Writer’s Corner: K-Drama product placements – Endless loop of unskippable ads that we can’t stop watching

K-Drama product placements

Social Samosa writer, Shamita Islur, talks about the ever-so-frustrating product placements seen in K-Dramas that either make viewers try it for themselves or get sick of them. Yet the popularity of Hallyu content soars with little to no complaints.

Imagine waiting to press the skip button on a YouTube advertisement but another one plays after the five-second mark. Frustrating, isn’t it? This is what K-Drama product placements feel like, an endless loop of 60 – minute adverts. 

You can’t even skip them, considering they do try to blend in with the plot. Whether it’s subtle or not is up for debate. If you are a regular drama watcher like me, you would be swooning over the giddy romance, gripping plots and the most important, the character’s love for food. 

No matter what genre you are watching, the multiple shots of food products, makeup and more will either make you want to try them for yourself or never come across them again. Here are a few K-Drama product placements that made me scratch my head.

Also Read: Expert Speak: The ethical & psychological quandary of featuring kidults in ads

Food placements that kill your appetite

K-Dramas will quite literally put you in a food coma. The first show that comes to mind when it comes to overboard advertising would be ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’. 

Normally, product placements fill in the gaps within the plot. This show will make you wonder if the plot has been produced purely to advertise sponsored products. The characters eating Kimchi, Fried Chicken, Bread and more actually marvel over the ingredients and sauces used, with our main lead, a royal, saying it reminds him of his home.

Then comes the repeated Subway placements. Like that time when ‘Crash Landing on You’ showed our main lead’s North Korean friends anxiously awaiting the news of Yoon Seri’s critical condition as they ate at the restaurant. How about that time Gong Yoo, our Dokkaebi in ‘Goblin’ stops a depressed man from killing himself and hands him, you guessed it, a Subway sandwich. Because food can apparently cure your depression.

Subway actually released a show ‘Someway’, where sandwiches were used as a metaphor for the girl trying to find spice in her life. 

Our main leads in ‘One Spring Night’ loved going on dates at Ediya Coffee, didn’t they? With the amount of caffeine consumption, you will wonder how they even slept. This brings me to another brand that seems to sour my viewing experience – Kopiko Candy.

In ‘Little Women’, one of the sisters, Inkyung has an alcohol addiction. Initially, a clever product placement, she starts excessively consuming Kopiko as a recovering alcoholic, only for her alcoholism to go magically unnoticed in the later episodes. 

Kopiko’s placement in Vincenzo is also equally obnoxious, where each character consumes the candy and gives eccentric expressions, saying how coffee like it is.

The King of placements: Beauty products

Despite the not-so-subtle integrations, the Hallyu Wave has seen the beauty industry thrive with expensive jewellery, makeup and outfits getting sold out because of the stars’ influence. Most often, the main leads are the brand ambassadors for the products used. However, sometimes, it can be ridiculous. 

‘Record of Youth’ and ‘Run On’ were stories about poor people struggling to make ends meet and yet they could be seen wearing luxury brands like Gucci, Valentino and more. Or the Kahi Multi balm mostly used by characters in ‘The King’. Coming back to ‘Goblin’, Gong Yoo has a scene where he sprays The Body Shop’s White Musk eau de toilette in the store making it feel like an actual YouTube ad. 

On the other hand, ‘Fight For My Way’ saw names of big brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior and more hidden because they were not a part of the placement. Brands comply with Article 73 of Korea’s Broadcasting Act by either making the adverts blatantly obvious or hiding them. 

Technology placements with crash landings

Back with the relentless placements is ‘The King’ with a Cellreturn LED Mask, an Iron man themed skincare device that keeps making its appearance. Then there’s the iconic Samsung Flip Phone showing up in various shows. In ‘Crash Landing On You’, Ri Jeong Hyeok saves a year’s worth of messages on the phone for Yoon Seri, except there’s a tiny problem, the phone needs to be in service for the year, but it’s romance, who cares? 

‘Itaewon Class’ had its action movie like car-crash tussle between the heroes and the villains with one of the characters’ first words after the crash being ‘the airbags work nicely’ complimenting Mercedes Benz’s features. 

While we can’t exactly blame the writers for adding in product placements in any way possible to keep sponsorships appeased, these products need to be infused in a manner that doesn’t feel jarring. 

Despite the repeated ‘brain hammering’, K-Dramas have certainly urged me to try these products myself. I mean, if these placements don’t make you laugh and try it for yourself, at least once, are you even a K-Drama fan?