Seoul Milk, South Korea’s largest dairy supplier, issued an apology to customers after receiving backlash for an ad that likened women to cows. The ad not only incurred heavy public blowback, but even ignited a conversation about sexism in the country.
“We sincerely apologize to everyone who may have felt uncomfortable due to the milk advertisement video uploaded to the official YouTube channel of Seoul Milk on the 29th of last month,” Seoul Milk’s parent company Seoul Dairy Cooperative said in an official statement.
“We are taking this matter seriously,” the Dairy supplier continued, “and we will pay more attention and review to prevent similar problems in the future.”
Beginning with a young man walking through the countryside with a camera somewhere near the Gangwon province in Cheorwon-gun, according to CNN, the since-deleted advertisement’s narrator announces, “We finally succeeded in capturing their images in a place where nature has been kept clean.”
Arriving at a stream, the man raises his camera and spots women bathing and drinking rainwater off of leaves. The women then move to an open field and begin doing yoga.
“We decided to approach them cautiously, who’re drinking clean water from clean nature, eating organic diet, and living peacefully in a pleasant environment,” the narrator continues. “Clean water, organic feed, 100 percent pure Seoul Milk.”
Stepping a twig and alerting the women to the man’s presence, they immediately all transform into cows, concluding the advertisement.
Critics on social media described the video as “too much,” according to CNN, leaving comments including “It makes me sick” and “when you take ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ to the next level.”
Before using an official apology, Seoul Milk reportedly first went on the defensive, claiming that the advertisement was being read in a different way than the company had intended. According to Seoul Milk, the dairy supplier wanted to focus on the “natural” and “organic origins” of their products, insisting that they did not intend to liken women to cows.
The company later deleted the video, which still exists throughout the internet after going viral Wednesday morning.
Many uncomfortable viewers claimed that the video also seemed to normalize a crime known as “molka,” wherein men have been known to secretly videotape women without their consent. Reporting on the “pervasive digital sex crime,” CNN stated that issue has been plaguing South Korea for years.
“I will never drink Seoul Milk again,” one user wrote on the dairy company’s Instagram page. “Humans shall never be described as cattle and spycamming can never be used as advertisement material. I’ve realized how gender-insensitive the company is this year.”
According to the New York Post, the dairy company made headlines in 2003 for a similarly offensive ad featuring naked women scraping yogurt off each other’s bodies. After the 2003 ad, Seoul Dairy Cooperative and many of its PR executives were fined for obscenity.
“Digital sex crimes have become so common, and so feared, in South Korea that they are affecting the quality of life of all women and girls,” said Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr. “Women and girls told us they avoided using public toilets and felt anxious about hidden cameras in public and even in their homes. An alarming number of survivors of digital sex crimes said they had considered suicide.”
This past October, many South Korean companies apologized after Men’s Rights groups complained about a hand sign that they said appeared in many different ads across the country, which they claimed mocked the size of their genitalia.
For many others, including women, the hand gesture signified a normal action one performs on their phone to select a product and zoom in or out. Critics at the time brought attention to a growing anti-feminist movement in South Korea, continued in bizarre ads from Seoul Milk.