March 28, 2023

How North Koreans ads in western newspapers backfired

Designed mainly for domestic reasons, over-the-top ads were derided even by allies

On October 8, 1985 The New York Times ran a full-page advertisement with the headline, “Korea Has Given Birth To One More Great Hero.” The ad featured a book “authored” by the “hero” Kim Jong Il (who was actually born in 1941, not the 1980s). Strange as it may sound today, North Korean ads such as this were relatively common in major Western newspapers from 1969 to as late as 1997.

In an attempt to impress the West during the Cold War (and beyond), the North Korean government placed full-page ads in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Irish Times, The London Times, The London Evening Standard, The Sun, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post touting the exploits of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, the Juche ideology and the reunification of Korea. An exact number of how many North Korean ads appeared in these newspapers is unknown but at least 100 were published from 1969-1997. However, the placement of ads in major Western newspapers harmed North Korea’s already unfavorable reputation abroad and proved that North Korean officials were truly out of touch with reality.