Richard Cope
Richard is a Senior Trends Consultant, bringing the latest consumer trends to Mintel clients through bespoke presentations and represents Mintel at global conferences.

Transferring from Incheon Airport to central Seoul is a lesson in scale – a 2 hour tutorial via train to be exact! This is a megalopolis of some 20 million and trying to get even an inkling of life here in 48 hours means spending lots of time on the city’s subway service. Koreans while away the time by living up to their reputation for being the most digitally connected people on the planet. The trains’ carriages have Wi-Fi boxes and at first glance it looks as everyone is online or streaming video, but this isn’t quite the case. Look more closely and you’ll see that many people are using standard phones kitted out with old fashioned aerials that receive TV signals. Event TV is big news in Korea and going underground isn’t going to stop passengers from watching, recording and re-watching their favourite shows. Mintel Inspire’s Re-teching the Past trend celebrates the renaissance of vinyl, but this Korean trend shows how a concept like ‘on-demand analogue’ entertainment might crossover to the mainstream in the west.Mintel Inspire Seoul

Hongik University and its vicinity is the place to study Seoul’s vibrant youth culture in all its varieties. What’s striking is the omnipresence of Korea’s ‘K-Pop’ stars – emblazoned across everything from health drinks to cosmetics. Their ‘pure as snow’ wardrobes and complexions conjure up an angelic image that’s a perfect fit for the Nature cosmetics line – itself founded by a K-Pop singer called ‘Rain’. Elsewhere brands like Manstudio celebrate a level of mainstream androgyny that’s streets ahead of the west.

On the streets themselves, the boys are modelling an expensive, almost preppy take on the spray on jeans, storm trooper boots and jacket look, whilst military chic and American brands are popular with the girls. In contrast to Singapore and Shanghai the vibrancy – indeed even the presence – of youth culture is striking and huge areas of Hongik seem to be owned exclusively by teens and 20somethings.

It makes sense that the young should have their own place, especially in a city where they are often deprived of privacy or space in their own family homes. As a result there are plenty of examples of the Korean Bang – or ‘room’ – culture on display. These spaces encompass everything from railway compartment style eateries to ‘private cinema’ DVD booths slyly advertising their romantic seclusion with posters of Gone with the Wind. Elsewhere slightly more innocent fixes of relaxation and affection are supplied by a slew of ‘Cat Cafes’, where people pay for the pleasure of having a pet cat for an hour. As urbanisation and space pressures become a global phenomenon more and more cities will look to the segmentation and escape offered by Seoul.

Affection is also present at a social level on the streets of Insa-Dong, where schoolgirls are giving up their Sunday to run a charitable stall for elderly people and young children struggling with serious illnesses. Korea’s Confucian approach accords the elderly special respect, but this might also be something that can be translated to western countries.

For all the talk of ‘connectivity’, Korea is of course a fractured, divided country. Lest we forget, a stretch of the regenerated Cheonggyecheon River in the Dongdaemun district reminds us with a display of ceramic tiles painted with messages from citizens wishing for harmony and unification. Our Rebirth of Cities and Patriot Games trends ponder an Athenian future where nationalism is forgotten, but in this optimistic, reclaimed spot of Seoul, city dwellers are still dreaming of a new nationhood.

Richard Cope and the Mintel Inspire team are Tweeting their findings as they trend hunt globally over a period of three weeks – follow Richard on @Richard_Mintel and #InspireOnTour to keep updated!