This first episode of Ad Genius Lee Tae-baek, KBS’s newish Monday-Tuesday drama, ended up being a lot more engaging than I thought. The story sets up pretty quickly, and the relationships between the characters are established immediately. No need for waiting on a long buildup! If that is how the series is going to be throughout, then this could be a very entertaining drama.

Note: This is just a first episode recap.


Lee Tae-baek (Jin Gu) is an aspiring adman with a dream to influence people on a daily basis to buy certain products. However, despite his talent and go-getter attitude, he has little success in job interviews. His resumé is lacking, as he dropped out of college and has a low TOEIC score.

However, he does have a catchy slogan – “I may seem like nothing more than a shabby lighter [pulls out lighter], but if you flip me open I’ll become a spark for advertising ideas [flicks on lighter].” It’s a cheesy gimmick, but the interviewers have to recognize his spunk.

On the other hand, Addie Kang (Jo Hyun-jae) is returning from the States to join the famed Geumsan Advertising agency. (I really hoped his name was Eddie Kang but his card says Addie… for “ad man”!?)

An actress, Han Byul (Yoo In-young), recognizes him on the plane and decides to bother him for advice – should she sign with Weston or Origin brands for a coffee endorsement deal? He immediately says Weston, because they hire Geumsan for their ads. Ha.

It turns out that Addie wasn’t exactly recruited into this top-notch agency, but more like forced to come back by his father, President Kang Han-chul (Choi Jung-woo).

Tae-baek actually works for Billboard Heaven, a company that puts up billboards for agencies on a contract basis. Their current contract is with Geumsan, and Tae-baek’s colleagues need his help in putting up a new billboard for Daesung cars.

As he hurries, he nearly hits Baek Ji-yoon (Park Ha-sun), who’s rushing on an errand. Her boss is Go Ah-ri (Han Chae-young), an account executive who uses her skills in making connections and appealing to people’s tastes to win their approval, rather than presenting unique concepts for advertising. Of course, Ah-ri is an intern’s worst nightmare for a boss.

Tae-baek finally arrives to help his colleagues, but he left the draft proposal back at his interview, which informs them how to put up the billboard. Unsure of the original plans, he decides to do something new – and hangs the horizontal billboard vertically.

It’s a unique concept, and it attracts Addie’s interest as he passes by. Through the windows in the meeting room, Ah-ri freaks out when she sees the billboard because it was not part of the agreement, and sends Ji-yoon to have the men fix it. They have exactly 30 minutes before Representative Noh from Daesung arrives to see it. If it’s not done, the contract with Billboard Heaven is canceled, and Ji-yoon will be fired. Ji-yoon and Tae-baek recognize each other on the rooftop, but there’s no time – they have to change the billboard!

They change it in time, and Tae-baek rues Geumsan’s lack of creativity with ads. Even Representative Noh is unimpressed with the horizontal billboard when he arrives for the meeting. But the next thing they know, Ji-yoon receives a call from Addie. He’s discovered that she’s the one in charge of the billboard, and orders her to change it back to its vertical position. Since he outranks Ah-ri as the new Planning Director for the company, Ji-yoon has no choice but to change the billboard again.

This time, though, Tae-baek’s colleagues have already gone for a break and so it’s only him and Ji-yoon on the roof. Luckily, she knows how to rock climb, so she willingly ropes herself up and swings over the rooftop to help Tae-baek.

Representative Noh is also unimpressed with Ah-ri’s presentation on Daesung cars and feels that she is wasting his time. He’s ready to end his contract with Geumsan when Addie speaks up. If Representative Noh gives them two weeks, he’ll have a new creative concept ready for them. Representative Noh: “I’ll give you 30 seconds.”

Well then – Addie pulls up the shades in the meeting room and shows Representative Noh the billboard hanging across the street. It’s vertical again. Representative Noh is duly impressed, and he grants the two week extension.

This means that the advertising team is back to the drawing board. Addie takes Ah-ri and her account executive/concept team, and Lee Eun-hee (Hong Ji-min) and her copywriting team together. They will now work under his supervision. Instead of coming up with the concept and approving or disapproving them, Ah-ri is to work like her fellow colleagues in drawing up new concepts for the ad. Eun-hee and her team will continue to copywrite those ads, and he’ll do the actual approval/disapproval.

In a way, it’s a temporary demotion for Ah-ri, who’s no longer in the seat of control.

