Is this Korean Air advertisement classy, sexy, sexist, or what?

A friend of mine recently shared this Korean Air ad from a 2007-2008 ad campaign. This one was in newspapers and magazines including Newsweek Asia.

There was some text with the ad (I also cropped out a ton of white space):

From departure to arrival, only dignified services for our dignified guests.

Excellence in service

When you land we believe you should be in the same good condition as you were during take-off. That’s why our delicate service with a smile remains constant throughout the flight until you reach your destination.

At least some westerners have called the ad sexist but so far as I know this hasn’t happened in Korea. Interestingly, in Korea, it’s not unheard of for waitstaff (mostly waitresses I guess) to serve from their knees if it’s a very fancy, traditional Korean restaurant. The places I usually go you’re much more likely to get kicked or stepped on by the waitstaff (usually waitresses).

The point is in Korean culture, serving from this position probably comes off to most as a sign of deep respect. Bowing while on your knees is the big one (service for nobles was always done this way in the past and even today when my wife’s family does a ceremony for their ancestors, we pour alcohol for the deceased from our knees) and kind of using both hands to hand the drink over is a very very common one.

I don’t want to sound like I’m defending this ad too much – just sharing what I know about Korean culture after living here for 9+ years. I certainly see a sexy woman on her knees and understand that many people will find this ad sexist. My Korean wife said the ad was maybe a little weird or maybe a little sexist because the flight attendant looked like a slave more than a flight attendant.

Anyway, is the ad inappropriate (offensive or demeaning to women)? Is it a sign that Korean Air treats their flight attendants in a way that would never work in American culture? Is it just a sign the flight attendants on Korean Air respect their customers more than flight attendants on American airlines?

Filed Under: Tourism marketing

Comments (6)

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  1. Denis Bekaert says:

    Once again we are judging another culture from afar. This ad was designed for a Koren audience that has a very different cultural basis than our own. This very point is why North Americans are so harshly judged by people from other countries.

  2. James Trotta says:

    To be clear, the discussion should be about judging the ad. Cultural perspectives may be part of that but I am certainly not inviting anyone to judge an culture.

  3. Sharon says:

    Since the ad is for Korean airlines, it would not be considered offensive or demeaning by people who knew and understood their customs. I don’t see it as a comparison between American flight attendants and Asian. However, this ad by an American or another country’s airline would probably be considered inappropriate, subservient, and maybe suggestive (?) to some. Bowing from the knees in traditional settings may be customary, but if you take the ad literally, this would be an impossibility on an airline.

  4. James Trotta says:

    Ah and one other thing I meant to say Denis – the ad is not for a Korean audience specifically but for an English speaking audience (maybe only English speaking Asians). I believe it was in Newsweek Asia, Singapore’s Straights Times, and I’m guessing other English language newspapers and magazines in Asia if not worldwide.

  5. Rhonda Peterson says:

    I think it is beautiful James.

    Americans are more into the cattle car approach…. sell cheap, pack in as many as possible and offer as little as possible….sad ah?

  6. Nelly says:

    I think the ad is more on the classy way of promoting services. I like the picture actually it has many possible positive meaning such as good services to clients, extra support to clients etc.

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