South Korea: How they popularized quirkiness

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Korea, or South Korea to be exact, is the place for capitalistic Koreans ever since World War II. We used not to know much about that nation, except that they eat meat sourced from what we consider as pet animals. They are a nation full of quirkiness that we don't understand, and culture differences as wide as Texas. They eat cake with chopsticks, they built their roofs shaped like smiles (traditional Korean house), and their national sport is basically fighting, or Taekwondo in other words.

They weren't good at building things either. Korean cars were on the bottom of reliability and satisfactory charts, creating phones and TVs was a mere hobby compared to the Japanese, and only a few dozen of people outside of Korea ever heard of K-pop a decade ago. A few years ago though, that's all changed! And not just that, but they were also able to excellently popularize their quirky stuff, too.

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Let me start with a simple one; Gangnam Style. I won't go too deep with this, since TheVerge is a tech site, but the Koreans have gone mad with this one. How can you market a relatively middle-aged Korean man doing a horse-ride dance? It put the world into crazy-dance mode for this song, and freshened-up the advertising industry. But it's really quite simple: It's quirky, fun, and can be done by anyone; the amount of YouTube parodies of Gangnam Style will prove that. But a lot of people tried that before, and hasn't worked nowhere near as much. So there's more to the equation than just that. I believe the weirdness of Gangnam Style's popularity had something to do from where it came. You see, we always expect quirkiness from those East Asians, and when they do deliver something weird, we like it and matches our expectation. If an American or a European singer tried to do a horse-ride dance, it would've failed badly.

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The same applies to Samsung. The company was never good at making mobile phones, but that all changed with the era of Android. Of course, Android was only part of the success, because there was an even bigger part to their boom in sales and image, and that's the screen. Even though Samsung wasn't the first to launch a considerably larger phone than the iPhone, but they're the ones that made it so popular. The Galaxy S2 had a 4.3" display, and the whole phone size was noticeably larger than Apple's iPhone, which made it quirky. Everyone noticed that quirk, and because it was Korean, people bought it and started the surge of popularity for Samsung smartphones. It's a deep mental thing, but when we see a quirky Asian product, it makes sense to us as consumers. That all leads to the 5.3" Galaxy Note, which launched the term of "phablets", which is quirky in a whole different way. Everyone predicted the failure of the Note, but surprisingly to everyone, that thing caught on like it was glued to people's hands. People accepted to deal with compromises of fitting it in your pocket, terrible one-handed use, and the sheer awkwardness holding it to your ear while talking; just so they can own this piece of weird marriage between a phone and a tablet. People like weird, especially coming from the right place. And like that dance, the equation for the Note was: quirkiness, fun to use (S-Pen comes to mind), and comes from Korea.

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That all brings me to the lastest quirkiness coming from Korea, the all-new Hyundai Veloster. I won't go into how great Hyundai has come with building cars, but I want to talk about how weird this car is and how much it doesn't make sense. The Veloster is designed to be a 'sporty' hatchback, with 1 door on the driver's side, and 2 doors on the passenger's side. Therefore, it's a 3 door car with seatings for 4 passengers. It doesn't look as good as a pure 2-door coupe because there is a rear-door on one side, and it's not as practical a normal 4-door hatchback because you're losing access to the left side of the passenger seat; it should've been a failure. So how is it outselling the Mini Cooper since August of last year? I think it's down to how people are actually seeing it. A quirky car being a coupe on one side, and a hatchback on the other, with fun-to-drive dynamics. And let's not forget the birthplace. If Ford or Chevrolet even tried to imitate that idea, they would've got harassed by the media; even Mini tried to do a 3-door car a few years ago with the Countryman and it never worked. But because Hyundai is proudly Korean, we get the weird styling and we get why it's 3 doors.

Again, this is a deep psychological thing, but it has some truth behind it. We always expect the weirdest of things from East Asia, and Korea is becoming the pinnacle of this. But this isn't new for them, because they've always had K-pop, they always made big phones with TV tuners too, and they always had some weird ideas for cars. The difference now is that they're showing them to the world, and we're liking it.