As nations around the globe ponder what to do about North Korea’s apparent nuclear test, one country is already acting. South Korea, one of two likely targets if the North actually has a nuke, wasted no time in acting. But the nation kept its army at home, instead employing targeted propaganda to make its point and win a war of ideas against its northern neighbor.
Because these sorts of communications can be so effective, North Korea considers them an act of psychological warfare. Due to the nature of its rule and pervasive culture, the Pyongyang government is incredibly sensitive to incursions of any kind from the Outside World. Anything remotely critical of the government from inside the borders is dealt with as tantamount to treason, but, while they can control the internet and television, the North can’t stop the South from broadcasting whatever they want, a situation seriously irritating to the totalitarian government.
In fact, the last time South Korea sent political messages across the border in this fashion, North Korea retaliated with artillery strikes. That set off a brief shooting war between the always militant neighbors.
If anything, this should prove the power of a message, particularly when it is unique in the marketplace. In the case of North Korea, if the information stranglehold the government maintains is broken, it could spell imminent doom to their totalitarian regime. Any new idea, then, is treated like an invasive bacteria and countered with extreme ferocity.
Such is the inherent power of a unique idea. In a public relations program, a new idea can mean the difference between being lost in the crowd or standing out. Similarly, an “old idea” delivered in a new way, can grab attention and organically rise above even better-funded messaging.
Think about it, North Korea spends an inordinate amount of money keeping everyone on message. From monitoring everything to rationing Internet and controlling other broadcasts nationwide. The expense is astronomical, yet South Korea can counter this with a handful of loudspeakers – relative peanuts.
Another lesson? When someone has a reason to keep your message down, you better be ready to fend off what comes next. Sure, the loudspeaker messages are aggravating, but remember what happened last time? Artillery.
South Korea is ready to respond, readying strategic assets including F-22 fighters, B-52 bombers, and nuclear-powered submarines. They unleashed a simple “attack” knowing they had plenty of firepower should things escalate.
The lesson? High stakes PR, in any context, is about the long game. A short attention grab might feel good, but it’s only the beginning of the battle.