Earlier this month, supermarket chain Homeplus announced a milk powder-scented body wash -- an unexpected three-way collaboration with LG Household & Health Care and Seoul Dairy Cooperative.
The result set the internet abuzz over its quirky packaging that takes the shape of cartons of Seoul Milk, the bestselling milk in the country.
“We came up with the retro product that lives up to the sentiment of consumers based on our experience as a milk buyer,” the company said in a statement.
But the seemingly innocuous product, which has been described as part of the “funsumer” trend -- a portmanteau between “fun” and “consumer” in Korea -- soon faced backlash following a viral tweet which showed the milk-inspired body wash being sold alongside actual cartons of milk.
The tweet was accompanied by a photo that showed bottles of body wash, which had similar packaging to that of Seoul Milk cartons except for an additional dispenser, in a separate basket hung in front of the dairy aisle. Two bottles had already been taken.
“It looks like two of them have been sold which is horrifying. What if it was elders who bought them?” the tweet read, apparently concerned that people would mistake them for milk.
Homeplus said a warning sign has been added and the beauty product has been placed away from actual milk cartons to avoid confusion.
In March, distiller HiteJinro also teamed up with Homeplus to release a range of merchandise inspired by its mascot Jinro Toad including a soju bottle shaped diffuser.
But another tweet, which had also gone viral, slammed the collaboration marketing.
“How can you tell them apart?” Young people who are keeping up with trends might know since it is gaining a lot of traction on social media but what about older people,” the tweet read.
Lee Young-ae, a professor at the department of consumer science at Incheon National University, said there are clear risks these funsumer items pose to consumers.
“Though it may not be considered deceiving, there is a growing risk that it confuses consumers. There should be more monitoring and regulations for such items being sold in stores,” she said.
The controversy comes as the South Korean retail industry has been swept up in a craze for retro and cross-sector collaboration products in recent years.
Last year, convenience store chain CU rolled out Gompyo Wheat Beer -- a collaboration between flour maker Daehan Flour Mills Corp. and local brewery 7Brau.
The beverage became the bestselling beer at CU, surpassing that of Cass and Terra, the company said earlier this month. The highly sought after product was soon swept off shelves as soon as they restocked this month, while the company plans for an increase in production late this month.
The beer‘s success inspired several other retailers to follow suit, hoping to go viral on social media and raise brand awareness.
Lotte Chilsung Beverage released candies and jellies inspired by its flagship carbonated beverage Chilsung Cider on Monday while convenience store GS25 rolled out its own marker-inspired carbonated beverages in partnership with leading stationery company Monami.
By Yim Hyun-su (firstname.lastname@example.org