5 unexpected brand experiences of the Seoul subway

Nov 19, 2019

GDR innovation researcher Babette-Scarlett Schossau explores how brands are taking advantage of the more than 7 million passengers passing through the Seoul subway every day.

Public transport is a place in transit. It’s a space that we likely pass through every weekday. It’s a means to an end, but brands and companies in Seoul have been taking a different approach to the capital’s subway treating it not just as a space we can move through as quickly as possible, but as a space where we can also ‘experience’. This week I’ve highlighted my five favourite examples of how innovative brands are engaging a captive audience on their daily commute.


Metro Farm

Sangdo subway station’s urban, hydroponic Metro Farm comes complete with a Farm Café and a Farm Academy, an educational and experience space where visitors can learn how smart farms work. Sessions have to be booked and require a fee, but anyone can walk in and watch scientists caring for the plants in a separate light- and temperature-controlled space.

The adjoining Farm Café offers fresh salads made from 12 different kinds of plants grown at the farm. Visitors can also buy one or two heads of the smart farm’s lettuce for 2500 or 3000 won (2 or 2.5 USD). I tried one and could not tell the difference between this indoor-grown and the more traditional variety. I ate it with a hint of suspicion and confusion, but I could not fault its freshness. It was a nice surprise at one of Seoul’s busy subway stations.


Shinhan Card Digital Gallery

Another nice surprise was Shinhan Card’s Digital Gallery in a corridor between two different subway exits at Euljiro-3-ga station. I was not the only one to stop in my tracks and take a closer look. The gallery examines local craftsmen and technicians of the Euljiro area to introduce their work and history to those passing through.

Six teams of artists from the local area worked on the more abstract lighting objects that are also showcased in the gallery. The more interactive Culture Zone at exit 12 gives subway users recommendations about how to enjoy Euljiro based on their personal taste.  It lets them know the nearby shops that they are likely to enjoy on a digital culture map. It is an engaging way to learn more about the local area before stepping out into it.


U+ 5G AR Art Gallery

The U+ 5G AR Art Gallery at the line 6 platform of Gongdeok station offers subway passengers an even more interactive exploration of the work of Korean artists. Any smartphone user is able to find out more about the artworks displayed on large screens in front of the platform screen doors by either downloading the U+ AR app (for U+ 5G smartphone users) or using the Google app’s Google Lens function.

When I held up my phone to the screen, the artwork became animated and a narrator told the story of the artist and the inspiration and meaning behind the work on display, supported by subtitles. To promote the gallery and its new 5G service, a temporary pop-up encourages passengers to collect stamps by viewing the artwork via AR, watching a VR video and then uploading an image of the U+ pop-up to Instagram.

Once completed, I received a whole goodie bag full of face masks, a tote bag, coffee coupon, and two movie tickets. It was a memorable way to engage with a brand.


Chungmuro Media Centre

Subway passengers can experience more traditional forms of entertainment as well. At the Chungmuro Media Centre at Chungmuro station visitors can register on the centre’s homepage to watch any available movie. The usage is limited to one DVD per day and there are only five cubicles with TV screens, but the service is completely free. While I was there, couples and individuals wearing headphones were enjoying Korean and international movies while drinking beverages brought in from outside.


Smart libraries

At several stations I passed in the Seoul subway system, there were smart libraries that local library users can benefit from. The Book Dream Service is a system that delivers books from municipal libraries to these unmanned reservation lenders. After registering at a local library and then downloading an app, users can search for and reserve a book to be delivered to the smart library. It can be picked up within two days of receiving the arrival text. The book can then be returned to an unattended vending machine or to a nearby library.

Public transit systems are often overlooked as spaces that users only pass through to get from point A to B. But these examples in Seoul’s subway system show that passengers will stop in their tracks for experience and convenience, whether this be an art gallery, a private movie screening, or a book that can be grabbed on the go. There is plenty for brands outside of Korea to learn from these examples.

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