Kim Jong Chill?

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The World

BOSTON — We recently stumbled across a video on YouTube that left us speechless.

It purported to be from North Korea. That wasn’t the shocking part. What really grabbed our attention was that this video is, apparently, some kind of beer commercial. 

I won’t even try to describe it. Fortunately a picture (or in this case, a two-and-a-half minute video clip) is better than a thousand words:

Naturally, the clip spread virally across the web, and even caught the attention of the Associated Press and Reuters, which filed these brief reports:

I’ll leave the who, what, where and when of this North Korean experiment in commerce to our friends at Reuters and the AP. (The why can’t be adequately addressed by anyone outside of Pyongyang).

Conveniently, that leaves the most interesting part of this full-bodied mystery to GlobalPost: the how.

To decode the marketing messages Pyongyang is plying here, we called on Sonya Grewal, an award-winning creative director for Young & Rubicam in Chicago who’s helped produce beer spots in the U.S. and around the world, including those for Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Chill and Corona.

GlobalPost: What is your professional assessment of this North Korean beer commercial?

Sonya Grewal: Well, it’s 2 minutes and 34 seconds too long. I think we’re looking at a viral version. The unedited, director’s cut that got out of hand. Frankly, it’s a low-budget production with zero concept. Looks like some kid learning computer graphics put a short video together and posted it on YouTube.

What are some of the advertising messages that you can detect here?

  • Beer that’s made in a lab, not a brewery
  • Beer that makes you hallucinate
  • ‘‘Let them drink beer!” (Kim Jong il’s take on "Let them eat cake!")
  • Drink beer from a champagne bottle
  • This beer is so bad we need to take 2 and a half minutes to convince you to buy it

Can you discern a clear marketing strategy?

It’s funny, although I don’t understand a single word in this commercial, I’m pretty sure of one thing — they’re trying to hypnotize you into buying this beer.

What does this ad, and its presentation, say about the typical North Korean beer consumer?

Judging by the music and the colorful display of magical special effects, their consumer is roughly the age of 8. Not sure what the legal drinking age in North Korea is but honestly, if I were an 8-year-old kid living in North Korea I would start drinking at a young age, too.

In your experience, and generally speaking, what works best in a beer commercial?

All the best beer commercials have humor. You can’t get too serious about selling beer. A simple message (emphasis on simple) that cuts through the clutter is memorable, honest, and relatable to your target. That’s really the best way to go about a beer commercial. Plus the 2.5 second beer pour. For example:

Source: Courtesy Y&R

In the U.S., what are some things you’re legally prevented from showing or saying in a beer commercial?

  • You can’t have someone physically drink the beer.
  • You can’t show more than 2 bottles per person.
  • Actors cannot operate any kind of machinery including anyone driving or sailing, etc.
  • No children or cartoon-like imagery is allowed.
  • Low-cal beers cannot make any health claims. For example: Drink this and lose weight.

What’s the typical process of making a beer commercial in the U.S.?

The strategy of the product is written in the form of a brief which is essentially a page of information about the product. It includes information from how your consumer behaves to the single-minded message that needs communicating. You basically come back with different creative ideas executing against the single-minded message of the strategy. You present to the client and they select a campaign or two that goes into testing. Once the focus groups come back with their feedback, the campaign is chosen and the search for directors begins.

Recent GlobalPost columns by Thomas Mucha:

Why we’re (still) screwed

Fake news gets real

In China, this photo may be porn

Other GlobalPost stories about beer, booze and bars:

Is the English pub at death’s door?

The whiskey diaries

Video: Play it again, Sam. And again, and again

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