Businesses Hiring Hunks to Woo Customers

      September 12, 2007 09:31

      The recently ended soap "Coffee Prince No. 1" has brought about a whole new concept in marketing in which good-looking single men are the main substance.

      In the drama, a cafe owner played by heartthrob Gong Yoo only hired beautiful young men and succeeded in attracting a slew of female customers. As the drama indicates, gone are the days when handsome men were hired just as the "face" of stores. Companies these days are even hiring professional models and actors, cranking up the competition for beautiful men.

      This has forced companies to offer gym memberships, English lessons and other self-improvement benefits to attract worthy workers. Googies, a seafood restaurant in Shinsa-dong, Seoul, not long ago embarked on a "stud marketing" campaign with KTF, hiring four model-hopefuls selected through a fierce competition.

      The results? More than satisfactory. After these four hunks served for a month, the restaurant earned the nickname "Crab Prince No. 1," with a video clip by the same name becoming one of the most watched on the Korean Internet. While hiring women based on their looks might provoke outraged cries of sexism, the practice of doing the same with men seems to reside in a gray area for now.

      My Thai, a Thai restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul, attracts female customers with good-looking servers -- a "stud marketing" concept.

      My Thai, a Thai restaurant run by Hong Suk-chun, one of Korea's few openly homosexual entertainers, is known for nurturing hot single waiters. Employees include wannabe photographers, former actors and so forth. As it's located in Itaewon, the hunks all have to be able to speak English. "So many people were talking about my restaurant that some restaurant owners even came and poached some of my workers," Hong said.

      One even caught the eye of a talent agency and he now is preparing to make his debut in the entertainment industry. A produce shop called Bachelor's Veggie Mart has also found success with the stud marketing strategy. Workers at the store steal the hearts of shopping housewives by using familiar terms like "auntie," "mom" and even "noonim," which translates as older sister in Korean.

      Bachelor's Veggie Mart opened its first store in 2004 and just three years later it has 36 more branches and about 270 employees. "Of course some employees are no longer bachelors since they got married, but we still keep them as long as they share the same passion," said the chain's H&R manager Im Cheon-il.

      "The most important component of any store is its employees," said Korea Human and Business Research Institute Director Lee Gyeong-hee. "The influence of these beautiful young men should not be underestimated."

      As businesses increasingly target women, who have the biggest say in family spending, their beautiful employees are commanding higher wages. While regular part-timers get about W3,500 per hour, the studs get 20 to 30 percent more, around W4,500 (US$1=W939).

      "The social values being ascribed to these beautiful young men are what is driving the marketing cashing in on these bachelors," said Prof. Hwang Sang-min from Yonsei University's psychology department. "Also noteworthy is the disappearing male prejudice against good-looking men."

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