What do Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Channing Tatum have in common with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? They all share the global title of “Sexiest Man Alive.” The three actors, previously anointed by People Magazine in its annual “Sexiest Man Alive” issue, now share their title with North Korea’s recently appointed dictator – courtesy of satirical magazine The Onion. Good one!
Not everyone got the joke, however. China’s leading online media outlet, The People’s Daily, immediately took up the story on its website and fawningly celebrated the universal appeal of its close ally – without realizing the story was a joke. The article included over 55 photos of Kim Jong Un, but unlike People, none of them showed the winner shirtless.
China’s paper of record unwittingly quoted extensively from The Onion‘s text, adding, “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.” Clearly not afraid to overpraise, the news organization went on to say that the dumpling dictator made the editorial board swoon with his “impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.” Channing Tatum, eat your heart out.
The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to The People’s Daily, whose credibility reached a new low.
The PR Takeaway: Death by a thousand laughs. The serious mouthpiece of the Communist party just had one of its more embarrassing and funniest falls. The official response at the outset was that The People’s Daily “verifies all its sources,” but since then the story has been taken down. The Onion is understandably boasting, “We just fooled the Chinese government!” Credibility is at an all time low. In the PR arsenal, ridicule is far more damaging and long lasting than ongoing protest.