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Spot the Difference: Ad or Korean Drama? (Part 1)

The atmosphere was heavy. The harsh wind was just as unforgiving, with debris and sand swirling in the air like they were in a tango. But the two warriors standing 10 metres apart from each other did not falter. Their eyes were locked on each other, ready to pounce like a tiger hunting its prey. They knew they had to fight. It was the only way.


Synchronised, both warriors slowly reached down to unsheathe their swords for they know that only one will leave this place alive. Just as they were about to leap and engage in the most dramatic swordplay anyone has ever seen, a kid emerges from the shadows. The protagonists stopped in their tracks, bewildered. The kid opened his satchel and pulled out two Subway sandwiches, offering it as a peace treaty. The warriors looked at each other, smiled, and took the sandwiches. The scene ends with everyone eating a Subway sandwich.

Well, didn’t that come out of the blue and put a lid on all the excitement that was bubbling? If you are familiar with K-dramas, short for Korean dramas, that should jog your memory.

The reason behind the endless product placements

Photo from Record of Youth on Netflix

In South Korea, K-dramas are often used as a platform for companies to promote their products and services in the form of product placement. They can be extremely random from eating thousands of candies to strategically placing drama scenes at a restaurant it is promoting.

Although this might come across as bizarre to some, there is a solid reason as to why companies actively do this. Based on the previous Korean Broadcasting Law, mid-commercial breaks were actually banned when the programmes were running. This was to protect the viewer’s rights.

However, this puts companies in a tight spot. They needed to come up with a solution on how to get their products and services seen by the public. Knowing the massive audiences K-dramas bring from all across the globe, they knew that they needed to ride that wave. Therefore, companies resorted to extremely creative yet highly aggressive means to promote their brand within the drama itself.

Characters in these dramas would be seen with these products and most of the time, over exaggerating on the benefits of it. Oftentimes, the sudden appearance of the product can stray the entire plot away from the drama.

Thankfully, the law recently changed and companies are now less constrained. According to The Korea Herald, one single commercial break is permitted to run for each 45- to 65-minute long programme.

Foreign companies want a piece of that action

With the entertainment industry in South Korea booming and raking in profits, it is no surprise that companies outside the country wanted a piece of the cake as well. Famous food and beverage corporations all across the globe have made their products known through product placements in K-dramas.

A fantastic example would be Subway, the iconic sandwich franchise from America. If you are an avid viewer of K-dramas, you must have encountered at least one scene with the protagonists munching on a Subway sandwich.

It is safe to say that one is living under a rock if they have not heard of Netflix, the globally known streaming platform that is available in over 190 countries. According to HITC, there are now over 40 original K-dramas for viewers to watch on Netflix and as Netflix has been actively signing contracts with Korean production companies, this then further skyrocketed the viewership of K-dramas.

Photo from My Love From the Star on Netflix

Are you surprised at the extent these companies go to put their brand out there? Well, it doesn’t just end there because the power and reach of K-dramas have even attracted luxury brands too! Exclusive fashion brands such as MiuMiu and Jimmy Choo have also hopped on to this chugging train.

The Covid-19 pandemic had caused a lot of suffering to businesses from all sectors. Businesses are at risk of going under and closing down due to lack of customers and the unstable economy around the world. Traditional marketing strategies like personal selling from salespeople are not applicable anymore. Therefore, it is no surprise that many brands are willing to move heaven and earth to retain consumers’ interest.

According to Inhae Yeo, a director of a global communication agency, South Korea is one of the very few countries that is resuming film production. This creates the perfect platform for brands from all over the world to utilise to get their services seen.

By: Yuki Teh


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