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Hidden advertising in K-drama: over-the-top or inevitable?

Some say the ads in K-dramas are crossing the line, some say they are necessary to make up for the production cost.

Hidden advertising in K-drama: over-the-top or inevitable?

After Netflix’s “Squid Game” became a huge success, an article posted on an online blog drew attention from many netizens. The post titled “What if “Squid Game” was broadcast on land-based TV channels?” pointed out, “Gong Yoo would take out a Kanu coffee before the rock-paper-scissors game, Lee Jung-jae would recommend Ceragem medical devices to VIPs, and Lee Byung-hun would have given health functional food FromBio to the participants,” as these are the products that the main actors in “Squid Game” are in charge of modeling.

Then, what about the cable channel tvN’s drama “Jirisan” which is currently being broadcast? In the play, the actors playing the role of the rangers who save climbers in trouble, wear clothes from the outdoor clothes brand of which the main actress Jeon Ji-hyun is a model. These characters also exchange collagen and mention the necessity of skincare out of the blue. The model of this collagen product, which filled the screens, is also Jeon Ji-hyun. In addition, netizens pointed out that the closest store of the sandwich brand these characters usually eat is about 70km away from the drama’s setting, which is Jirisan. Viewers are voicing their dissatisfaction with these indirect ads (Product Placement (PPL)) that cut off the flow of the drama.

Excessive PPL in Korean dramas has frequently been under fire. This is also a common case of dramas starring Hallyu stars. In “Goblin” writer Kim Eun-sook’s popular drama “The King: Eternal Monarch” starring actor Lee Min-ho, there are close-ups of some products along with lines such as “The first taste is abundant and the ending taste is clean” (coffee), “You sure know how to eat kimchi” (kimchi),  “You can’t even apply some multi-purpose lip balm before meeting them? (cosmetics). Another work, of Kim, “Descendants of the Sun,” introduced automatic driving mode vehicles and exposed certain red ginseng products frequently in scenes where the male and female protagonists kissing on the steering wheel. Joo Won, the main actor of the drama “Yongpal,” was criticized for showing the real estate app he was modeling for at the time in the drama, in a scene where he said he was looking for a house out of nowhere.

Hidden advertising in K-drama: over-the-top or inevitable?

Critics point out that such excessive PPL will accelerate the collapse of the Korean TV drama market in the era of global online video platforms (OTT). It is observed that generations familiar with OTT dramas will gradually avoid TV dramas, which causes a phenomenon called “moving billboards”. The production cost of “Mount Jiri” is about 32 billion won, while that of “Squid Game” is 25.3 billion won. As PPL using stars is overused to cover such high production costs, it interferes with the flow of the dramas and eventually causes the channels to disappear. A representative of an outsourced production company that supplied dramas to Netflix said, “I have never been under PPL pressure from Netflix. There is no need to overdo PPL, so the burden on the cast and production team is not heavy, either. If ‘Squid Game’ had been made into a TV drama, a large logo would have been embedded in green tracksuits and participants would have been given famous brands’ lunch boxes.”

Hidden advertising in K-drama: over-the-top or inevitable?

On the other hand, some argue that the use of PPL is inevitable to meet production costs. This is because PPL such as coffee (bubble kiss) in “Secret Garden” and A4 paper (the work of a terminal staff) in “Misaeng” did not stop the flow of the dramas. Choi Jin-bong, a professor of journalism and broadcasting at Sungkonghoe University, warned, “Excessive PPL is a poisonous apple, so it should be maintained at an appropriate level. Overseas OTT platforms will take the lead if we keep seeking immediate gains.”

Hidden advertising in K-drama: over-the-top or inevitable?

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