Want to see something heartwarming and a tad bizarre?

Hyundai driving home to North Korea

You may have seen the recent reunions between North and South Korean families in the news. It’s usually presented as a heartwarming story, which it is, with certain caveats:

  1. The North picks participants based on regime loyalty, coaches them on what to say and spies on them during the reunions.
  2. The North knows that this is an emotive issue for the South, so will put a stop to family reunions whenever it’s unhappy with the way relations are going, which is usually.
  3. Reunions used to take place in Seoul and be accompanied by exchanges of letters, but the North put a stop to this because it didn’t want its citizens finding out how much better life is in the South.
  4. Most of the participants are extremely old and when they bid farewell after the reunions they know they will never see one another again. Around half of the people who have applied to participate have died before getting the chance. Some of the attendees selected for this year’s round of reunions were too sick to make it. The South Korean MoU did not bother to select replacements.
  5. Despite all this, over half of separated families do not want to meet anyway. It would be awkward and the younger generation knows nothing about their North Korean relatives.
  6. When families do meet, things aren’t always particularly harmonious.
  7. The South Korean Ministry of Unification is frequently accused of not particularly caring whether reunions happen or not (see point 4), to the extent that many families have given up on official channels and prefer to pay illegal brokers to set up reunions with their family in the North.
  8. For years South Korea (supposedly the good guys) treated people with relatives in the North as potential spies anyhow, only relenting when the government realised they could be used for playing politics with. (Yes, just like the tale of the comfort women…)

Anyhow, that aside, Hyundai has some new virtual test drive software that it’s promoting at the moment, and it’s decided to do so by taking a North Korean guy living in South Korea on a virtual drive around his home town:

Hyundai Motor Company has put together a video documenting a project that allowed an elderly man, long separated from his home in North Korea, to drive back to his place of birth through the use of virtual reality.

The story, called “Going Home”, revolves around 88-year-old Kim Gu-hyeon, who in the spring of 1947 left his home in the north, six years before Korea was divided, and headed south.

Though the 6-minute short film doesn’t explain why he left, Kim felt a great sense of guilt for having left his home and having never being able to return –to never again see his mother and his family.

He is one of 66,000 North Koreans currently living in South Korea –many of whom, like Kim, have been away from their place of birth for more than half a century.

The creative and engineering team at Hyundai visited Kim at home Seoul and had him write down his original home address and describe his hometown in as much detail as possible as they set about recreating it for a virtual drive. After

Hyundai’s attention to detail produced Kim’s hometown landscapes including streets, pedestrians, traffic cops, wild flowers and even mist on the river –all restored in 3D inside a specially designed car.

As our regular readers will know we refuse to give away endings –you have to watch the incredibly touching conclusion for yourself.

You can watch the video at the link. I won’t spoil the ending, but get a box of tissues ready.

Interestingly, it is probably much easier to do this for a North Korean town than a South Korean one. South Korea is has extremely restricive rules regarding satellite imagery of the country, while Google Earth remains one of our main sources of information about the North.

It’s also interesting that – despite the positive reunification message at the end – Hyundai’s marketing guys appear to have a far more realistic view of the two Koreas’ future than pretty much any of the politicians involved in deciding it. While the latter still obsess about German-style reunification, to the increasing disintrest of the voters, Hyundai’s ad guys have posited – for the sake of this clip – a future where the two Koreas remain separate but allow free travel across what is now the DMZ (look for the “Inter-Korean Transit” area at the beginning of the VR section).

Bonus fun round: this is not the only heartwarming incidence of a North Korean encountering VR technology. Check out this picture from Choson Exchange of one of its workshop participants playing with an Oculus Rift headset.


How to run a multinational company, Part 4

This Taiwanese Subway ad is obviously a pastiche of the old timey tv dramas. The dialogue is meaningless pseudo-antique claptrap (much like in the originals) but the basic thrust is that Subway is doing reduced-calorie sandwiches and you should buy some*. Not that I’d be able to tell you that without the subtitles, since the voiceover is so dialect that apparently even native Taiwanese have trouble getting it.

This is worth comparing with the amazing Hokkien Journey-to-the-West PSA released in Singapore recently.

In both countries the governments have spent years trying to promote standard Mandarin and discourage the use of dialects, though for different reasons. In Taiwan it’s to do with the leaders’ increasingly tenuous claims that they represent the “real” China, and that the communist government in Beijing is a temporary aberration. In Singapore it’s more to do with community cohesion and social integration.

