Background: Suicide rate in adolescents in South Korea has been skyrocketing in recent years. According to the Korea National Statistical Office, consecutively from 2012 to 2014, the top cause of adolescent deaths in South Korea has been suicide, which is higher than traffic accident (2nd) and cancers (3rd). The major causes of suicide include, in order, stress from their studies, depression, domestic violence, and bullying. Now, suicide prevention is the Korean government’s top priority among all the adolescent policies.
Program background: As an effort to prevent adolescents’ suicide, this social marketing project supported by Korea Health Promotion Foundation has chosen a webtoon (webcomics) series as a means of delivering suicide prevention messages to teenagers because webtoons are very popular among Korean adolescents and able to deliver relatively large amount of messages since the series is 16 episodes long over 16 weeks. In addition, this project expected that a long-term intervention over 16 weeks may increase adolescents' retention rate of the messages. Accessibility to the contents and cost effectiveness were also major considerations for this Internet-based project. In terms of designing the contents of the webtoon series, this project focused on “5 E” strategy that highlights emotion, empathy, entertaining, education, and encourage. The central theme of the contents is to create a positive paradigm and build an active attitude to solve problems they encounter in school and personal lives. The target populations are middle and high school students (age 13 to 18), and the actual webtoon episodes were disseminated through the most popular Internet webtoon site (Naver Webtoon) in South Korea.
Evaluation Methods and Results: After advertised through the webtoon site hosting company (Naver), the actual webtoon episodes were published for 16 weeks: 1,662,333 people visited the series website; the webtoons were viewed 7,493,178 times; 76,990 people expressed their likes in its rating system; 25,005 opinions were posted to the opinion board of the webtoon. During the period, the number of visitors to the webtoon site has gradually decreased, while some supplemental off-line events occasionally boosted the number of viewers. Evaluation was performed with 501 middle and high school students for 5 days through online surveys. Evaluation measured respondents’ awareness on suicide prevention, their willingness to help others to prevent suicide, as well as the quality of the webtoons (5Es).
Conclusions: This webtoon project was very effective to reach adolescents who were major consumers of popular culture products. Based on the result, this project demonstrated a great potential of using Web-based public culture products.
Implications for research and/or practice: This social marketing project presented the importance of providing adolescents with diverse perspectives on their problems causing their suicide and well-designed and multifaceted storylines based on literature review, content analysis of interviews with target population, and experts’ review of contents. This project also showed the importance of the entertainment element as a core determinant to succeed in using of public culture products. More important implications will be presented at the presentation.