North Korea: Mad, bad and capricious?

photo credit: North Korea — Pyongyang, Arirang (Mass Games) via photopin (license)
photo credit: North Korea — Pyongyang, Arirang (Mass Games) via photopin (license)

Those fearsome North Koreans are at it again!

Kim and co are apparently none too pleased at the latest movie release from Sony. The film, ‘The Interview’, starring James Franco, revolves around two Americans who plot to sneak into the reclusive country and assassinate Kim Jong Un. Recently, an anonymous hacking group called ‘Guardians of Peace’ (GOP) broke into Sony’s computers and released sensitive data including emails where various celebrities say what they really think about one another. There were emails containing racist jokes, revelations about women being paid less than their male co-stars, and lots of general bitching.

More seriously, the compromised data also included personal information of thousands of people. The hackers rounded off their attack by making a series of death threats against potential viewers of the movie. While nothing has yet been proven, GOP is suspected of having links to the North Korean regime. The film’s release has now been cancelled after major cinemas refused to screen it.

All in all, this seemed to be a reaction that could be very easily blamed on the government of a nation widely viewed by the rest of the world as mad, bad and capricious. Not to mention just a touch ridiculous in a movie villain kind of way. It seems that, while many fear the Kim regime, at the same time people enjoy making a complete joke out of it.

Not long ago, the Guardian newspaper called North Korea ‘one of the worst regimes on the planet’. This is a common perception. The country has an appalling nation brand. As the Guardian goes on to point out, the movie could pose a risk to the divine status of the Kim family as perceived among ordinary North Koreans. As cheap DVD players become more commonplace in the country, people viewing the movie might suspect that their leader of being somewhat less than god-like.

So here we have a scenario of the North Korean government taking on corporate giant Sony and winning. However, there have been certain murmurs that it could all be an extremely bold and brazen publicity stunt. Marcus Osborne of the Brand Consultant Asia blog pointed this out in an interesting post today, where he asks if this could be ‘the best marketing campaign of the year?’

It’s intriguing to know if he’s right. But what stood out as the most interesting part about this whole thing is the fact that it only works because of North Korea’s existing nation brand. The country is commonly viewed as a crazy and unbalanced place that may be slightly dangerous, but is also a prime target for lampooning. No other country would be nearly as believable in this role.

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