Undies are an item of clothing that are designed to wear under our clothes, hidden from many layers to keep our bits warm and protected. They’re cheap to make and let’s face it they’re small garments in comparison to dresses or shirts. We all have different under wear for different occasions, the baggy grandma ones, the pretty ones, the fierce ones, the branded ones and the plain ones. Why though? The industry has cleverly marketed different kinds to make you create a wardrobe of underwear. They want you to buy underwear! The solution was to make as many as they could creating variety and choice.
Now how does kpop sell underwear? In a sub culture that is still to some extent conservative about over-exposure and sex is a taboo topic, how do they sell underwear?
The ad and the underwear has to tell a story. With children it’s bed wetting, teenagers it’s comfort and hormones, females with fun and males with sex.
The basic rule of selling under wear to women is that ’girls want to have fun.’ Ads typically show women having fun in their underwear which may be dancing, singing, laughing, strutting vice versa. Women appear confident and generally are engaging in some activity that is other than actual sex. This avoids the taboo and sexual connotations by using different tactics and points to sell their product.
The imagery is sexy but not sexual in the tactic that ‘girls just wanna have fun.’ However after doing several google searches i found that majority of the korean women under wear advertisements and print ads were all sexual.
Sexy is about when women are feeling good about themselves and being comfortable. Sexual is when men are feeling good looking at women and ads are done with a male gaze. Korean women are targeted with the imagery of being subtly sexual by advertising only a few inches of their underwear. This is a case of ‘less is more’ and reflects the conservative social values and isn’t as confronting seeing as it is taboo. They are trying to sell a seductive secret identity that makes you feel confident, that if you purchase their brand you’ll feel powerful and sexy despite it being hidden layers underneath your clothes. They’re trying to sell you your inner sex kitten whilst maintaining a pure image even if noone but you sees your underwear. The whole librarian by day and diva by night thing. The brand Vivien casting Shin Se Kyung her innocent sexy image alone became a helping to what they wanted their campaign and brand to be.
Male Gaze: occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. A scene may linger on the curves of a woman’s body, for instance the male gaze is takes precedence over the female gaze.
Photo shoots for Maxim are obviously done for the target audience of men and doesn’t show ads for under wear but demonstrate the male gaze. There is also sexual imagery of her mouth opened whilst holding a magazine towards her mouth. Not to mention the pictures on the magazines are also women in little clothing. This makes me wonder, are they targeting to sell bras to men or women?
Men aren’t immune to fashion, beauty and advertising either. Ever since the undies as fashion statement kicked off in 1992 when Calvin Klein got Mark Wahlberg to pull the elastic logo band above his jeans in a photo shoot. Marketing genius, we all wear bands we display them across our shirts but now they have managed to lift the brand above the jean line and create a fashion trend which is still going on and is really popular.
It’s just as important what underwear brand you wear now, seeing as you’re displaying it now. Casting for male models are selected and constructed to be strong, powerful, muscly and buff. They want the connotations of strength, masculine, package, size to reflect and represent their brand name.
All these ads have the underwear brand name clearly displayed with some damn smoking hot bodies. Just when you think you’re having a perv you’re still consuming an advertisement. (It’s no wonder they got beast idols to model their clothes, hot damn!) These idols are used as role models for the target audience to aspire to look and be like.
Unlike with female ads, mens ads are not as coy. By looking at them you know they mean business. The advertisements have taken great advantage of the fact that it is socially acceptable for men in kpop to expose themselves half naked whilst women are restricted to exposure since they’re still considered sexual objects in this sub culture. The above ad with 2PM is actually for ‘Elle’ magazine which is yep for women. That means men aren’t looking at this ad. The only criticism is that men don’t want to look at other men especially since it’s essentially selling sex. (Unless you swing that way.) It’s generally fan girls who have seen these half naked advertisements the most as it has their favourite idols. So what now? The ad below shows a great combined example of a man half naked with his underwear brand exposed and a woman (Lee Hyori) is a sexy top smiling and appearing to be giving consent and having fun. Men don’t want to look at men, so just add a woman into the formula? Sex sells!
Just a simple piece of clothing such as underwear can be engineered into stereotyping, expected traditional gender roles of women being coy and shy about their sexuality and men strong and powerful. A small garment can be marketed and sold well more than their worth for things that we desire such as confidence, sex, strength and alter ego. This type of marketing and advertising is what the industry hopes for a result of sales… remember they are pieces of material that just keep us warm and protected. (trolololo)
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. I do not own any of the images.