Korea, France find common ground in Blackpink, webtoons and ‘Squid Game’

Korea, France find common ground in Blackpink, webtoons and ‘Squid Game’

Charlotte Deflassieux-Viguier, the French advisor dispatched to the Korea Creative Content Agency (Kocca) missioned by the French ministry of Foreign Affairs, poses for photos before an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the JoongAng Ilbo headquarters in western Seoul. [PARK SANG-MOON]

 
Stray Kids and Blackpink, webtoon companies and “Squid Game” (2021) — What do all they have in common? Or to be more precise, what place do they have in common? The answer: France.
 
Stray Kids and Blackpink performing at a French charity concert, Korean webtoon companies launching their first European branches in France and “Squid Game” (2021) seeing a huge reaction also in France — none of this is a coincidence, but rather the result of a trend that will only accelerate in the future, says Charlotte Deflassieux-Viguier, a French media expert trying to determine the secret to Korea’s success in taking over the global pop content market.
 
Deflassieux-Viguier is a media, film and content expert specializing in international development and distribution who has been dispatched to the Korea Creative Content Agency (Kocca) to facilitate two-way communication between the Korean and French governments on how the state power should be used to promote a country’s creative industry to the global stage.
 
She has been staying at Kocca’s headquarters in Naju, South Jeolla, since December 2022 with her husband. Prior to coming to Korea, she had also held similar positions to bridge the media communications between governments in Singapore from 2017 to 2021, Kenya from 2010 to 2014, Colombia from 2002 to 2006 and Laos from 1999 to 2001.
 
“K-content is just fantastic, whether it be music, drama series, video games or K-beauty,” she said.
 
“Most Korean people don’t believe me when I say this, but there are so many children in France who are excited about Korea, who have never been to Korea and have never spoken a word of Korean. They will watch Korean dramas with subtitles and download apps to learn how to say annyeong haseyo. I have an 11-year-old niece who’s been dreaming of coming to Korea. She just saw a K-pop concert three days ago to see Blackpink’s Lisa performing there.”
 

Girl group Blackpink performs during a concert held at the Stade de France stadiumn on July 15, 2023, located in Sain-Denis. [YG ENTERTAINMENT]

Girl group Blackpink performs during a concert held at the Stade de France stadiumn on July 15, 2023, located in Sain-Denis. [YG ENTERTAINMENT]

Boy band Stray Kids at the Le Gala des Pieces Jaunes charity event held in Paris, France, in January [JYP ENTERTAINMENT]

Boy band Stray Kids at the Le Gala des Pieces Jaunes charity event held in Paris, France, in January [JYP ENTERTAINMENT]

 
The expert’s goal at Kocca is quite straightforward: To learn how the Korean government nurtured its creative industry while also providing Korean producers with insight into entering the French, European and ultimately Western market as a whole.
 
According to Deflassieux-Viguier, Kocca is a rare example of a state-owned institution with the specific aim of financing and developing pop culture creators. Other countries have culture ministries or state-run bodies, which usually target the “classical” genres, such as art, film or publication, or fund larger entertainment companies.
 
It is institutions like Kocca that facilitate the marriage of Korean content, marketed as K-content by the Korean government, with the trifecta of French content consumption — tech-savvy children with smartphones, an affinity for reading and an openness to foreign content —, that has resulted in the Korean content’s triumph in the French market, Deflassieux-Viguiers said.
 
“I can confidently say that I have never seen any country with such an incredible understanding of the needs of the people, particularly the fans who love to be part of an active and dedicated community,” she said when asked her thoughts on the Korean pop culture industry.
 
“I think what really distinguished both strategy and action is the way marketing is so important here in Korea and so masterized. It is so attached to every detail, and everything is aesthetically perfect from the French perspective. It leads to the excellence of the content.”
 
Deflassieux-Viguiers will stay at Kocca until August 2026, missioned by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The expat sat down with the Korea JoongAng Daily to talk more about her findings on the K-content market and its potential in the global scene.
 
The following are edited excerpts from the interview.
 

Charlotte Deflassieux-Viguier [PARK SANG-MOON]

Charlotte Deflassieux-Viguier [PARK SANG-MOON]

 
Q. Naju is quite a small city in Korea, not well known to people outside of the country. What were your friends’ reaction when you told them that you would be spending the next three years in the town?


A. When I first announced that I will be going to Korea to stay at Kocca to do this, their reaction was, “You’re crazy.” But their kids, aged from as young as 6 to as old as 18, were screaming and saying, “Wow, you’re so lucky! That is so great! Mom and dad, you don’t get how great this is and how lucky she is.”
 
There are little French girls at school asking each other, “Did you see Lisa yesterday?” “This is the card that I won for Christmas,” and so on. K-content goes so deep in France that even French luxury brands, who usually only use Asian models for Asian markets, have the K-pop stars’ faces advertising them in Paris. It’s Channel, Dior, Celine — it’s the Korean girls we see in France.


Please describe your typical working day at Kocca.
 
I walk to the office because it’s not that far. I go through the fields and I see cows, I see rice fields. I arrive at Kocca at 9 a.m. just as almost everybody else does.
 
I start the day by opening my emails, and I usually get a lot of messages from French companies asking me how to better understand the Korean environment and how to develop their business in Korea. Then I also get requests from my colleagues who want to organize K-content events in Europe.
 
It’s kind of like a triangle. I work for Kocca headquarters, and I’m always linked to Kocca center in Paris and the French industry, who are both buyers or targets of Kocca. I try to find the best network to connect the Kocca people with, how to help them understand each other better. There’s also the cooperation with the audiovisual department within the French embassy to Korea to build collaboration projects together.
 

