Friday, July 10, 2009

Anyone fancy a pint...?

Finally…! The news we have been waiting to hear. No, not Michael Jackson’s pill regime, not predictions of what Sarah Palin will do next. No, the word is that beer is good for you! At last.

And who says so? Why, the ad on North Korean TV.

Okay, maybe it’s a little early to rejoice. After all it is a beer commercial which extols the virtues of the frothy brew by citing that it relieves stress and extends life. However, it is a beer commercial in North Korea – a Communist country ‘wary of capitalistic influences’. The usual bill of fare for the North Korean TV viewer consists of ‘news, factory descriptions, some children's animation shows, and documentaries on leader Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung, interspersed with propaganda slogans and music’. (This may sound like eating a constant diet of steamed vegetables to a modern day Western TV consumer – but it actually doesn’t sound too far off from the BBC2 channel in the UK about forty years ago). And now here is the most Western kind of television that is possible – beer commercials.

The rise in post war Capitalism in the West, the relative affluence of the consumer, the many lines of credit and the advertising that accompanied all of this has been well documented. Twenty years ago this Capitalism was held up as the prevailing ideology that was triumphing over the crumbling Communism of the USSR. Today we are forced to admit that many people in the West are suffering because the lifestyles sold to us were more than we could actually afford. People were seduced into spending more than they earned in order to attain those things that they couldn’t live without – bigger houses, newer cars, faster computers, etc. And I must admit that this collapse of the capitalist dream concerns me. Shamefully, I am less concerned on an ideological level, but more from the perspective that I do the majority of my business working on VFX and animation for Commercials. The soothsayers have been predicting the death of the 30 second at least since TiVo started shifting some units. Were they right after all?

Is the game up?

Once again beer may be the answer. It may be that Kim Jong Il likes a pint of Boddingtons now and then and this love of beer influenced the appearance of this commercial on North Korean TV. But, frankly, the fact that a beer commercial is punctuating documentaries "Great Leadership That Prepared Eternal Asset for Education of Revolutionary Tradition" and "Natural Treasure Yonjibong Pine Tree" is incredible. The rise of consumerism in Asia is extraordinary when we think of the historical ideologies that we associate with many of these countries. But to have access to these formerly isolated markets, with the potential to sell to billions of people - despite the fact that the majority can in no way afford the products and services - has given rise to the prospect of new opportunities for many in the Advertising world. After all, why should the fact that billions of people can’t afford something stop them from buying it?