Much like in the USA, brand exposure in Korean television programs has become a pretty common practice.

South Korea might be best known for its high-technology industry with worldwide leading brands such as Samsung, but the small country is also known for its active television industry with an increasing number of highly successful TV shows, also known as “dramas”, being exported in numerous Asian countries.

Product placements in popular TV drama The Heirs

On October 9th 2013, SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System, one of South Korea’s main television networks), started airing The Heirs, a much anticipated 20-episode series starring South Korea’s current biggest celebrities.

Surfing on the hip and cool style of the young cast, The Heirs also placed another star on the spotlight: brands.

The coffee & tea salon Mango Six

Cleverly integrated into the storyline, Mango Six has an extensive exposition throughout the show, all thanks to the female lead who works as a part time employee at a Mango Six store in Seoul. On top of multiple shots taken inside the venue, not only do the viewers see the various beverages that are offered, but Mango Six’s ‘Mango & Coconut’ flagship drink is consistently pushed to the screen.

Mango Six Cafe in The Heirs (SBS, 2013, screen capture)

Interestingly, Mango Six Café went beyond its domestic market and opened its first stores in the United States last August, more specifically in Los Angeles.

Mango Six Cafe in The Heirs (SBS, 2013, photo curtesy of Mango Six)

What’s more, the show filmed its first three episodes in California, a state that records the highest concentration of Korean immigrants according to the US Census Bureau.

Whether it was a planned move or simply a coincidence, Mango Six Café’s association with the show, coupled with the strategic decision to expand the franchise in L.A where a high number of Korean-Americans live, is sure a great way to ensure a halo effect for both the brand and the show.

Samsung

Samsung is to South Koreans what Apple is to Americans. Omnipresent throughout the series, Samsung Galaxy phones represent a vital accessory to the characters.

The brand has however an unofficial presence in the TV program since its brand name never appears on the screen: the logo has in fact been removed from the products, even if it is perfectly obvious to any viewer that it is indeed a Samsung smartphone.

Similar to Apple on that aspect, Samsung did not pay anything to appear in the program, but did nevertheless benefit from free exposure.

Samsung in The Heirs (SBS, 2013, screen capture)

Didier Dubot

Other notable product placement in the drama include the male lead’s necklace, designed by jeweller Didier Dubot.

Although this fashion piece resonated a lot among the fans in terms of awareness, its commercial success is questionable.

Indeed, the premium pricing of the necklace, set at 498,000 Korean Won (app 346€ / 469$), led to the production of many replicas, sold on e-commerce platforms such as Ebay and Amazon.

Didier Dubot in The Heirs (SBS, 2013, screen capture)

Louis Quatorze

The female lead’s purse, by designer brand Louis Quatorze also benefited from its appearance in the show. A representative reported that sales for that specific product went up 50 times after the episode aired, and revealed that Chinese tourists who visited Korea inquired about the product by bringing screen captures of the show.

Louis Quatorze purse in The Heirs (SBS, 2013, screen capture)

The Heirsbroadcast its final episode on December 12th with a record ratings of 25.6% making it one of the top Korean dramas of 2013 (numbers taken from AGB Nielsen).

The brands‘ exposure is on a good path to shine for a long time, as the show’s broadcasting rights were sold to over 13 countries, according to Korean pop culture website allkpop.

Product placements in Korea

From the consumer’s perspective, product placements in Korean dramas pretty much look like the ones seen in American productions. Some are done well; some are blatant sales pitch of a given product.

However, what’s interesting in Korean shows is that official sponsors are included in the end credits via a banner display. On the other hand, non-paid placements have the brand’s logo erased or simply hidden. This outline clearly points out which brands financially backed up the show’s production costs.

Examples of end credits in The Heirs (2013, SBS, screen captures)
Examples of end credits in The Heirs (2013, SBS, screen captures)

In the case of The Heirs, Samsung was not among the brands in the end credits, which is certainly the reason why producers hid the brand’s logo on screen despite over-the-top exposure.

Some other shows handle non-paid product placements with less finesse in order to comply with regulations regarding in-content advertising. Such is the case of popular variety show “Dad where are we going?”, where children and their dads wore several branded items of clothing, whose logos were simply taped over.

Dad, where are we going? (2013, MBC, screen capture)
Dad, where are we going? (2013, MBC, screen capture)

While this technique is commonly used in variety shows, it can nevertheless be considered as a skewed, unintentional form of product placement as it is hard not to notice the covered, yet easily recognizable logo.

Branded entertainment in Korean TV has a bright future ahead : the country’s programs are eagerly awaited and consumed by millions of fans, and is gaining more and more popularity in continents beyond Asia. In 2011 alone, Korean TV drama exports amounted up to $155 million.

 

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Bola NamBola Nam is a recent Marketing graduate currently working as an assistant brand manager for a French media company. She has spent the last year of her Master’s program in the United States as part of her thesis research on Branded Entertainment and the digitization of media contents in the US television industry.

Proud of her French-Korean heritage, Bola is also an active consumer of all things related to the web and pop culture.
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