Korean Sociological Image #50: The Depths of the Red Ginseng Craze

James Turnbull's picture

Are commercials for this product really the same the world over? Put that to the test by quickly trying to guess what is being advertised above, before all is revealed at o:10.

For non-Korean speakers, the powder shown is a combination of ganghwa-yagssoog (강화약쑥), or “medicinally strengthening” mugwort, and hongsam-paoodeo (홍삼파우더), or red ginseng powder. And surely there is no greater testament to believing in its health benefits than by being prepared to use it in the most intimate of places?

Lest my bashful euphemism for VAGINAS detract from that point however, do recall that during the 2008 protests against US beef imports for instance, many Koreans genuinely believed baseless rumors that Mad Cow Disease could be caught via the gelatin used in sanitary napkins. So it makes perfect sense for aptly-named manufacturer Body Fit (바디피트) to capitalize on the belief that what’s inside sanitary napkins can have direct effects on the wearer’s health.

Indeed, red ginseng in particular is even rumored to be an aphrodisiac too.

Still, arguably it smacks of desperation by ginseng producers too. With apologies for the inadvertent pun, one of the first things the commercial reminded me of was the fact that:

…once a market is saturated, I learned at university in New Zealand, there is a inherent tendency for a company’s rate of profit to fall. But this can be offset by re-marketing and/or making new varieties of the original product, and accordingly my lecturer posited the plethora of varieties of Coca-Cola available in the U.S. as a reflection of the greater capitalistic development of its economy (read: saturation of its domestic market) compared to New Zealand’s, which then only had two. Indeed, advertising culture in New Zealand in the late-1990s, he suggested, was only akin to that of the US in the 1950s in its scale and intensity, no matter how brash and “American” New Zealanders regarded it.

( Source: unknown )

And the second was either a Metro or Focus newspaper cartoon I remember from 2005, a satire of the “Well Being” (웰빙) craze that showed that simply adding a sprinkle of green tea powder to a product seemed to give it health benefits in consumers’ minds, and for which they were prepared to pay a premium for. In particular, the last panel had me laughing out loud on a crowded but quiet subway car, for its ads for extremely expensive “Well Being Apartments” built with green tea concrete really hit the spot.

And which just goes to show that not all Korean consumers are gullible as the mad cow disease connection above suggests. And – seeing as we’re talking about vaginas after all – then the latest Western craze for “labiaplasties” for instance, sounds far far worse (see a NSFW video here too).

But hey, if a misguided belief in the health benefits of a product exists, then you can guarantee that companies will exploit it and/or encourage it. And so it seems very strange then, that actually neither sexual potency or health benefits are the stated logic of the commercial, which is rather that the combination of mugwort and red ginseng would eliminate odor. And which my wife assures me is a genuine concern for women, and not an invented concern as I first thought.

But still, would they really be the most appropriate substances for doing so? How about green tea powder, which – you guessed it – is also found in feminine hygiene products in Korea?

Let’s just say I have my doubts. Meanwhile, can anyone also think of any red ginseng (or green tea) products specifically aimed at men? Or aphrodisiac-wise, is red already ginseng actually only supposed to work on men anyway?

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

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