Ann Kristin Rhode works as a cross-cultural
consumer researcher and lecturer at ESCP Europe in
Paris. In addition, she pursues a PhD in Business Administration,
Specialization Marketing, at ESCP Europe and Université Paris 1
Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her recent paper 'Redefining Male Beauty: The
Cultural Encoding of Masculinity in South Korean Cosmetics
Advertising' won the L'Oréal Professorship Award on Beauty and
Marketing at the 2016 Global Marketing Conference (GMC) in Hong
What is your research on beauty about?
As a cross-cultural consumer researcher and psychologist, I have
a particular interest in understanding the effects of culture on
consumers' perception, cognition, and behavior. My research
investigates South Korean cosmetics brands' advertising strategies
for targeting male consumers. While men in Western cultures are
often hesitant to use cosmetics, South Korean men seem to embrace
the latest grooming products on the market - from whitening BB
cream and facial sheet masks to cushion makeup. In fact,
young men in South Korea spend more per-capita on cosmetics than
their counterparts anywhere else in the world.
Why? This phenomenon might result from the combination of a
highly competitive, beauty obsessed society, and traditional ideals
of male beauty that are deeply ingrained in Korean
culture. My research aims at developing a better
understanding of the latter cultural factors by looking at images
of men in advertisement. Besides reflecting concepts of beauty of a
given culture, advertising has the power to create new social norms
and cultural practices. Hence, while imagery in South Korean
cosmetics advertisement is likely to reflect culture-specific
concepts of male beauty, it may also change men's preconceptions
about cosmetics and influence their consumption behavior. I
conducted a content analysis looking at physical characteristics of
male images in 200 print ads targeting men. The ads were published
by 20 South Korean mainstream cosmetics brands between 2006 and
2016. Many of the brands belong to AmorePacific or to LG Household
& Health Care, the two big players in the South Korean
Why did you decide to do research on this topic?
I have been studying Korean and Mandarin Chinese for several
years, notably at universities in Seoul and Taipei. During my most
recent stay in Seoul, I noticed that images of men in advertising
are often very different from images that we are used to usually
see in Western societies, such as in France, Germany or the US. In
addition, I learned through conversations with Korean friends that
especially young men tend to enhance their appearances by using
various skincare products, such as moisturizers, essences, and
toners. Having read a research paper about men's difficulty of
using cosmetics because these "feminized" products may threaten
their masculine identities, I found Korean men's consumption
behavior quite remarkable. Based on the idea that South Korean
men's use of cosmetics could be explained (at least partly) by
cultural factors, I decided to do research on this topic starting
with an analysis of cosmetics ads.
What did you find so far?
The content analysis of South Korean cosmetics print ads
aimed at answering two questions. First: What types of male images
do advertisers use in South Korean cosmetics advertisements? And
second: What kind of masculinity do male images in South Korean
cosmetics ads represent? Male images were coded by two
independent judges using the adapted version of an established
scale. Findings suggest that South Korean cosmetics ads use images
of thin and lightly muscled men instead of strong and muscular
'male icons'. The vast majority of faces were categorized as clean
shaven, featuring remarkably flawless and bright skin. Some faces
were classified as heavily made up. Overall, male images in South
Korean cosmetics advertisements represent a notion of 'soft
masculinity' that idealizes flawless and bright skin. The prevalent
use of these soft male images in cosmetics ads may both reflect and
contribute to the development of a notion of masculinity in South
Korea that is not at odds with the use of cosmetics.
Cosmetics are presented as a legitimate means for men to
achieve the ideal of flawless and bright skin.
What are (potential) implications for practitioners?
Domestic manufacturers have a strong presence in the
South Korean cosmetics industry. To compete, foreign cosmetics
companies targeting South Korean men should consider adapting
advertisements according to Korean ideals of male beauty.
Advertisments depicting tanned, bearded, and muscular (Western or
Asian) men are unlikely to attract Korean consumers. To further
improve our understanding of South Korea's beauty conscious male
consumers, a second study is currently under way.
MSc in Marketing and Creativity
Executive Master in Marketing and