Google's Zeitgeist 2013 report is out, showing that Nelson Mandela was the top trending search globally. Here in Korea, the report is getting press attention because both "Samsung Galaxy S4" and "North Korea" appeared among the top ten trending search items worldwide during the year.
What makes this so interesting? One year ago this month, I did a post entitled "Visualizing Korea's National Image," which compared searches for "Korea" and "North Korea" with those for "Samsung" and "LG." That post contains two embedded line graphs from Google Trends and is worth re-reading since it bears on the current situation. The embedded graphs have automatically been updated by Google through late 2013. (see other posts on national image here)
In light of South Korea's great concern with its national image, especially during the Lee Myung-bak administration which established the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, global search activity this year underscores two powerful realities. One is that military actions or other provocations by North Korea will attract international interest and attention regardless of what the South Korean government may do. The other is that South Korea's leading companies, led by Samsung, do not emphasize in their marketing communications that they are based in Korea. In fact, there is considerable evidence that, all around the world, a significant proportion of consumers are unaware that Samsung is a South Korean company. Last year, for example, consumers in China staged a demonstration at a Samsung outlet, thinking erroneously that it was a Japanese company.