The Glorious Kim Jong-Un Guide to Effective Headline Writing!

"Let's begin 2016...with thrilling sound of first hydrogen bomb explosion"

Wow, those North Korean's really know how to write with impact don't they? North Korea's new year's "gift" to the world in the shape of their first hydrogen bomb explosion and, more particularly, the unique wording of their announcement of the same got me to wondering if those of us in marketing in the decadent western world could learn a thing or two from the Juche State?

Masters of Attention Seeking

Perhaps the most difficult part of any copywriting task is to craft that attention-grabbing headline. A headline needs to subtly draw the reader's attention to the offer, simply shouting "Read This!" (or, if you're British, "Please Read This! Sorry.") isn't going to work.

A little while ago the BBC published a list of the latest 310 "patriotic slogans" to come out of the A-Grade nuthouse that is the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.

Apart from being generally hilarious (and terrifying if you stop to consider the plight of those living in the DPRK), these slogans can teach us a lot about the art of headline writing.

Pay Attention!

Let's take a look at some of the more interesting slogans from the DPRK and see what lessons we can learn. Some are too long, some are too short, many are confusing, a few are downright dangerous. All are weirdly addictive.

Perhaps, like a terrified North Korean general hovering around a chubby demi-god, you might like to whip out a little notebook to be sure you don't miss any of the following pearls of wisdom.

I'll have two meat feasts with cheese stuffed crust, the rest can share a veggie special  ... and don't forget the diet coke!

I'll have two meat feasts with cheese stuffed crust, the rest can share a veggie special  ... and don't forget the diet coke!

Beware Translations!

Translation isn't just a case of finding the right words for your target foreign language. All the words here have been correctly translated and the grammar is fine but translation is as much about localisation as anything else.

"Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialised!"

From a North Korean perspective, being kept in the dark and fed shit (fed anything) would probably be a major improvement. Less so pretty much anywhere else.

Avoid Contradictions!

This is perhaps more vital over the course of a series than a single instance but it's important that messages over time are consistent in order to attain non-terror-based credibility. So, for instance following:

"Let us encourage organic farming on an extensive scale!"

with:

"Let us beat the world in fruit farming by making it scientific, modern and intensive!"

may trip you up. Remember, the chances are you won't have access to a Ministry of Truth to disappear any mistakes.

Keep It Short!

Don’t let your headline turn into an opening paragraph.

"This year is a year of great significance, in which we will mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of the five-point policy for military training by the great Generalissimo Kim Il Sung and the 25th anniversary of the formulation of the four major principles for military training by the great Generalissimo Kim Jong Il."

It's all terribly interesting stuff but a bit long, no?

But Not Too Short!

"Builders!"
"Coal-miners!"

What are you saying here? Builders good? Builders bad?

Or have you just discovered the existence of builders or spotted them unexpectedly in the street and pointed at them like a small child in the west might point and exclaim at a toy in a shop? And then had them shot.

Avoid Brand Confusion!

Referencing other brands in your headline can be tempting. Many use this to favourably compare a product/service with what they hope the audience will see as an inferior offering from a competitor. But this is a strategy fraught with danger. You may be alerting your audience to a competitor that they were previously not aware of or the comparison may be made on a basis that you did not intend. For example:

"Let us accomplish the Korean revolution in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu, the spirit of the blizzards of Paektu!"

Personally I keep getting Mount Paektu ( The sacred heart of North Korea) mixed up with Pikachu (Not the sacred heart of North Korea). This is completely not the fault of the writers, it's all to do with the strange inner workings of my head, but perhaps properly defining the reference would have helped?

"Let us accomplish the Korean revolution in the revolutionary spirit of Mount Paektu, the spirit of the blizzards of Mount Paektu!"

Beware Popular Culture!

Including a nod to popular culture, like hit songs, can be tempting but can also quickly date your headline. Also, see Beware Translations!

"Let this socialist country resound with Song of Big Fish Haul and be permeated with the fragrant smell of fish and other seafoods!"

Pop culture references often misfire, even when the song is as catchy as this gem:

No! Just No!!

"Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!"

Exclamation marks are not compulsory

310 slogans, over 90% of which end in exclamation marks. Exclamation marks lose their ability to draw attention very quickly, use them sparingly.

Yes!

"We serve the people!"

Actually this one is really good (apart from the exclamation mark) you can read into it whatever you like from "We serve the people because we love them and want to make them happy" to "We serve the people boiled or fried". Obviously it depends on context and how you're pre-disposed to read messages coming from the organisation issuing them.

Avoid Buzzwords!

Just because something makes sense within your organisation, doesn't mean anyone else has a clue what you're talking about.

"Long live the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism!"

This is a particular problem in the IT sector. Not all of us have the advantage of an audience totally attentive to our ideological language, on pain of death.

Avoid Lawsuits!

We all have to be careful to avoid frivolous lawsuits from ambulance chasers so try to avoid encouraging people do to dangerous things like: 

"Go beyond the cutting edge!"

If you're beyond the cutting edge (and not moving) you stand a good chance of getting cut. There are similar concerns with:

"Play sports games in an offensive way, the way the anti-Japanese guerrillas did!"

Be Realistic!

"Let us cover the whole country with fruit and other trees and flowers!"

Surely this would interfere with the fragrant smell of fish and leave no room for the mushrooms?

Get With The Times!

Try to avoid looking old fashioned unless it’s part of a deliberate “retro” themed strategy.

"Let the wives of officers become dependable assistants to their husbands!"

also, see Avoid Contradictions!

"Get rid of stereotypes and formulae and create new things constantly!"

Pander To The Aspirations Of Your Audience!

"Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland by modelling it on Pyongyang, capital of the revolution!"

And finally:

Know Your Core Market!

If one small sector is all that's standing between you and bankruptcy (or one large Army is the only thing keeping you from being torn apart by an angry mob), suck up to it:

"Let the People's Army remain the reliable vanguard and solid cornerstone of the Songun revolution holding aloft the red flag of the Workers' Party of Korea as the foremost colours of the revolution!"