This week I’m starting a new feature on my Instagram feed. Every Sunday, I’ll post English slogans and logos from cities throughout Korea. Way back in 2013, waegukin.com compiled a list of slogans for Korean cities and towns. But as often happens, these slogans get updated. I searched for an updated list but couldn’t find one. So I took matters into my own hands. I compiled my own list.

Are city slogans and branding a big deal for many Korean cities?

I started with a list of 78 Korean cities from Wikipedia. I then visited each city’s website to attempt to determine its English slogan. Visit enough Korean city sites, and you’ll find most have slogans. They’re usually contained in a section called “***시 소개” (*** Introduction / About ***).

A picture of a crane in Korea, representing all cities having an official city bird.

In this section, you’ll find assorted information. Things like: the city flower, bird, mascot, song—and the logo and slogan. Many cities also have their own fonts and other symbols. Most have links to download these logos, mascots, and fonts. Though not always, this information is often contained under the heading ‘브랜드 / brand.’ For example, here are the corresponding pages for Seoul in Korean and English.

Why do they have English slogans? Do they even have English web pages?

While conducting this research, I noticed something interesting. Most Korean city sites have pages in Korean—as you’d expect. But most also have translated pages available in other languages. English, Chinese, and Japanese are the most common. But some sites also provide Vietnamese, Thai, and Russian translations. Unfortunately, many sites use an automatic translation service—either Google or Webtrans. When Webtrans is used, you get this very reassuring message at the top of your screen:

Curiously, English was the language that most often used auto-translated pages. The pages translated by humans were most often for languages like Vietnamese and Russian. As one might expect, the quality of the auto-translation varies greatly. These automatic translations range from vaguely understandable to completely incomprehensible. There were instances of automatic translations for languages other than English. But I am only qualified to comment on the quality of the automatic English translations.

City branding appears to be of major importance in Korea

It was evident that someone had spent time, resources, and effort developing these brands. There are detailed explanations about the choice of colors and what the shapes in the logos represent. They state the values and goals of the city. I can’t help but think that a great deal of money has been spent on these endeavors. But all this begs the question: If you’re going to put this much time and effort into developing your city brand, including an English slogan, why not consult with native English speakers?

A picture of the King Sejong statue in Gwanghawmun, indicating that English city slogans are for tourists, not Korean nationals

In theory, these English slogans are not for Koreans. Rather, they are for visitors, tourists, and potential investors. Thus, one would assume that the motivation behind the slogan is to make a great impression on these foreign ‘customers.’ But when looking at the awkward, forced slogans and automated translations, I can’t think of anything that could miss the mark further. 

To be fair, not all cities have an English slogan, at least not one that’s contained on the ‘brand’ page. But in the absence of an English slogan, there are often English tag lines on the page header. They ofttimes make unsubstantiated claims like, “The World’s Best City” or “The Only Place Where Heaven and Earth Meet.” There doesn’t seem to be any justification for these claims.

A picture of a tree with a cloud and rainbow above it to draw attention the the ridiculous Korean city slogan, The only place where heaven and earth meet.
Tree photo created by kjpargeter – www.freepik.com

All this research demanded the perfect platform for sharing

While doing my research, I realized that compiling a simple list of slogans like the 2013 list would be insufficient. I decided a deeper look into some of these slogans, their meanings, and their origins was in order. Mulling over the best way to do this, it dawned on me I already had the perfect platform. My Instagram feed, which I’d recently launched, could showcase one slogan per week. So guess what? That’s precisely what I’m gonna do!

And it starts this week, with the city I’ve called home for the past 17 years or so—Seoul. Anyone that lives in Korea is likely already familiar with Seoul’s current slogan. For those of you not in Korea, head on over to this post on my Instagram feed for a look at Seoul’s current slogan. For those of you familiar with the slogan, learn a bit about how it came into being.

A picture of Seoul to serve as a reminder of the ridiculous English slogan, I Seoul U

On my Instagram feed, you can continue to enjoy similar content to what I’ve previously offered. Content includes mistranslated signs, questionable English on clothing, and creative menu items. These posts will be available from Monday–Saturday each week. But each Sunday, you can look forward to another Sunday City Slogan post. Love that alliteration, BTW!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Comment here or hit me up on Instagram!

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