Product Placement in Kdramas

Prime Minister and I: Nam Da Jung walks into a Subway to attend a meeting of the wives, where she heartily chomps down on a Subway sandwich.

The Greatest Love: No one drank anything but Vitamin Water, and being the celebrity printed on the bottle was pretty much the height of popularity – hence Dokgo Jin’s love for his bottles.

I Hear Your Voice – Hye Sung at Holly’s Coffee

I Hear Your Voice: Holly’s Coffee is everywhere! The constant meet ups in cafes, important scenes happening in front of cafes, etc. The product placement was so strong with this one I was compelled to buy the canned version when I happened to see it in H-Mart. IHYV was actually criticized after its blatant advertising of LTE-A. It was just getting too out of hand with Park Soo Ha walking into a store and having “LTE-A” appear more than 3 times in a single frame.

Product Placement (PPL) is becoming more and more common these days. As K-drama gains more exposure worldwide, sponsors are ever more willing to have their products appear in them. Similarly, broadcasters look to sponsors to cover their budget (typically 10-20%). What should be a win-win solution, however, disintegrates into an annoyance to the readers, often due to the ham-fisted handling of the PPL.

So what separates good PPL from the bad? Of course the audience will notice PPL, because there’s no point pouring so much money into it if the watcher doesn’t leave with increased brand awareness. In my opinion, PPL is well done when it is unobtrusive but flows and contributes to the drama plot. An example of this would be in Queen Inhyun’s Man, where the phone was actually used as a vital plot device (no spoilers :0). In Master’s Sun, the coffee shop was where Gong-sil would meet up with her sister and get coffee for her friend-not-friend coffee ghost. Bad PPL, on the other hand, happens entirely too often.

Master’s Sun – Coffee Ghost at The Twosome Place

Another interesting note is that Samsung does not actually sponsor that many dramas because their status in the Korean market is undisputed, and they don’t really need much advertisement. However, when a new Samsung product comes out, you are most likely to see it in the next drama by KBS, MBC, or SBS, where the main characters will showcase all the cool gimmicks on the gadget.

My Love From Another Star – one of Cheon Song Yi’s many (sold out) lipsticks

Clothing or makeup is yet another matter completely. There are two ways producers approach women-specific PPL. A makeover/shopping trip, or on the female character itself. My Love From Another Star, the recent smash-hit, is probably making its sponsors very happy right now. Countless Cheon Song Yi makeup tutorials can be found online; her lip colors are fast selling out (puzzling countless store assistants in the process); and screencaps of her bags are brought to Korean department stores for the staff.

What are your thoughts on product placement? Do they amuse or irritate you? Share with me your personal experience with product placement in the comments below! :)

2 replies »

  1. I am so happy to see someone address this topic, as it has been distressing me greatly. “Prime Minister and I” was the first place it really hit me, but “Big Man” was even worse, and was written right into the lines. PPL has been with us for a long time, but writing it into the script is a totally different matter. This is a gross infringement on a writer’s creative integrity. Instead of concentrating on their story, they have to constantly dream up scenes to write the sponsor into. I love Korean drama for it’s support of great Korean artists…writers, actors, set designers, musicians, costume designers, lighting directors, etc etc. Once Korea starts controlling and replacing their artists, I will have to look elsewhere, which is really disappointing.

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