent players in this category,” Shrivastav from MX Player informs. 

Helping us understand the viewer demographics, she explains that in the niche of international content like Korean and Turkish MX Player gets a large contribution of viewership from 100+ tier I & tier II cities & towns. “Almost 50% of our international content viewers discover this content on social media or because it was recommended by a friend and that goes to show a clear virality element within the user base that watches high engagement content such as this.”

Netflix too has hinted towards “significantly investing” in Korean content and the resultant shows are almost always in the Top 10 category on the platform. Dish TV too expects its Korean content VAS service to be the most subscribed content in the year. 

Also Read: #GlobalSamosa: Nike Korea’s Choose Phenomenal: Today’s you is a masterpiece of all your choices

Conducive Market for New Players? 

As much as I would love to see a Paris Baguette (South Korean cafe franchise) in India, we still don’t know if the Hallyu wave can pave the way for newer Korean brands.  

Helping us understand the situation, Dish TV’s Banerji tells us, “Korean cuisine is widely popular in India, especially in Metros like Mumbai & Delhi. Because I eat Korean food or watch KDramas – will I buy a Korean brand? There will be familiarity, but eventually, the brand needs to have a stronger plan to appeal to the Indian markets.” 

Banerji however, feels that this is just the beginning. Korean brands such as Hyundai and LG entered the Indian market decades ago and made it their own (in a manner of speaking) and newer brands can too. 

“This is just the beginning. Eventually, Korean brands will be more widely accepted. Good products will work irrespective of the country of origin,” Banerji quips. 

But, with the increasing Indo-Chinese tension, the gushing speed of the Hallyu wave, and South Korea’s very speed of adapting with changing times almost makes you, if not positive, at least affirmative about the future of Korean brands in the country.  


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