Source: CNN Travel (Extract)
Posted: June 5, 2021

Best known for its annual international flower festival, Goyang is one of Seoul’s largest satellite cities. But for years, officials struggled to differentiate this city of one million people from its peers.

The local government had multiple social media accounts, but no one seemed to care much about the content they were producing. Something had to be done.

“How about a cat to represent the city’s character?” someone asked half-jokingly during a meeting in 2013, noting the similarities between the name of the city (Goyang) and the Korean word for cat (goyang-yi).

Choi Seo-young, a public relations official who handled the city’s social media, suggested they test the idea on the city’s very unpopular Facebook page with a cat she drew on a piece of paper.

From joke to reality

In South Korea, cats were once considered crafty creatures that bring misfortune. But Choi, among the youngest on the team, wanted to give them a chance.

Goyang’s Facebook account had about 2,000 followers at the time. But just 24 hours after they swapped the profile picture to a cat named “Goyang-goyang-yi,” social media users went into a frenzy. The mascot was an instant success, with people both from within the city and around the country wanting to interact with the feline character.

Today, the city’s social media platforms, Facebook included, now have well over half a million followers. Images of Goyang-goyang-yi even appear in the city hall’s lobby.

A cat poster welcomes visitors and a statue of a masked cat reminds people to keep their face masks on. There’s even a “photo zone” where visitors can pose for a picture with Goyang-goyang-yi.

The locals have embraced Goyang-goyang-yi as well.

“In the past, there was a saying in Korea that cats should not be kept with babies because cats are thieves and demons,” says Kwon Ji-young, a café worker and long-time city resident. “But those days are gone and I’m more familiar with cats now. The city’s announcements feel more friendly now that they’re coming from a cat.”

“The city had a serious and slightly boring feel to it, but that has been lifted now that it’s using a cat,” agrees restaurant owner Lee Yeong-sook. “When I see messages from Goyang-goyang-yi, it makes me smile and I can remember them more easily.”

Cat power

Cats dominate social media across Asia and the rest of the world — and South Korea is no exception.

The newfound popularity of cats is often attributed to modern lifestyles and the increase of single-person households in South Korea. Cats are known to require less attention and care than dogs. Many people say watching cat videos gives them a sense of emotional healing.

Park Jung-yoon, a South Korean celebrity vet, believes that the rising popularity of cats is due to a change in Korean society.

“People used to like dogs for their unconditional loyalty, pack animal nature and respect for order, somewhat similar to what South Korean society used to expect from its members. But now people have become more individualistic, and cats’ independent nature and outsider-like image may have become more appealing to people.”

South Korean cat owners often refer to themselves as butlers, a term that neatly captures the power dynamic between the owner and the cat.