Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

On recent economic developments in the DPRK

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

James Pearson writes in Reuters:

When North Korea’s late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il opened the Pothonggang Department Store in December 2010, he called on it to play “a big role” in improving living standards in the capital Pyongyang, official media said.

Five years later, judging by the long lines inside the three-storey store that sells everything from electronic gadgets and cosmetics, to food and household goods, the Pothonggang is meeting Kim’s expectations – at least for privileged Pyongyang residents.

But the department store also starkly illustrates the extent to which the underground market has become the new normal in isolated North Korea. And that poses a dilemma to the Kim family’s hereditary dictatorship, which up until now has kept tight control of a Soviet-style command economy, largely synonymous with rationing and material deprivation. Now that the black market has become the new normal, Kim Jong Un’s government has little choice but to continue its fledgling efforts at economic reforms that reflect market realities on the ground or risk losing its grip on power, experts say.

A Reuters reporter, allowed to roam the store with a government minder for a look at the North Korean consumer in action, noted almost all the price tags were in dollars as well as won. A Sharp TV was priced at 11.26 million won or $1,340; a water pump at 2.52 million won ($300). Beef was 76,000 won ($8.60) a kilogramme. North Korean-made LED light bulbs sold for 42,000 won ($5). The exchange rate used in these prices – 8,400 won to the dollar – is 80 times higher than the official rate of 105 won to the dollar. At the official rate, the TV would cost over $100,000; the light bulb, $400.

Shoppers openly slapped down large stacks of U.S. dollars at the cashier’s counter. They received change in dollars, Chinese yuan or North Korean won – at the black market rate. The same was true elsewhere in the capital: taxi drivers offered change for fares at black market rates, as did other shops and street stalls that Reuters visited.

For the last twenty years, North Korea has been undergoing economic changes, the fruits of which are now more visible than ever in the capital, Pyongyang, where large North Korean companies now produce a diverse range of domestically made goods to cater to this growing market of consumers. People are spending money they once hid in their homes on mobile phones, electric bicycles and baby carriers.

The latest sign that the workers’ paradise is going capitalist: cash cards from commercial banks.

GREW OUT OF FAMINE

Four months before Kim opened the Pothonggang Department Store, the United States imposed sanctions on North Korea, including its imports of luxury goods, for torpedoing a South Korean ship – a conclusion Pyongyang rejected. Since then, the U.N. has imposed more sanctions on North Korea for violating restrictions on its nuclear and missile programmes.

None of that has had much effect on the vast majority of North Koreans living in the countryside, where a rudimentary market has evolved considerably over the past two decades. Agricultural mismanagement, floods and the collapse of the Soviet Union led to famine in the mid-1990s. The state rationing system crumbled, forcing millions of North Koreans to make whatever they could to sell or barter informally for survival.

The regime penalised this new class of entrepreneurs in 2009 when it redenominated the won by lopping off two zeros and setting limits on the quantity of old won that could be exchanged for the new currency. That move ended up destroying much of the private wealth earned on the market.

Demand for hard currency surged after the bungled currency reform as more and more merchants in the underground markets required transactions to be conducted in foreign currency. It triggered two years of hyperinflation.

But the government of Kim Jong Un, who became North Korea’s leader after his father’s death in December 2011, has essentially accepted the ubiquity of the black market rate and a widespread illicit economy, North Korea experts say.

“Under Kim Jong Un, not a single policy has been implemented which would somehow damage the interests and efficiency of private businesses,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.

“It’s a good time to be rich in North Korea”.

THE NEW CONSUMER

Many of the goods inside the Pothonggang Department Store, a grey building nestled between willow trees and a river of the same name, are still beyond the reach of many North Koreans.

An air conditioning unit sells for 3.78 million won ($450 dollars) – which if paid in won would require a bag of 756 five thousand won notes, the highest denomination note in won.

A growing middle class called “donju”, meaning “masters of money”, who made cash in the unofficial economy are starting to spend it on these new products, along with the long established elite of Humvee-owning individuals with powerful political connections.

