Selling Acceptance: CFs as MVs

Park Bo-Ram - "Super Body"

In 2014, a young woman by the name of Park Bo-Ram made her rookie debut with “Beautiful.” The title of the song certainly matches Park, who is young, fresh-face and beautiful. The song swept the top spots of many national digital singles charts, including the Gaon Chart. Here's what you may not know: before her official debut, Park lost a whopping 72lbs. This is an incredible accomplishment for anyone who has tried to slim down. But consider this: Park went from weighing 77kgs (169lbs) to her recorded weight of 44kgs (97lbs). This weight loss in itself does not raise any immediate concerns, but when placed into the context of the idol industry where already thin people are pushed to achieve even thinner bodies (often with the assistance of plastic surgery), it becomes clear that selling acceptance through the use of idols can be damaging.

Last month, Park released a new video and single by the name of “Super Body,” which is essentially a remix of her other hit, “Celepretty.” In the video, Park is seen confidently walking in a gym while everyone stares, and taking it upon herself to scout down the only person in the world to ever drink Coke while running on a treadmill. She then walks into a clothing store, and takes a pastry from a woman, gives her a magic elixir, and the woman emerges from a fitting room with a completely different body (and face). Everyone in the video is either beautiful and thin, or fat and shameful. Those that are thin are envied by others, while the only 2 non-thin people are ridiculed and receive unsolicited fitness advice, which basically consists of drinking this 1oz bottle, marching in place, and viola, becoming skinny and therefore adored—just like her!


It should be obvious by now that “Super Body” is a thinly veiled CF, or commercial film, for a “weight loss product” by CJ E&M by the name of Fat Down. This is also the same company that Park is signed to as a performer. And although this is a commercial, it does not forgive the video for it’s troubling treatment of larger bodies and its misguided message.

Park Bo-Ram - "Super Body"

The whole reason for drinking “Fat Down” is in order to lose weight. But why do the people in “Super Body” want to lose weight? To be skinny and beautiful, of course. The only two larger people in this video are treated as a spectacle. They are pointed out and pointed at in order to make them feel inadequate and undesirable. Even the men that are not large watch Park with a lustful, almost creepy stare, reinforcing the idea that if you are not thin and beautiful, and do not want to lose weight, like Park, you are an outcast. But what the CF doesn’t show is the immense hard work and dedication it takes to actually achieve a healthy and fit body. It is dirty, sweaty, and sometimes even painful. The “Super Body” commercial bypasses the complete lifestyle change and commitment to healthy eating and regular exercise for a quick fix in the form of a drink because it is easy, quick, and doesn’t take effort. Idols are normally seen as virtually flawless, but the actual dedication and ugly side of keeping their thin shapes is rarely brought to light. And when they are, the miniscule portions they eat despite hectic schedules and physical training is often placed under scrutiny.

Park Bo-Ram - "Super Body"

Given the popularity of plastic surgery, not just in South Korea but worldwide, it’s not surprising then that the desire to change your entire appearance to keep up with society’s ideals is this generation’s version of “Keeping Up with the Neighbours.” Advertisers have tapped into this ubiquitous lack of self-esteem and have used idols to make us wish we were them. In “Super Body,” fat-shaming is used to reiterate the image of the perfect, idealized body, and thus the perfect life. Commercials use idols as the ideal representation of who we should be to sell products for us to want to achieve these perfect lives.

Using celebrities, or in regards to Kpop, idols, to sell products is hardly revolutionary. This type of marketing, dubbed, “Lifestyle branding” arguably began after WW2 when new technology became accessible and achieving the middle-class lifestyle was all that mattered. Marketing was no longer about selling the products themselves, but about the way of life that accompanies these products. Using Park Boram, who lost a whopping 33kgs (72lbs) and became an idol, to endorse a product that is meant to speed up weight loss, not for the sake of health, but rather to fulfil the desire to be accepted, loved, and even lusted after is a natural fit.