And in Singapore the anti-dialect campaign has largely been successful. Chinese Singaporeans in their 40’s and 50’s tend to speak dialect with their parents but Mandarin or English with their children. Most people under about 30 understand little of their family’s traditional language and speak even less.

Taiwan has seen a different trend. In the years immediately following the setting up of the Kuomintang government Mandarin did succeed in establishing itself over the local dialects to a great extent. However, the most recent generation is comprised of people who have, in many cases, never visited the mainland, feel little connection to it and see themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. However, this doesn’t mean that they’ve also reverted to speaking Hakka, Hokkien or any of the other local dialects that were common prior to the Mandarinisation of the island. Instead, they will tend to speak a version of Mandarin that has drifted away from the version used on the mainland. This is influenced by the dialects (and by English and Japanese) but also simply by the effects of time and separation.

*Long story short: Taoist Immortals don’t eat, so by eating low-fat sandwiches from Subway you’re closer to becoming one.

FIFA does PR Chinese-style

If you’ve ever witnessed a Chinese marketing event, you’ll know that it’s going to feature several things:

Hot girls wearing few clothes:

Hot girl

A random ‘cultural’ performance:

Peking operaMore hot girls:

Hot chick car wash

And a slightly strange dance that no one really understands but is appreciative of nevertheless:

Thousand arms

But plenty of events have these things, not just in China. So what makes the Chinese take on it different? It needs two particular qualities:

1. It should be beautifully executed, but the message that they are trying to put across should be impossible for any sane bystander to discern.

2. Eschew all intuitive links to the product, service or company being promoted. Real estate? Let’s have a stripper with a snake. Cameras? Bikini window cleaners.

I can only imagine a sort of inverted Mad Men thing going on somewhere:

‘Well, we felt that the brand needs to work with clients and influencers to build a strong, positive identity that will-‘
‘Tits. That’s what we need. Tits everywhere. And, I dunno, a lion dance or something. People like lion dances. Where’s my whisky?’

In any case, compare and contrast that with Fifa’s annual conference today.

Hot girls wearing few clothes:

fifa 12

A random ‘cultural’ performance:

fifa 1

More hot girls:

fifa 6

And a slightly strange dance that no one really understands but is appreciative of nevertheless:

fifa 9

Coherent messages conveyed: 0.

Links to brand: 0.

Unfortunately, Fifa just can’t bring the money-drunk, don’t-give-a-fuck pizazz that the Chinese manage to inject into all of their spectacles.


Number of people who think that Sepp Blatter shouldn’t be in jail: 0.

But first, lemme take a selfie

Just when you thought that the WomenCrossDMZ march couldn’t get any more unpleasant, it became an advert for Twitter.

Colleen Baik, who was a senior designer for Twitter until recently, has been using the march to promote Twitter’s video streaming service, Periscope.

But wait, it gets better. I pointed out on Twitter that this appeared a tad cynical:

Colleen Baik

It took roughly a minute and a half for me to get blocked. On Pyongyang internet speeds, that’s an impressive reaction time indeed. Seems like the peace activists really *have* been learning from North Korea.

Colleen Baik

Ironically, the WSJ is currently reporting Baik’s use of Periscope in Pyongyang as a ‘challenge for North Korea’s information control’.

Don’t wear a plain red tie (but not because these guys say so)


According to researchers at Durham University, rather than conveying a certain testosterone-fuelled fortitude, red clothing sends out a signal that the wearer is angry, aggressive and prone to dominant behaviour.


Well, yes. That’s Ed Miliband: the archetypal alpha male; angry agressive and prone to dominant behaviour.

Doesn’t work, does it?

In fact, you shouldn’t wear a plain red tie because it says either:

a) I have no imagination, or

b) I was dressed by a stranger.

This is the reason researchers ar Durham University aren’t pulling down megabucks via their international PR consultancy.

Operation Cold Storage

Tiger Beer in a can is 50 years old this year (as is Singapore), and to celebrate they’re running a rather interesting ad campaign:

Tiger Beer

You can check out the site here: http://www.tigerbeer.com.sg/unofficialofficial/agegate 

What’s interesting is that the campaign references – obliquely but distinctly – various not-so-glorious episodes from Singapore’s past. That ‘rival nations’ headline, for example, is a nod towards episodes such as Operation Coldstore and the shutting down of three newspapers in 1971, on the pretext that they were being run by unspecified hostile powers engaged in ‘black operations’.

Straits Times Marxist Plot

Quite a lot of people spent decades in jail or in exile as a result of the PAP‘s ‘anti-communist’ crackdowns, and pretty much everyone concedes that the party leadership probably went too far, even those who feel that they were justified in taking action.