Only recently an elite item, mobile phones are now common in the capital, with nationwide subscriber numbers topping three million, an employee with Koryolink, the cellular carrier controlled by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom told Reuters.

The number has tripled since 2012 and indicates one in eight of North Korea’s 24 million people now have a mobile phone.

Energy-saving products are a fast-growing sector of North Korea’s new consumer market and were one of the hottest items in the department store.

Domestically produced LED bulbs are ubiquitous in North Korea, where satellite images have shown a country almost completely black at night. The 9-watt bulb costs $5 and is a best-seller at the Pothonggang store, said a staff member. The energy-saving bulbs are used inside homes and on street lamps that now bask the formerly darkened streets of the Pyongyang night in a dull, faint glow.

Solar panels with USB-enabled inverters and batteries are available in the store alongside water pumps and small generators – exactly the kind of systems North Koreans now use to take power into their own hands.

CASH CARDS

Baby products are another booming consumer item. A large section of the department store is devoted to strollers and baby carriers produced in China and South Korea.

Many residents of Pyongyang can be seen riding Chinese-made battery powered bicycles, which only began to appear in the capital over the last year, locals said.

Some of these transactions are done with the Narae Card, a cash card run by North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank – a designated entity under U.S. sanctions since 2013 for the part it reportedly played in nuclear weapons procurement.

Cash cards have been in the hands of the few for the last several years but have recently become a new growth industry. Narae cards are topped up with U.S. dollars and are mainly used for foreign currency purchases. They can also be used to top up mobile phone accounts.

Foreign investors can also set up banks in North Korea and are allowed to lend money and provide credit-based financing schemes to North Korean companies, according to a bilingual book of North Korean law available to foreign investors.

Ryugyong Commercial Bank, for instance, offers shopping discounts as well as gold or silver card options for its customers. As with the Narae card, customers are encouraged to top up their accounts with dollars.

LOSING FACE?

After a $4 dollar taxi ride, the driver reluctantly handed the change from a twenty dollar note to a Reuters correspondent who insisted on getting change in North Korean won.

Foreigners are not officially permitted to use the currency, so the openness of the transaction – in the presence of a government guide – was another sign of the black market turning white in north Korea. The driver’s reluctance to hand over won was because of its inconvenience, not because he was afraid of being caught.

“It’s a lot of notes in our money,” he grumbled, counting out 130,000 won from a large crumpled bundle of discoloured 5000 won notes.

That note, still the highest denomination, once carried a smiling portrait of founding president Kim Il Sung but is being gradually phased out by a version with no portrait – an indication a larger denomination note may one day replace it to accommodate the widespread use of black market pricing.

That would also get around the embarrassing problem that the faces of American and Chinese leaders, not the Kims, adorn much of the cash used in the country now. For a regime that has cultivated a personality cult around the Kim dynasty, it is quite literally losing face on its own money.

MATTER OF TIME

Where there’s commercial enterprise, advertising is sure to follow. Sprinkled in among the roadside signs and billboards, once the exclusive domain for propaganda, are small notices that tout car repair services, electronics and trading companies

One prominent company, Naegohyang [Naekohyang/내고향] (my homeland) advertises at football games and has a women’s football team by the same name. It produces everything from clothes and sanitary pads to 7.27 brand cigarettes, a favourite of Kim Jong Un’s who can be seen smoking them on state TV. They also make ‘Achim’ cigarettes for export to Iran with printed health warnings written in Farsi.

At a speech following a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party, Kim Jong Un promised to introduce “people-first” politics. It remains unclear, however, how committed he and his Workers Party – not to mention the powerful military – are to market-based reforms.

But it’s only a matter of time before the Kim regime formally adopts a market-based economy – as China did 35 years ago under Deng Xiaoping, said Kookmin University’s Lankov, who lived in Pyonyang in the 1980s.

