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North Korea's economic changes bring need for advertising, analyst says

North Korean economic researchers said advertising holds an "important significance in a socialist society," an unusual statement in a country that shuns capitalism.

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea's economic changes bring need for advertising, analyst says
A 2009 commercial for North Korea's Taedonggang beer. The slogan reads "How refreshing!" North Korea abandoned the advertising campaign due to lack of demand for beer in the impoverished country, according to a South Korean analyst. File Photo by KCNA/Yonhap

SEOUL, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- North Korea is changing its official position on commercial advertising with the growth of private markets, but a South Korean analyst said Tuesday most North Koreans are too poor to afford government-sanctioned goods featured in promotions.

In a paper that was included in the March issue of a North Korean academic journal on economic findings, researchers wrote that advertising plays an important role in a socialist country, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

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"Effective commercial advertising holds an important significance in a socialist society, because it satisfies the growing material and cultural needs of the people, and promotes the product being sold," the paper read.

The statement on the need for domestic advertising is unusual in North Korea, said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst with South Korea's IBK Economic Research Institute.

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Cho told South Korean television network YTN the North Korean leadership has had an uneasy relationship with advertising, calling it the "flowers of capitalism," a rival ideology not compatible with socialist modes of planning. Seven years ago, former leader Kim Jong Il reportedly demanded the end of a trial advertising campaign, on the grounds that the ads were too similar to the kinds of promotions in China during initial years of economic reform.

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But sweeping economic changes under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have led to increased privatization, and as more businesses establish themselves as competitive entities, advertising could be becoming more important in the country, Cho said.

North Korea has launched advertising campaigns in the past. A television campaign for Taedonggang beer in 2009 did not last, however, because of a lack of demand. Cho said in the case of beer most ordinary North Koreans would need to give up a month's salary to afford a glass of the advertised beverage.

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Cho also said economic development in North Korea is highly uneven, with new construction booming in elite areas like Pyongyang, but not much investment being transferred to poorer parts of the country – a trend, he said, that is leading to a wider disparity in income across classes.

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