You’d think that Tiger Beer was taking a big risk joking about it in an ad campaign. For comparison, imagine the reaction in the UK and Ireland if Guinness did a series of ads based around the IRA. Either the authorities would ban them, or people would be up in arms demanding more sensitivity.

In fact, none of that has happened. Pretty much the only people taking a great deal of interest are those who have a pre-existing interest in advertising campaigns – i.e. me and the trade press and the bloggers who get free shit off the back of it.

Why is this? Well, partly because forgetting old repression is what Asia is really good at. Partly, however, the answer can be found in the second video – the Kallang wave one. It starts with our hero in prison (we don’t know what for, and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter) – and a pretty nasty old-school prison it seems too. But then he gets out, gets rich, sells out and lives happily ever after. Which is pretty much what the entire Singapore political system has done, and I don’t intend that as a criticism, merely as a statement of fact. I would have done exactly the same thing.

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s people were willing to go to jail for their beliefs. Now, however, they’re rich and comfortable and if a lack of political opposition is the price that they have to pay to live in what is pretty much the closest thing to heaven on earth, then so be it – to the extent that in several recent elections the opposition has deliberately refrained from putting up candidates in certain constituencies, so that people can vote for the candidates that they do put up, safe in the knowledge that the PAP is going to win anyway.

Advertisers agonise over the Kalashnikov rebrand


The chap in the middle appears to have succeeded in cramming an entire stag into his rucksack. Intimidating fellows, these Russkies.

My response to the Kalashnikov rebrand was a curmudgeonly ‘Why mess with a classic?’ which doesn’t make for much of blog post. Fortunately, other people have had far more interesting thoughts on the subject, so I’m just going to borrow theirs.

In particular, Creative Review has a long thread in which advertsing professionals answer the question ‘Would you take the job?’

No, god knows what would happen to you if the solution was not to their liking…

– jeffrey

Definitely not. In my view weapons, if we have to have them should only be controlled by democratic, responsible governments (idealistic I know) and not treated as a commercial products that require branding. Having said that I do like that Kalashnikov logo!

– Mark

I would have loved to work on this project. In the end it’s really no different that rebranding a pharmaceutical company or a new prescription drug. Those companies play with the lives of people every day and yet we look at them as “good guys” and a company such as Kalashnikov as the “bad guys.” AK-47’s are used as peace-keeping weapons in the same way as a new drug is used to help save a life. Sure, the guns that are produced can be used to harm people but drugs can also be misused in ways that end up harmful.

More to the weapon-specific issue, is it OK to rebrand Remington but not Kalashnikov? Should we not invest any design resources into our military operations and recruiting? Where do these imaginary boundaries lie? The weapons that are produced can be beautiful and artistic. I would proudly display an AK-47 on my wall as an art piece because it is an amazing piece of work. I’m not going to limit myself or my design choices based on what someone CAN do with a product. In the end, these companies aren’t in the business of killing people. They are in the business of creating firearms used for multiple purposes and that distinction cannot be overlooked.

– Edward

A rebrand feels a little bit of a waste of time. Who are they carrying out the rebrand for? Who do they really think is going to fall for the “Weapons of Peace” slogan, when the companies top selling product is, along with the Toyota pick up, the freedom fighters, terrorist and oppressive regimes go to weapon.

For every advert featuring a couple of models seductively enticing punters with there latest firearm there is a 24hour news channel showing men with beards shooting in the air over some bloody conflict.

The problem I would find with working with the Kalashnikov Group is not an ethical one regarding their guns, But an ethical one regarding their clients.

– Stephen

I think the issue of ethics/responsibility in design is somewhat trite.

I’ve seen some great designers talk on this subject & similar (e.g AGI Open Barcelona 2011) and always feel disconnected from the lecture. Maybe it’s an issue which becomes more significant as you progress in your career, but for the most part the people who lead the discourse on such issues as ethics and social responsibility in design are established designers who have the luxury of picking & choosing their clients, not struggling recent graduates in the height of a recession. It will be awhile before the rest of us catch up & start chasing that white pencil…

– John D
We’re not talking a poster campaign for a sugary cola drink. These are guns, they are a tool for killing people. The rebrand is to help the company that sells guns (that kill people) to sell more guns (to kill more people). Regardless of whether they are sold to legitimate state forces (police/army etc) or to gun dealers for resale. They are guns. They are designed for one purpose.

If you think having a part in enabling that intent to become a reality is neither an ethical choice you can afford not to make or no different from working with a large pharmaceutical company, then I’m honestly shocked. If you do a good job, more people die.