“That’ll be a great day, but it’ll be relatively meaningless in one regard,” he said. “It’ll be a formal recognition of something which has happened anyway”.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s black market becoming the new normal
James Pearson
Reuters
2015-10-29

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Friday fun: New stamps and wild speculation…

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Kim Jong-un has committed significant construction resources to improving the lives of children (particularly orphans) in the DPRK. Now you can share Kim Jong-un’s love of the children (sarcasm) with the people you know by collecting and sending stamps of the Songdowon International Children’s Camp and the new Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage:

STAMP-2015- Sondgowon-International-Children-Camp

STAMP-Pyongyang-Baby-Home Orphanage

Although the stamps are meant for foreign collectors, they are denominated as KPW 30. If the cost of a first class letter in the DPRK is 30 won, that translates into appx $.30 at the official rate and $.00375 at the black market rate (nearly 1/3 of a US penny).

But the Pyongyang Baby Home stamp booklet shows four stamps on a post card, so maybe the official price of sending a postcard is KPW120, or $1.20 at the official rate and $.015 at the black market rate. That seems a bit more reasonable, but it is still probably likely that, as in the USA, mail delivery is a drain on the government’s budget (subsidized activity). I wonder how hard it is to raise postal rates in the DPRK?

Luckily the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (체신성) does not have to rely on the cabinet for its complete budget. There is always the international stamp-collecting market…and a small venture known as KoryoLink.

I also doubt that any of the money generated from the sale of these stamps actually goes to supporting the budgets of the Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage and Songdowon International Children’s Camp, but you never know.

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North Korean company advertisements appear in World Cup preliminary match

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-7-3

North Korea has attracted attention after it recently featured a number of corporate advertisements in a preliminary match of the 2018 Russian World Cup.

In the past, North Korea rejected everything related to capitalism. But since Kim Jong Un’s rise to power it appears to be actively using sports and commercial capital in order to attract foreign capital as its market economy rapidly expands.

On June 16, 2015 Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcast the second match of the Russian World Cup Asian qualifying rounds. The match, in which North Korea and Uzbekistan played, was held at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium, where advertisements by North Korean companies such as Kaesong Koryo Ginseng and the Pyongyang Building Materials Factory appeared in force. Kaesong Koryo Ginseng and Choson Kumgang Group in particular appeared to have spent a lot of money sponsoring the event, as every most ads belonged to one of these companies. Conspicuous among the advertisements were those from companies that have not been well-known in the outside world, such as Malgun Achim (literally ‘clear morning’), a manufacturing company known in North Korea for producing IT products such as computers. Exhibiting numerous ads for North Korean companies at an international sports event and broadcasting the event on TV to the world is rather unprecedented behavior for North Korea.

When the 27th Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon was held in Pyongyang in 2014, not only were there no ads for North Korean companies, but there were no ads for foreign companies either. As a result British contestant Will Phillips, who qualified to participate in the marathon as a foreign amateur athlete, remarked at the time, “It feels like time just stopped in the ‘60s.” However, an article appeared in the January 2015 edition of the Kim Il Sung University Bulletin that emphasized the importance of advertisements in attracting investment and gave specific instructions to heed the publication times of major foreign newspapers and even pay attention to broadcast ratings. Since then North Korea has paid attention to foreign advertisements and has really upped its efforts to attract foreign currency.

As the market economy spreads rapidly in the Kim Jong Un era, this event is viewed as a sign of change in North Korea’s foreign economic policy. The promotion of North Korean companies in a preliminary round of the World Cup, which relatively many foreigners can view, is interpreted as an attempt to ultimately attract foreign capital. At the same time, it appears there is a dimension of inducing competition between North Korean companies to boost domestic demand. This event can also be connected to one of the characteristics of the Kim Jong Un regime, which emphasizes and encourages physical education throughout the state. Such a scene, which seamlessly joins sports with commercial capitalism, is unprecedented for North Korea.

