As the city of Busan looks to the future with a 2030 World Expo bid, the building of a much-needed new international airport, and plenty of initiatives to continue with its goal of being an international city, its latest branding attempt is unfortunately stuck in the past being counterproductive to what it seems to want to project.
In short, it’s embarrassing.
It’s been a week since the city of Busan revealed its slogan to replace “Dynamic Busan” with the controversial and facepalm-worthy “Busan is Good”; one week later, it doesn’t sound any better.
Anyone was has been to or lived in Busan can see its merits — it’s a city with beautiful beaches and mountains with proud people offering a vibrant yet laid-back city atmosphere, with plenty of festivals and attractions that make it worthy of a title more than just a bland slogan of “Busan is Good”.
“Dynamic Busan”, which has been used since 2004, at least envisioned a description that the city was active and energetic, chaotic even, which is a charm of Busan, rather than just one of the most overused words in the English language that implies that the city doesn’t really have anything special to offer.
The city released three equally uninspiring choices in a campaign that cost a reported 800 million won to replace the 20-year-old “Dynamic Busan” with — ‘Busan is Good’, ‘Bridge for All, Busan’, and ‘True Place, Busan’ — which were voted on by 25,220 citizens from the 4th to the 10th with ‘Busan is Good’ ranking first with 11,373 votes, ‘Bridge for All, Busan’ with 10,981 votes, and ‘True Place, Busan’ with 2,866 votes.
First off, let’s look at the winning slogan.
If you look at the Korean version of the slogan, it doesn’t actually mean “Busan is Good”. I talked with a professional Korean-English translator who said that “부산이라 좋다” has a different meaning because of the use of “이라” which in this case means “because”.
So a more literal translation could be “Busan is a good place to be” or “It’s good to be in Busan” which sounds a little better, but still a little amateurish for a city looking to promote its brand for the 2030 World Expo bid, especially against its considered main rival Riyadh which uses “Beyond Imagination”.
But translations aside, why is it still just good?
I talked to a few professional marketing and media people over the past few days from overseas about what they thought about this new slogan and asked them what their first impressions of “Busan is Good” were and if this would make them want to visit the city.
These were the comments I got.
“That’s it? And just good, not even great?” said a Danish journalist.
“Good at what?” said a British marketing expert.
“That’s just terrible,” said a branding expert from the U.S.
There were others and none were positive.
Reaction among the foreign community in Busan online was unsurprisingly similarly negative, while Korean message boards are also sharply divided with comments mostly filled with negative sentiment, calling the slogan “childish” and many wishing they would just keep “Dynamic Busan” while the few positive ones said they liked “the simplicity” of it.
One of the best comparisons I heard to the choice was with Shinsegae No Brand Burger’s laughable slogan “Why pay more, it’s good enough”.
If the city is just “good or good enough”, you’re basically telling everyone that you’re not even trying to make an effort and that you’re fine with giving off a mediocre product.
And if the city is fine with branding itself as mediocre, then why should anyone come to visit?
As a city that is trying to host one of the world’s largest events, it needs to be better than just “good”.
Busan’s struggles to brand itself properly have long been noted over the years with some pretty bad videos including their gut-wrenching “What time is it now?” series, but there was some hope of not doing worse than “I Seoul U” or some of the other bad tourism campaigns that have happened nationally over the past two decades.
And unless things change, Busan is just going to be self-branded by itself as an uninspiring travel destination that sadly anyone who has visited or lived in the city, knows is not true.
In a country that places a huge emphasis on aesthetics in its cultural industries, it’s time the city steps up its game to market itself on the world-class level it hopes to achieve and finds some branding experts who have a grasp of international standards.
Let’s hope the city reconsiders this choice and finds something more suitable that can effectively market what truly is a dynamic city that has been degraded by this unexceptional slogan choice.