As for Ji-yoon, she is under Eun-hee’s team as an aspiring copy editor, and so she is assigned to take pictures of different cars and find a creative way to present them to the world.

That evening, Tae-baek goes to pick up his little sister So-ran (Han Sun-hwa from Secret) at her part time job. Since she has to wear a skimpy outfit as a model for a store, the boss flirts with her, knowing that she can’t say no. But Tae-baek doesn’t care about those consequences; he beats up the sleazy boss and takes So-ran home on his motorbike. She doesn’t get paid, and it seems this is a common occurrence for the both of them.

They live with their grandmother, who’s happy to hear that Tae-baek might have succeeded in his interview. If he gets the job, he can pay So-ran’s tuition for college. Tae-baek also hopes that he can get the job to be a successful adman, as he had once promised his old girlfriend Bok-hee before she went to the States. Five years since he last spoke with her, he’s still waiting for her call saying that she’s back in Korea. Strangely enough, she looks similar to Ah-ri.

Back at Geumsan, Ah-ri is spending more time trying to get Mrs. Noh’s schedule than actually coming up with a new concept. She means to lobby and appeal to Mrs. Noh, then hopefully get on Representative Noh’s good side. At the same time, Billboard Heaven keeps trying to contact her to receive payment for their recent job. Getting no results, Tae-baek takes the matter into his own hands and calls Ji-yoon.

He meets her at the lobby, and asks her to help him meet her superior. After all, Billboard Heaven did whatever Geumsan told them to do. He bows to her deeply, and it embarrasses her. She finally relents and brings him up to a conference room to wait, and notifies Ah-ri. B

efore Ah-ri can go and settle this matter, Addie confronts her on her lobbying tactics. Lobbying to the representative’s wife makes it clear that she is trying to hide that the concept is weak. Instead of “cheating” and spending time on the phone, she ought to be drawing.

Suffice to say, she’s quite angry and humiliated when she enters the conference room. But imagine their shock when they recognize each other. “Bok-hee?” Tae-baek says excitedly.

She surprisingly softens up and informs him that she now goes by Ah-ri. She hasn’t contacted him because she’s decided to give up on her past. When she left for the States, she also decided to leave her “inferior boyfriend” who had worse prospects than she did. Tae-baek is deeply hurt, and even though he’s so angry he wants to slap her, the feeling of shame overwhelms him. He’s more ashamed that he’s come to her in his current condition and leaves first.

Ah-ri decides to take her anger out on Ji-yoon instead, and slaps her across the face. She warns her never to bother her with such useless matters again. Harsh.

A flashback reveals that Tae-baek and Ah-ri were high school sweethearts, and when he sent her off to the States, he promised to be a successful adman by the time she came back.

Clearly that didn’t happen, and what’s worse is Tae-baek receives a call rejecting him for the job he interviewed for. Frustrated, Tae-baek screams over the bridge overlooking a highway.

That evening, Ji-yoon returns to her aunt’s winter gear store, exhausted. She’s only come for a change of clothes before having to go back to work again. It appears that the aunt has raised Ji-yoon, so we don’t know about her parents. But there is an old, wealthy-looking man watching her outside from the backseat of his car. Perhaps this is her long-lost father?

On his way home, Tae-baek sees his grandmother coming out of a restaurant, where she’s worked for a day’s wages. He scolds her for working despite her bad knee, then wraps his grandma up in his jacket and brings her home to massage her legs. It’s adorable to see such a filial grandson. So-ran, on the other hand, bursts into the house with numerous shopping bags. She’s bought a nice tie for her brother, but a whole new outfit for herself because she has an audition for a Daesung car commercial the following day. Dangit – she is the typical younger sister who spends, spends, spends while the hero has to save, save, save.

Tae-baek recalls the day before Ah-ri left Korea, when she had been preparing her portfolio and was starting to get scared about leaving for the States. He gave her his portfolio, which he had made while waiting up with her on those late nights that she was working. If she ever sought out comfort in the States, then she could look at the portfolio and be reminded of him. They were really in love back in the day…

But it’s there that he gets inspiration on how to get Geumsan to pay Billboard Heaven. He starts drafting a new concept for the Daesung ad, which he overheard Addie yelling at Ah-ri about. If he could lend his talents to the company, perhaps they could pay Billboard Heaven, and let all of them get their overdue salaries.

At the same time, all of Geumsan is in a tizzy trying to come up with a new concept, but Addie has a secret weapon. He’d already come up with a concept several weeks back, and shows it to his father. He just didn’t reveal it to his team yet; their desperation will make his idea seem like a savior, but it could very possibly result in some innovative thinking.

