Hollywood stars were the pinup girls in WWII. For Korea in this day and age, the equivalent of the pinup girl would be the beautiful stars who appear in… soju commercials. Soju is Korea’s main liquor, a distilled spirit made from rice, potatoes/sweet potatoes, or other grains. It’s called the Korean vodka, and for some reason is linked to the image of being “clean and pure”, thus making it a coveted product for stars to endorse, especially for the top soju companies.
Jinro’s Chamisul ads before the invasion of the soju girls
Since men are the main target consumers for soju, the models endorsing the drink are inevitably young and beautiful women, although the occasional male star would make an appearance for the growing number of women who imbibe in the nation’s drink. However, this trend of actresses and singers appearing in soju ads only started in the late ‘90s, when major soju company Jinro featured the actress Lee Young Ae (이영애, JSA, Dae Jang Geum) in their Chamisul (참이슬) campaign. Lee Young Ae was an actress on the rise, and portrayed the image that Jinro wanted when they were promoting their new ambitious brand.
Lee Young Ae was the first ever soju girl
The Chamisul baton was taken over by a series of actresses including Park Joo Mee (박주미, Hur Jun) and Kim Jung-eun (김정은, Lovers in Paris, Kim Jung-eun’s Chocolate):
Park Joo Mee and Kim Jung-eun
Kim Tae-hee (김태희, Iris, My Princess) then took over, but this was before she became the reigning queen of TV commercial endorsements and trendy K-dramas :
Kim Taehee before she became big
The torch then passed on to a number of young beauties including Sung Yu Ri (성유리, Fin.K.L ) and Nam Sang Mi (남상미, Sweet Spy, Time between Dog and Wolf):
Sung Yu Ri and Nam Sang Mi
The more refined Chamisul Fresh was launched in 2006, and with it came more pretty actresses: Kim Ah-joong (김아중, 200 Pounds Beauty), Kim Min-jung (김민정, Fashion 70s, Thornbirds),
Kim Ah-joong and Kim Min-jung
the formidable Ha Jiwon (하지원, Damo, Hwang Jini, Secret Garden),
Ha Jiwon is one of the biggest names to endorse soju
and currently Lee Min Jung (이민정, Boys over Flowers, Cyrano Agency):
Lee Min Jung is the current face for Chamisul
Jinro has several other brands of soju that feature soju girls. “J” started off with Song Hyegyo (송혜교, Autumn in my Heart, Full House), another big star:
Song Hyegyo for “J”
Model turned actress Shin Min A (신민아, The Beast and the Beauty, My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox) is now doing the honors:
Shin Min A hits stardom as a soju girl
The newest brand on the Jinro roster is Jeulgyeochahtgi (즐겨찾기), which literally means “to bookmark” or “favorite” in your internet browser. Fresh-faced actress Park Min Young (박민영, Unstoppable High Kick!, Sungkyunkwan Scandal) represents the brand:
Park Min Young for the newest brand from Jinro
Jinro isn’t the only player in the soju market. Lotte Liquor also has several brands of soju.
Lee Hyori for Cheoeumcheorum since 2007
Cheoeumcheorum (처음처럼, “Like the first time”), not only features singer/entertainer Lee Hyori in their print ads, but also in their TV commercials:
* Video embedded from official site. From the 2011 S/S campaign.
Before Hyori took on the reins, actress Ku Hyesun (구혜선, King and I, Boys over Flowers) and singer Kim Yuna (김윤아) did the honors:
Ku Hyesun and Kim Yuna
Of course, there is a sister brand called Cheoeumcheorum Cool (처음처럼 쿨), with another singer/actress who flaunts the product. Uie (유이), a member of the K-pop group After School is their chosen one.
Uie, known for her excellent proportions, is Cool
The company Kumbokju‘s soju Charm (참) has featured singer Son Dambi (손담비) and actress Park Han-Byul (박한별, Couple or Trouble, My Black Minidress) :
Son Dambi and Park Han-Byul for Charm
Their current model is actress Lee Da Hey (이다해, East of Eden, Chuno) :
Lee Da Hey and her charms promote Charm
C1 soju‘s current spokesmodel is actress Han Yeseul (한예슬, Couple or Trouble, Tazza) ; in the beginning, the ads featured actress Han Hyojoo (한효주, Brilliant Legacy, Dong Yi).
Current and precedent soju girls for C1: Han Yeseul and Han Hyojoo
Bohae’s Yipsejoo (잎새주) has gone through a slew of models including Jang Nara (장나라, Wedding), Han Jimin (한지민, Dae Jang Geum, Yi San) and Jung Ryeowon (정려원, My Lovely Samsoon).
Jang Nara, Han Jimin, and Jung Ryeowon
Their current model is the singer Baek Jiyoung (백지영).
Baek Jiyoung for Yipseju
Probably the only group of soju girls, K-pop girl group Secret sing and dance for Joeunday (좋은데이) :
Secret and their Joeunday TV ad
O2 Linn, whose name comes from their emphasis on their oxygenated soju, featured Han Chaeyoung (한채영, Man called God, Boys over Flowers) and Yoo Inyoung (유인영, Man called God):
O2 Linn’s Han Chaeyoung and Yoo Inyoung
And of course, there are tons of soju brands by region that have their own soju girls who might not be celebrities but are as beautiful, and there’s not only soju but other alcoholic beverages that the beautiful girls are promoting, but this post will never end so I’ll cut it here. As for the soju girls, you’ll see them online, in print, on TV, you’ll see them in bars and restaurants where soju is sold, and sometimes, even at the supermarket on the corner.
Soju girls smile at your neighborhood supermarket
* All photos are from the official sites. Sites are hyperlinked accordingly.
* Info on all the actresses and the movies/TV dramas are hyperlinked as well. (Filmography in parentheses.)