Squid Game: How brands have capitalized on the phenomenon and what it means for content partnerships
45.6B Korean won.
111M viewers in the first month.
$90M in estimated impact value.
These are the numbers that have captivated Netflix audiences and industry analysts in the month since Netflix launched Squid Game globally. Netflix dubbed the brutal nine-part social class commentary its most successful new series launch ever; a monumental designation for a streaming service that has 214 million global subscribers. Even without an ounce of anticipation before its September 17 release, the Squid Game phenomenon almost feels inevitable in retrospect, given how nimble brands have been to capitalize on the hype. Squid Game may be lightning in a bottle, but lessons can be learned from this launch to make sure lightning strikes twice.
How is social media helping the game?
With no pre-launch advertising investments on behalf of Netflix, Squid Game was not a planned success story. The popularity of this viral South Korean survival drama has resulted in the immense buzz that has left many turning to social media to share their thoughts and recreate their own versions of the notorious games and imagery presented in the series.
Word of mouth has the potential to be more powerful than large paid-ad campaigns
Human nature is wired to share. With the launch of every popular show on Netflix, day-to-day dissections of a show’s characters and events are heavily encouraged and almost inevitable, the same phenomenon occurs on social media platforms. In the case of Squid Game, the violence and gore that kept the script stashed away for a decade actually contributed to its success. When countless memes began flooding Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, viewers were almost forced to begin investigating to learn what the hype is about. Whether it be just for the simple fact of relating to the community around them or to actually understand the jokes and puns being told, the show must be seen to add to the conversation.
SquidGame has over 39.5 billion views on TikTok, with millions of user-generated videos covering topics ranging from how to make the dalgona candy, to makeup and fashion inspiration from the series, to recreating the games with their friends. There is a similar occurrence on Instagram with nearly 968K posts tagged with #SquidGame.
Creators on TikTok took this one step further by hyper-analyzing the show in immense detail to unveil the genius foreshadowing tactics that took place.
Viewers immediately turned to Instagram to create and share memes, adding to the popularity. There has even been an increase in meme pages solely dedicated to Squid Game that has gained a remarkable following in only a short period of time, and of course, existing meme pages have also hopped on this trend with full force, not leaving a single stone unturned.
Brands big and small are taking to social media to get in on the hype
After seeing the sheer excitement that Squid Game has stirred up in the recent past, brands around the world are beginning to capitalize on the popularity of the series by creating and sharing memes that relate to their business verticals. Whether it be a clever marketing ploy, or simply delivering what they believe their consumers would find amusing, brands have realized just how much of a cultural influence Squid Game has on consumers worldwide.
Netflix has since taken action as a result of public interest
Netflix does not spend nearly as much as other SVOD services on advertising, but the service’s robust owned social media presence does give it the ability to amplify consumer-driven conversations as they are happening. Much like the breakout success of 2020’s The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix did not promote Squid Game but instead listened to what its users were gravitating toward and used their language (memes, plot theories) to create a more robust conversation about what happened on the show and how it can be interpreted. Netflix was also able to piggyback off of Squid Game’s success to steer people toward other content they might find interesting, giving other Netflix Originals a chance to share the Squid Game spotlight.
Netflix poses questions to put people in the shoes of the show’s contestants:
Netflix suggestions of what Korean shows to watch next:
How is the game going to be changed going forward?
Let the hype come to you
Tentpole TV has been difficult to come by in the streaming age. Streaming services can put a large marketing budget behind big-budget “events” like HBO Max’s Raised by Wolves or Peacock’s Brave New World, but a promotional push does not always pay out in cultural currency. Once they’re on the platform, users will gravitate towards the content that’s relevant to them, and they’ll keep the conversation going if there’s a conversation worth having. The hype train that drove Squid Game into the cultural zeitgeist manifested because users found ways to interact with the story, characters, and aesthetics. Brands need to pay attention to the signs of a movement and be ready to move with it in order to avoid being left behind.
Opening up to international content
“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Bong Joon-ho said those words whilst accepting the Best Foreign-Language Film award for Parasite at the 2020 Golden Globes. Parasite went on to win four Academy Awards the same year and firmly catapulted Korean movies and TV into the mainstream. Squid Game is yet another example of non-English content breaking ground around the world, and it certainly won’t be the last.
With subscription growth stagnating in the US, Netflix has turned its attention to the international stage by investing in original content from around the world. Hollywood studios and broadcast TV were the ultimate gatekeepers for generations, suppressing international voices in the process. The streaming age has brought a new embrace of international content as a way to engage audience interests that had not historically been considered. Elevating unique voices in any language can help content that was once considered niche break through to the mainstream.
John Poelking is Comperemedia’s Senior Analyst of Technology, Media and Telecom, providing omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights, with a primary focus on streaming services.
Mili Patel is an Associate Research Analyst with Comperemedia, specializing in omni-channel marketing trends.