Tae-baek is stuck in a rut, but he gets inspiration when he sees his boss’ son addicted to a car racing game on the phone. The thrill of being in the front seat of a car and racing through the roads is addicting for both child and adult. Later that evening, he catches Ji-yoon as she’s coming out of the building to show her his idea. He needs help with the copy editing for this “project,” and since she wants to be the best one in her field, she can start with this. Ji-yoon is too tired to deal with more copy editing, since that’s what she’s been doing all day.

But Tae-baek is persistent. He follows her to her bus and hands her his drawings. They’re unique enough that suddenly Ji-yoon gets a burst of ideas. She tells him to shut up as she sorts out a catchphrase that can capture the excitement of his drawings. After a long while, she finally gets her inspiration: “Play Dreaming Driving.” (I’m going to guess that this is an instance of really awkward English-to-Korean… but I’m gonna go with it for now…)

The following morning, Tae-baek waits for Ah-ri in front of the building. He hands her his concept and Ji-yoon’s copy editing. Ah-ri tries not to show it, but she recognizes it as a good idea.

Tae-baek lets her present the idea in her name, but if this idea gets chosen she must clear a check to Billboard Heaven. Ah-ri even dangles the possibility of an intern position for him, but he doesn’t want it.

At that moment, Addie’s already handed his concept to Eun-hee and her team, and they think it’s a good idea. Since it’s been “accepted,” Addie’s ready to move forward with his concept for Daesung. But Ah-ri hurries to him and hands over Tae-baek’s concept (with her name). He initially blows her off because she’s late with submitting her ideas, but promises to look at it.

The concept is “Play Dreaming Driving! The car life you’ve dreamt of.” And he likes it a lot.

Ah-ri calls up Tae-baek to inform him that the team already made their decision, and that his idea won’t win. She’s sorry about it, but at least they tried.

It bothers Tae-baek — he’s had so much faith in his idea — and he calls Ji-yoon to find out what the winning idea was, and how good it was to have beat his. Unfortunately Ji-yoon doesn’t have access to this top secret presentation, but tells him that if he comes to the building at a certain time, he’ll be able to see it.

That evening, the presentation has been prepared, and Representative Noh arrives at Geumsan. He looks up at the building across the street, but doesn’t see any billboard hanging ostentatiously. He is led to a private room, in the middle of which is one reclining leather chair. Representative Noh sits down, facing the windows, and the lights turn off.

Across the street, a giant TV screen illuminates. Addie hands Representative Noh a phone to use as a controller, and the racing game begins. The two of them race each other, and Representative Noh really gets into the game. As for Tae-baek, he rides up to the front of the building of his motorcycle and recognizes his design.


Underdog stories are fun to watch when you know that your hero is not perfect but is willing to overcome all odds. That’s why this episode was actually quite enjoyable – we already have our first test of his skill and he just so happens to go up against the “genius” in the field, Addie Kang. I understand that it is hard to come up with fresh ideas at times, but what I find strange is accepting that a billboard turned on its side suddenly makes it infinitely better. Sure it’s eye-catching, but it’s even more difficult to read.

I’m glad that Tae-baek isn’t portrayed as a complete country hick – even though he is a little cheesy (comparing himself to a lighter? I saw that line a mile away and had to roll my eyes and chuckle). I find him quite sincere and that he isn’t going to be easily fooled by those city execs. I was a bit hurt that he willingly gave up his good idea to Ah-ri so easily, because that moment just set up a lot of potential conflict that’s so overused in workplace dramas (taking credit, and trying to take back credit). But I’ll try and view it as him doing his one last magnanimous gesture to the girl he loved.

The biggest highlight for me was Ji-yoon, and how Park Ha-sun played with such aplomb — she was never too shrill or too hopeless. She’s a very capable woman for herself, and I know she isn’t just a Candy girl type. I truly enjoyed her performance for this episode.

I feel that this plot is quite straightforward, but crazy birth secrets for Ji-yoon could pop up. More workplace drama could entangle our characters further if Tae-baek ends up working at Geumsan; I hope he doesn’t, as I don’t feel Geumsan deserves his originality and Tae-baek would be better going head to head against Addie Kang than working with him. Of course, this recap is several episodes behind, and so others already know what has happened, but since this is just a premiere recap, discuss away! I hope you enjoy this lighthearted series.