South Korean culture comes in many forms - in song, movie, television, food and distinctive fashion. The overall culture and consumption of the population in South Korea is very much influenced by popular actors and singers endorsing the products. Fans are more likely to buy products that their idols are endorsing, which causes major market shifts and can increase consumption significantly. Moreover, as the actors and singers become popular overseas, so do the products that they promote. As a result, manufacturers compete to get the most popular representatives for their brands, and this forms a major part of their overseas expansion strategy.

There is no doubt that many brands and manufacturers have utilised the Olympics to catapult their products onto the world stage during South Korea’s moment in the spotlight. This can be seen especially with the growth of K-beauty products in the U.S. market.

Social Media Influences K-Beauty Growth in the U.S.

In 2015, South Korea’s beauty exports to the US grew 59%, reaching USD207 million. Social media has propelled the growth of K-beauty in the US by turning skin care and makeup routines into creative outlets for self-expression. The rapid proliferation of social media since the late 2000s has provided fashion-forward individuals with a myriad of platforms to spread the gospel of K-beauty. Makeup and skin care- loving Koreans took to YouTube, blogs and Instagram to share their interests with the rest of the world. Product reviews and makeup tutorials engage and educate viewers, while “transformation videos,” in which YouTubers alter themselves into recognisable celebrities, highlight the astonishing power of makeup and excite the viewer’s imagination.

Social media celebrities have been more successful at promoting Korean skin care than corporate or government-sponsored marketing campaigns because they focus on the topics that truly excite them, while also providing compelling video and photographic evidence of their personal skin care journeys.

K-Beauty is well-suited for U.S. Millennial market

As the generation that inspired the term “hipster”, many millennials passionately embrace individualism. These fashion-forward children of the information age investigate products online before they shop, relying on reviews and tutorials to appraise product efficiency; thus they readily seek out niche and foreign brands. Because Korean skincare transcends the traditional Western cleanse-tone-moisturise routine, K-Beauty’s myriad of products like serums, essences, ampoules and masks can be customised to an individual’s exact skin care needs and preferences. The array of products appeals to millennials who are paying more attention to their skin’s unique needs than previous generations.

Source: Euromonitor International

Source: Euromonitor International

Many millennials respond strongly to novelty and emotional appeals, making room in their bathroom cabinets for products with cute designs, alluring scents, transforming textures and on-trend ingredients which set them apart from mainstream American beauty products. This drives interest in brands like Tony Moly, whose products are packaged to look like whimsical cartoon fruit and animals, and Missha, whose collections include imaginative collaborations with Hello Kitty and D.C.’s Wonder Woman. The fun of K-beauty appeals to even the youngest millennial consumers; Leah Park, co-owner of Korean Beauty Retailer Choc Choc in Chicago, remarks that customers as young as 10 years old come to her store to purchase cute products like sheet masks printed with animal faces. South Korean brands stand to gain significant market share in the U.S. teen and preteen market with endearing product design and packaging.

Korean brands like Innisfree and Skin Food have a “natural” angle to them, aligning well with increasing millennial interest in natural, organic and sustainably sourced products across all areas of beauty and personal care. Euromonitor International’s 2015 Beauty Survey found that 13% of U.S. respondents seek out natural or organic colour cosmetic products and 20% seek out natural or organic skin care products. Thus, Korean beauty brands hoping to enter the U.S. beauty market would do well to emphasise their products’ gentleness and natural ingredients further.

Interested in learning more how South Korean culture is continuing to expand worldwide? Download our free white paper K-pop, K-Beauty and More: Exporting Korean Culture and Business.