Long queues are lined up outside a pop-up store established in Paris for Netflix original series ″Squid Game″ (2021) in October 2021. [YONHAP]

Long queues are lined up outside a pop-up store established in Paris for Netflix original series ″Squid Game″ (2021) in October 2021. [YONHAP]

Fans await ″Squid Game″ (2021) actor Lee Jung-jae during the ″Korea Expo″ festival held on May 13 in Paris, France. [YONHAP]

Fans await ″Squid Game″ (2021) actor Lee Jung-jae during the ″Korea Expo″ festival held on May 13 in Paris, France. [YONHAP]

 
What would you say is the main goal of your stay with Kocca?
 
There are several goals. First is to give Kocca, and ultimately people in the K-content industry, a better understanding of the French and European market.
 
The second is to strengthen the relationship between government bodies. There is Kocca in Korea, and in France a similar organization called the CNC [Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée], which supports audiovisual content, and another one called Astitutse, which is supporting other types of content that are not audiovisual but popular culture like fashion or design.
 
Putting them together to work closely together is very important because I think France and Korea have something strong in common: They really bet on the cultural soft power.
 
Betting on this is very unusual because most countries bet on their industry, their technology, manpower or raw resources because cultural content and advertisement are not always considered a “proper” business or as an economic force as such. France has been doing it for such a long time but with small budgets, whereas Korea has been doing it quite recently but with enormous manpower and budgets.


What has Kocca done particularly well in supporting the local industry?
 
What’s great to see is that the Korean government and Kocca really aim to support the young companies rather than established companies that are capable of finding their own finances. I see support programs run by Kocca throughout the year in all divisions. No creative industry is left behind — even if there are priorities, nothing is forgotten.
 
Another thing is the global expansion of Kocca’s overseas business centers. There used to be just one business center in Europe, in Paris, but now there’s Paris, Madrid, Rome, London, Frankfurt and Stockholm. It’s been evolving ever since I first arrived here, and it continues to do so. 
 

A ″Squid Game″ (2021) pop-up store held in October 2021 in Paris, France [NETFLIX]

A ″Squid Game″ (2021) pop-up store held in October 2021 in Paris, France [NETFLIX]

A ″Squid Game″ (2021) pop-up store held in October 2021 in Paris, France [NETFLIX]

A ″Squid Game″ (2021) pop-up store held in October 2021 in Paris, France [NETFLIX]



How would you say that the Korean government’s efforts have paid off?
 
The result is spectacular, and of course France is interested in that.
 
This comes back to the third goal of my stay, which is to advise and help French companies that want to develop themselves in Korea, because Korea is a very appealing country right now. A lot of content companies in France would love to explore the Korean market but don’t really know how to start. But the language is something that is quite intimidating and slows them down, which is where they need my help.
 
This is something that Kocca has been providing well with younger companies very well, and something that the CNC has also been doing — sending the companies and the professionals to international markets and helping them to network, to develop their network.


Why is it important for government bodies to lead the networking events?
 
If you gather the best of the drama production here in Korea and the best of drama production in France and maybe they will decide to co-create something together, it can be really huge.
 
But if you’re a first-timer at, say events like Mipcom in France, or to ATF in Singapore or any market here or content fair in Korea, you have to know the people — who to meet and discuss with. You have to identify who will be interesting and who will be interested in your work. Institutions like Kocca or the CNC will help you focus or target and organize meetings that will be completely appropriate to make your business grow, that’s the biggest help for the companies.
 

Naver Webtoon's exhibition booth is filled with visitors during the Amazing Festival pop culture content event held in Paris from July 13 to 16, 2023. [NAVER WEBTOON]

Naver Webtoon’s exhibition booth is filled with visitors during the Amazing Festival pop culture content event held in Paris from July 13 to 16, 2023. [NAVER WEBTOON]

Naver Webtoon's exhibition booth is filled with visitors during the Amazing Festival pop culture content event held in Paris from July 13 to 16, 2023. [NAVER WEBTOON]

Naver Webtoon’s exhibition booth is filled with visitors during the Amazing Festival pop culture content event held in Paris from July 13 to 16, 2023. [NAVER WEBTOON]

 
Korean webtoon companies such as Naver Webtoon and Kakao’s Piccoma both established their first European branches in France. Why is France the go-to place for webtoons?
 
The importance France gives to creative and cultural contents is the reason that it’s highlighted. It comes with the whole education system, because we educate our kids to their cultural environment, we educate them to read we educate our kids to see movies. We educate our kids to discover what webtoons are.
 
I am sure it will be a hit because webtoons are available on the phone, which makes it attractive for younger generations. French parents hate when their kids just scroll through their phones all day, but if it’s to read something, then the parents will be supportive.
 
Business-wise, I think that the multicultural aspect of France is also important because it acts as an intermediary between the parts of the Western world that are more closed off, such as Northern European countries, which tend to be very specific in what they see or watch. France has a very open and international market that has the largest number of international events and festivals on creative content.


What can Korean creative content companies do in order to become more sustainable, especially in the global sense?
 
What I think is also very important is for the Korean professional to be put in the global network to gain visibility.
 
It comes back to the language barrier that I mentioned earlier. I’ve met with so many successful business people who achieved great success with their business in Korea. But when I ask them why they don’t connect with other people, they tell me it’s because they feel so shy about speaking in English or any other language.
 
I really believe that it’s super important to jump into an international market and network and meet with other producers, other screenwriters, other actors even, to be part of this network because what you can achieve on your own will become limited at some point.
 
The public is very unfaithful. You never know what they will like in 10 years, but you need another perspective to bring change to your content without harming the essence. That’s why I believe that co-creation is a key factor to see your content evolve, and a very good option to ensure its future success.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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