In 2010, then super groups SNSD and 2PM collaborated on a full-length video about lifeguard training at Caribbean Bay, at the popular South Korean theme park, Everworld. The video, “CABI Song” promises a plethora of defined abs and short shorts if you visit Everworld. But “CABI” doesn’t have the same effect as “Super Body” simply because its purpose as a CF is far more hidden. Instead of selling an actual product, it promises to sell an ideal (again, with a heavy focus on physical appearance and arguably an oversexualization of lifeguard training) and has nothing to do with the actual theme park except for location.


In the year following “CABI,” in perhaps an incredibly clever marketing ploy, G-Dragon released “Gmarket Party,” a catchy song/commercial for the online marketplace Gmarket, where you can purchase the very same clothing that G-Dragon wears in the video. But the clear difference is that “Gmarket Party” is an obvious commercial, and thus feels just slightly less dirty. Like “Super Body,” there is a product being sold and there is nothing hidden about that. The list of idolized commercials continues: 2NE1, Big Bang, Amber of f(x), Beast and A Pink are just a small sampling of idol groups that have promoted everything from vespas to laptops to cell phones to clothing lines.

But there are even more music videos that are commercials, and I bet you had no idea:


Orange Caramel released “Abing abing,” an advertisement for Baskin Robbins, and Girl's Day has an entire song devoted to hair dye with “Hello Bubble.” Both these releases are well-produced songs with their own choreography and costumes. But if I hadn't been told they were commercials, I wouldn't have caught onto it. This type of advertising is much more subtle and hidden. It's more sneaky, and feels rather devious. I even doubt that SNSD's “Galaxy Supernova” is an ode to the Samsung Galaxy cellphone, but the idea is still in my head, and now with every listen, I immediately think of the popular phone brand. JYJ's immensely popular “Get Out” has been alleged to be an advertisement for yet another phone: the LG Optimus Q2. This goes far beyond logo and product dropping into music videos, into a whole other subconscious level.

Don't believe me? Here's some more examples

Dara of 2NE1's solo release, “Kiss,” is about selling beer.


f(x)'s “Chocolate Love” is for the LG Chocolate cell phone.


Even my secret guilty pleasure, Phantom, has a song about beer called “Ice.” But at least they're upfront about it.


What this all comes down to is that commercials and advertisements are a regular, inescapable part our lives, especially when we indulge in pop culture so readily. When celebrity endorsements are outright and obvious, they aren’t really so bad. Who hasn’t bought a certain brand because their favourite idol has worn it? But when commercials are so deeply ingrained into a music video that the lines between product placement and creativity are completely blurred, where does one end and the other begin? Videos like Red Velvet’s “Ice Cream Cake” are an example of this new generation of CF. It’s part music video, but the Baskin Robbin’s imagery and convenient placement of ice cream cones is downright sneaky, and frankly, ingenious. Even Baskin Robbins proudly announces that they carry red velvet-flavoured ice cream cake. This can leave the average fan feeling more like a demographic with disposable income to spend on emulating their idols, rather than an actual person who appreciates the time, energy, and creativity that goes into producing a group. Trying to live up to the standards of Park Boram’s “Super Body” by fat-shaming and internalizing the ideal of skinny being the only way to be beautiful, makes that commercial especially damaging. In this case, imitating the commercial interests of an idol is a dangerous idea and viewing should be accompanied by some sort of investigative thought.


I doubt that companies will ever stop using idols to sell products and images. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it restricted to Kpop. This practice is used literally world-wide, and using popular faces can introduce people to some products that they may genuinely enjoy. It becomes troubling, however, when selling idealized images comes at the expense of another person’s dignity, and promises of acceptance are always associated with unachievable standards. Hopefully the trend of using music videos as secret commercials does not last forever.


'L' lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a pop culture and media junkie and has helped organize kpop parties and events across Ontario. Her biases are BTS, Block B, M.I.B and Infinite.

1 comments:

  1. 2NE1's "Don't Stop the Music" is my favorite example of this genre of CF as MV. The song is included in their 2nd Mini Album and there is crooning of the word "Fiore" throughout the track. The Fiore just happens to be a Yamaha scooter promoted by the MV and is a surprisingly subtle product placement. If the title of the MV on Youtube didn't mention this track as a Yamaha CF, I may not have noticed right away. https://youtu.be/J5ekB4l-6wg

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