Public Wedding Ad Angers Young South Koreans

Public Wedding Ad Angers Young South Koreans

Seohoi Stephanie Park
Seohoi Stephanie Park

A beaming young bride and groom step through a door into a sunlit future, accompanied by the strings of Wagner’s Wedding March… only to be confronted by a daunting row of hurdles. 

So begins a public-service advertisement from Kobaco (Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation) released on Mar. 10.

Undeterred, the bride and groom launch themselves forward. WEDDING COSTS, reads the first hurdle. GIFTS FOR THE IN-LAWS comes next, taking out the bride. The groom leaps athletically on but clips the top of the next hurdle — MORE GIFTS — and bites the dust.

The ad then cuts to a simple-but-happy outdoor wedding scene and delivers its message: “For a happy marriage, start with a small wedding.”

It’s expensive to get married in South Korea. (Source: YouTube)

The ad aims to raise awareness of the social cost of rising wedding expenses. Instead, Kobaco has sparked a bout of public wrath. 

One Twitter user pointed out how the ad overlooked a significant reason why many couples hold grand weddings:

“We save up to have the kind of wedding our parents want. We have to have fancy weddings so they don’t lose face. All the guests are our parents’ friends, not ours. […] It’s our parents’ generation that says no when we suggest small weddings.”

Another public campaign, run by the Ministry of Health and Welfare last year, attempted to address the kind of external pressure mentioned by the above Twitter user. “Marriage is between two people,” the ad emphasized. It showed a couple trying to plan a wedding but constantly being interrupted by family members and friends telling them to do things differently. “Don’t interfere: Encourage,” the ad advised. “Don’t give pressure: Show respect.”  

Local newlywed couples spend about 270 million won when getting married, according to matchmaking company Duo. Of that amount, 190 million won – about 70 percent – goes into securing a housing. Wedding venue costs 20.1 million won on average; the wedding gifts that the couple’s families give to each other account for another 36.6 million won

And size does not necessarily correlate with cost: Small weddings can be just as expensive, as another Twitter user points out:

“A small wedding means having a f**king expensive ceremony with a small number of guests…a super fancy dress that’s expensive but looks humble, an expensive venue with a good ambience, and ridiculously expensive and delicious food.” 

The biggest problem with the Kobaco ad, in the eyes of many young South Koreans, is the way it points the finger at them while neglecting to illuminate the cultural dynamics of why weddings are so costly in the country: a complex blend of factors including family and peer pressure and conventional expectations. The ad is one of the government’s many attempts to encourage young people to get married, raise families, and ultimately solve a larger problem: the country’s declining birth rate.

Unfortunately, some government campaigns like the Kobaco ad, are not well received. Some are deemed tone-deaf, or downright offensive.

“Why people aren’t getting married…. The government neglects issues it should be solving — real-estate problems, unemployment, childcare, etc. It’s portraying the problem of people not getting married and not giving birth as an individual one.” (Source: YouTube)

Last December, the Ministry of the Interior published the now-infamous “Map of Childbearing Women,” literally showing the regional distribution of fertile women nationwide.

This page was taken down on the same day it was put up, due to public outrage. (Source: Ministry of the Interior)

South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and the government is anxious to fix this. But the ads raise doubts about its ability to tackle the issue. Can the government really solve this problem when it appears not to understand the causes?


Cover Image: A newly wed couple prepares to jump over hurdles imposed by South Korean society. (Source: YouTube

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