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New shopping chain opens in Pyongyang

Monday, January 19th, 2015

The Choson Sinbo announced the opening of the Hwanggumbol Shop (황금벌상점) in Pyongyang last December. According to the pro-DPRK outlet, it is open from 6am to midnight.

Choson Exchange chimed in with additional information:

[Hwanggumbol Trading Corporation] managers have taken part in multiple CE workshops and have taken part in mind-mapping and team-building exercises, as well as lean startup methodology and customer needs strategies. It is fitting that the article speaks of “responding to people’s demands”, though it is then said that “the idea of loving people”, rather than “responding to their demands” is the concept they use. Its gratifying to see that some of the concepts we’ve covered in workshops are packed up in PR-conscious statements like these.

On a Women in Business workshop in Singapore last year, the businesswomen were obsessed with how retail worked elsewhere – Geoffrey recounts here how it took ages to drag them through a mall, not because they were shopping, but because they were taking notes on everything. They were extremely curious about how customers could be attracted, engaged and kept.

Back in Pyongyang, the manager of Hwanggumbol, Mr. Ryang Sung Jin, mentions that they are “prioritizing benefits for the people and their business’ goal is people’s convenience”. Clearly, these guys have found their angle, differentiating themselves quite dramatically from the competition.

NK News did a follow-up as well that was re-posted to The Guardian. The article translated much of the Choson Sinbo material that is behind a registration-wall:

The stores are located in residential streets to let the people buy groceries at their convenience. To guarantee low prices, Hwanggumbol Trading Corporation practices bulk purchasing from various producers around the country and consistently accelerates circulation of purchases and sales, it said. According to the article, some of its imported goods also enjoy tariff benefits.

However, the store’s management has kept its distance from capitalist principles, describing its operation as the “realisation of the Party’s love for the people,” drawing a line between its own interests and those of capitalist corporations.

“To put people’s interest above anything and to serve the people’s convenience are the aims of our service,” Ryang Sung-jin, the president of Hwanggumbol Trading Corporation, was quoted as saying.

Hwanggumbol Store currently runs three stores in Pyongyang and plans to expand its number of stores to 20 by spring 2015. The stores are also expanding their range of services and will be providing door-to-door delivery and sales, as well as ticketing reservations for trains and planes, the report said.

“We also know of people trying to start a chain of stores as well as dry-cleaning and delivery services in Pyongyang,” Abrahamian said. “There is definitely a generation of business people thinking creatively, asking ‘why not?’ when it comes to new ways of doing things.”

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Pyongyang’s official haircut prices

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

A friend passes along some pictures (taken in 2014) of Pyongyang haircuts and prices.

Men:

2014-mens-hair-prices-1 2014-mens-hair-prices-2

Here is what the chart says:

Haircut for Men Price Table
Approval “No.4540” on November 11, 2011, by the National Pricing Bureau (State Price Commission)

Cut (long hair)–25 won
*Vigor style cut–50 won
Dry–10 won
Shaving–10 won
Self-shaving–5 won
Curling hair with heated tongs–15 won
Dyeing–50 won

*The “Vigor Style cut (Pae-Ki Mo-Ri)” resembles Kim Jong-un’s hair style

Women:

2014-women-haircut-chart-1 2014-women-haircut-chart-2

Here is what the chart says:

Haircut for Women Price Table
Approval “No.4540” on November 11, 2010, by the National Pricing Bureau (State Price Commission)

Permanent (long hair)–100 won
Permanent (short hair)–70 won
Permanent (bangs)–45 won
Hair cut–20 won
Hair cut, Permanent, Hair cut, Dry–110 won
Set (long hair)–30 won
Set (short hair)–20 won
Dry–20 won
Brush (long hair)–20 won
Brush (short hair)–20 won

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Friday fun: You had one job

Friday, October 24th, 2014

What better way to commemorate the birthday of leader Kim Jong-il:

FridayFun

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Kwangbok Department Store rebate promotion

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

A visitor to the DPRK  sent in the picture below.  The photo was taken inside the Kwangbok Area Supermarket, and it gives the impression that the institution is aggressively seeking to earn a profit. How many other socialist department stores are offering temporary rebates?