Whilst you are both free to hold these options – and please don’t think I am simply picking a single sentence from your comments for ease of making my argument – I really hope you are both, playing devil’s advocate and don’t actually believe that.

– Bob would walk away

It would be repellent for me to be involved with such a project. But it does open up a whole can of worms. For example, everyone holds up the inventors and designers of say the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the bouncing bomb, the Lanchester etc. All were made as machines of destruction but they are remembered with warm nostalgia? What about the many ridiculously violent games that are designed and packaged for the ever growing gaming industry who’s products that fall into the hands of very young impressionable children? I think we need to look and think more deeply, at what we are helping to promote as designers, we are part of a chain of events that we sometimes close our eyes too.

– Mike Dempsey

The ‘Great British Designs’ stamps series, designed by a well respected studio included a Spitfire, what is your opinion on this? Should it have been left off?

The Kalashnikov has been involved in many ‘freedom’ movements and has helped fight against slavery and racism in what for many people was the only way possible. To people in a less privileged position to you it can be used as an important symbol of a way to make a better life for someone and their family, it is used a symbol of pride on the Mozambique flag for instance. It is involved in situations outside of your comprehension and has different values all over the world which as a designer you should strive to understand. Yes, it has been used in ways you would feel uncomfortable about, because of this you may not want work on the project, this is fair enough, but do not disregard the question or debate, because things exist outside your value system they are not wrong.

– James

To take the 380k or not to. Someone will.

How many of you have worked on stuff for oil companies, fag packs etc. Where’s the line drawn? If it’s with a firearm then it’s with a firearm.

Everyone has a drawer of shame somewhere.

I don’t think doing this branding job is helping people kill people, whatever that mark those guns are still killing machines.

– Joe

You’d get better market share if you branded bullets instead. ‘Course it’d be 50/50 whether or not the audience would be alive enough to engage with the brand and tweet accordingly.

– Ed

For me the most disappointing part is that I know – with an almost religious certainty – that some worryingly intense Japanese salaryman has already done all this work. He has 800 beautifully rendered Pixlr images of D-cup jailbait with Kalashnikovs (and in every one it is clearly the hardware that has received 95% the artistic attention), but the Japanese internet is a pig to search and so I can’t find it, all I’ve succeeded in doing is making my search history look like that of someone due to be sectioned.

North Korean tourist brochures

Exist. And they are fascinating, beautiful, depressing and creepy all at once. I wrote about them for NK News:

DPRK tourist brochuresNorth Korea’s approach to marketing itself to foreign visitors has often been contradictory, the product of competing bureaucracies and the changing whims of the leadership. As in many other fields, tourism is affected by the actions of several different branches of government, with incompatible policies and changes in the composition of the leadership often appearing to create massive internal confusion.

The output of the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) is a good example of this. It proudly and faithfully reports even the most banal signs of appreciation from the outside world (“Greetings to Kim Jong Un from Mexican Political Party Leader”, “Lao Diplomats Visit International Friendship Exhibition House”…), while regularly printing vitriol calculated to offend and alienate 99% of international public opinion — the racist and sexist articles targeting Presidents Park and Obama spring immediately to mind.

In this environment, North Korean authorities can often seem hungry for foreign visitors one minute, then going out of their way to frighten them off the next.

Soon after the showpiece Masikryong Ski Resort was completed to much fanfare in winter 2013, authorities stepped up their actions against foreign visitors in the country, detaining several who they claimed breached multiple domestic laws. Often this is what happens when the various aims and remits of different state bureaucracies compete. And of course, the functionaries who put so much effort into constructing and promoting facilities like the new Masikryong Ski Resort had no power to prevent the security services arresting several foreign visitors in quick succession.

Equally, the North Korean authorities have been working hard to reduce legal and administrative obstacles for Chinese tourists, while simultaneously making travel much more difficult for Hwagyo, or ethnic Chinese living in North Korea.


This contradictory behavior can also, however, be a product of changing political circumstances. While the nation has never been open to visitors in the same way that most countries are, there have been times in North Korea’s history when it appeared less hostile to visitors than has been for the last 20 years.

At the end of the 1980s, with the Soviet Bloc collapsing and Communism looking increasingly shaky elsewhere, North Korea began preparing for existence in a post-communist world. While authorities were not prepared to compromise on the fundamentals of the regime, they were willing to consider adopting a softer position on the world stage. The readiness to contemplate normalization can be seen in a surprisingly beguiling brochure, reproduced here courtesy of Retro DPRK, which in 1991 was designed to promote tourism in the DPRK to western visitors: “A Sightseeing Guide to Korea”…

Read more here.