Once again we are back with another installment in our “Made in North Korea” series. Today, you should be all bright smiles for the fact we will be exploring North Korean toothpaste! We’re going to be biting hard into a remarkable product purchased again at Pyongyang’s premier Kwangbok Department Store.What is called? “Chiyak” which simply translates to “toothpaste”. The product, produced by the Dongyang corporation is remarkable for the fact, as you can see by the image, outright copies the colours and style of the world’s most popular and recognizable toothpaste brand, that is of course, colgate. But why? And what does this mean for North Korean business and consumerism? Let’s find out more!
First of all, the fact that a toothpaste product would seek to replicate Colgate shows a consciousness of brand awareness in North Korea. It seems many locals are aware of what colgate is and why it stands out. North Koreans, like the world, feel a sense of confidence in the brands ability to deliver dental hygiene in contrast to others. It is seen as the best. In this case, it also reflects a sentiment that elite groups in Pyongyang yearn for such goods as opposed to domestic products, likely because of their quality. As a result, in manufacturing a locally produced North Korean toothpaste, the Dongyang company felt strongly that if their brand was to make an appeal to DPRK audiences that it should associate itself with Colgate’s success.
As a result, the packaging of the product deliberately replicates Colgate’s red and blue style along with the format, as well as the graphic of a shining tooth (sometimes featured on the box). The aim is to create a mental association with the product in people’s minds which creates comfort and assurance that it is the right thing to buy in reference to the specific need of brushing ones teeth. This is what we might describe as “copycat marketing” and is if you haven’t already saw it, very a frequent phenomenon in poorer countries with a young business cultural, not least in China where sometimes you may get stores titled “8/12” stealing the logo style of Seven Eleven and so on. It appears this tactic is now being exported to North Korea which is in the infant stages of a consumerist and business culture. Colgate’s success is being used to facilitate a new product.
But what more does such tell us? It tells us that brands and brand identities are featuring more prominently in local lives. Far from being desperate, wealthier North Koreans find now they are in with the privilege of “choosing” their products as per developed countries all over the world do. There are things they like and dislike to buy with the frame of mind that some items are better than others. The production of such toothpaste indicates a business reaction to such a cultural shift. Such has inevitably occurred through a prolonged exposure to more prominent brands from the wider world. In essence, globalization is truly creeping into the DPRK.