Here is a translation of the sign:

알 림
Notice

우대표 발급 : (기간 : 4.15 – 4.29)
Preferential issuance : (Date: 4.15 – 4.29)

10만원이상 상품을 산 경우 5000원 (우대표)
Buy more than 100,000 KPW and get 5,000 KPW (preferential coupon)

20만원이상 상품을 산 경우 10000원 (우대표)
Buy more than 200,000 KPW and get 10,000 KPW (preferential coupon)

20만원이상 상품을 산 경우 식당에서 음식물의 총 가격의 10%를 무료봉사
If you buy more than 200,000 KPW you get 10% free service of the total at the food restaurant

100만원이상 상품을 산 경우 식당에서 영구적인 우대봉사 받을 수 있는 카드 1장과 10000원 우대표
If you buy more than 1,000,000 KPW you can get one lifetime preferential service coupon and 10,000 KPW (preferential coupon)

※ 우대표는 4.29일까지 사용할 수 있음.
※ Preferential coupon can be used until April 29

Learn more about the very interesting Kwangbok Area Supermarket here.

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North Korea preparing advertising law

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2012-11-22

In North Korea, a common metaphor for advertising is “flower of capitalism.” However, in the latest newspaper of Kim Il Sung University, an article stressing the need for advertisement law was published, suggesting a growing interest in commercial advertisement.

In the July issue of Kim Il Sung University newspaper (vol. 3, 2012), an article titled, “Basic Principles for Export Advertising,” argued that advertising activities are necessary to improve export growth and national leadership in the international community, and hence, an appropriate advertising act must be enacted.

It added, advertisement law must be enacted based on thorough examination to prevent capitalist elements from seeping in, and it should be pursed in the direction of promoting national economy and improve material and cultural lives of the people.

The newspaper also explained that the act should explicate the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved, sanctions for breach of law, and specify places for advertisements and target groups.

The role of state apparatus for advertisement was also mentioned: to monitor, control, and grant rights for advertising activities of businesses, as well as screen and provide registration of advertisements.

Also, sincerity, creativity, and artistry were named as important elements for effective advertisement to provide sufficient product information and attract consumer interest and motivate consumers to make purchases.

Kim Il Sung University is the first national and most prestigious university in North Korea. The position of the school also represents the interests of the North Korean government. Thus, it is likely that North Korean authorities are actively preparing laws and state organizations for advertisement.

Up to now, North Korea has established regulations for advertising in its acts for special economic zones, including Mount Kumgang Tourist resort, Kaesong Industrial Complex, and Rason Special Economic Zone, to attract foreign investments. However, this will be the first law dealing solely with advertising and advertisements.

Except for a small box-form of advertising appearing in the Pyongyang Times, there is no commercial advertising in North Korean media, including Korean Central Television, Rodong Sinmun, and the Korean Central News Agency.

Given the recent changes, the new Kim Jong Un regime is likely taking interest in commercial advertising to promote production of export items and advance into overseas markets.

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Friday Fun: The DPRK’s anti-trauma toothpaste

Friday, September 7th, 2012

A reader sends in the marketing material for a new toothpaste on offer in the DPRK:

According to the label this toothpaste is quite innovative:

“Super herb-made toothpaste”

“In a minuite you feel its efficacy as at medicine.”

“It removes saburra, disease germ, tartar (?) and bad smell”

“96.5% effective at removing bad breath”

“Not only riggs´ disease but also traumatic treatment”

Feeling traumatized? Reach for this toothpaste!

If anyone can determine the active ingredient or name of the manufacturing company/factory on the label, please let me know.

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Consumer culture changing DPRK

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Arirang News has posted a video on the changes in consumer culture in the DPRK. It highlights just how much things have changed since the days of Kim Il-sung:

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