No doubt this is going to divide opinion. I have done a few anti-branding projects in the past, and I am working on a series of them right now. I want to introduce the latest, but I also felt like explaining a little more about their intended value. These started out partly as technical creative exercises; no matter what other work is on, I always have personal projects on the go, things I care about, and to keep me sharp. The idea is to take all the insight, strategy, tools, devices, and visual aesthetics typically applied to commercial messaging, and then apply them to something that is un-brandable. In this case, North Korea’s nuclear threat.
By unbrandable, I mean something that is either conceptually too broad, weird, possibly also ideologically and ethically unpalatable, or a bit inappropriate. So is it at all possible to put a glossier sheen on a message that does not have one, nor indeed should have one? The answer is yes, mos def.
Here we have O’Puk Nukes then. Imagineering a campaign of banner ads and billboards that present the Dear Leader as with it, hip, but above all, winning. The ‘product’ is positioned as an urbane, artisanal, and irreverent consumable. There are suitable typographic choices and Korean colour palettes that further imbue authenticity –and fortuitously are loud (…so 2017/18). There are image choices and treatments with all the culty, retro, homespun, indy tropes I can cram in, that are de rigueur in so many visual identities around right now. The tone is a kind of hybrid asian-americana; a bold, breezy, surf cult feel which I think is appropriate since Kim and co. are oftentimes seen giving the US the proper runaround, so why not imagine them at play, in the most iconically recreational American way?
I’m also embracing the bad-taste-is-good-taste vibe in the copy. In the taglines and brand mark, ‘Puk’, as if it needs explaining, scans as fuck. So O’Puk Nukes … ‘Oh fuck, nukes(!)’- expressing dismay that anyone should have access to such things (except us of course). Within this, Korean language does not have the sound ‘Ff‘, therefore typically when English is spoken by native Korean speakers the sound comes out as… you get the point. This is intended to play self-deprecation as a form of endearment, but also it is blunt, and this is the era of the Donald after all; we are all about telling it how it is now. So un-subtlety, employed un-subtly as a subtle brand value.
So this project is of course partly satirical détournement, but I do have a wider more serious point to make. Before you dismiss this as adolescent tomfoolery, let’s look at the facts. We have a well-oiled behemoth of a commercial media machine, pumping out volumes of eye-candy and persuasive ego-massaging adver-spiel, and this effort is most effectively –and expensively– applied to FMCG and any number of other largely non-essential items, but also often rather iffy political and well-funded personal agendas. We are pretty numb to it, and we kind of thrive on it. We love it. And we hate it.
A large part of this creative endeavour is to serve as a reminder to always ask yourself the following questions: what is the message, and who is the messenger? No matter what we are peddling, truly understanding these questions helps a strong message find a receptive audience, and the audience can weigh-up who to trust.
I have an issue with hysteria and skewed perspectives; the manipulation and misinformation that is so often dispensed in our physical and digital environs. Let’s be very clear though, I am certainly not a Kim apologist, nor condoning violence, or any forms of extreme, inhumane endeavour. Nor am I completely cynical about the motives and necessities of commercial transmission. I’m interested in sparking debate, the powers of persuasion, and pulling people into considering alternative viewpoints, no matter what the message.
There is no doubt that North Korea is a bafflingly unstable, and certainly roguish regime, but it is also quite clear that they are not nearly on the same scale of military might as their primary nemesis, the US. So the rhetoric and verbal chest-thumping from both sides, but mainly coming from Trump (in the hot seat right now), is tragic, but actually turning serious geopolitical and humanitarian issues into more of a bloated ego-driven war game. Also, war and a foreign threat is always good for business, and this always smells fishy. On these facts alone, I feel it’s completely fair game to try and visualise this ‘rogue state’ in a way that leverages the iconography and visual narrative belonging to their (clearly) much more powerful foe. Wouldn’t it be nice to try and get people to engage in better understanding, rather than relying on institutional spin, or worse, straight up ignorance and self-interest?
We can put a glossy sheen on anything, in this case a fictional commercial munitions wing of Kim’s regime; and why not? If Trumps’ PR of paradocracy can work, why can’t this?.
The more real these look as commercial messaging, the more people who don’t already think too deeply about such issues might just do so a little more. But it’s fine, you can tell me to puk-off if you disagree.