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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Matambo

The Squid Game Effect: 4 Marketing Lessons We Can Learn From Squid Game

Squid Game is the latest phenomenon sweeping the globe right now and is currently my favourite series. It is currently also the most watched show on Netflix in over 90 countries, so it's evident that a significant number of people share my sentiment.

The dystopian series manages to pack realistic elements of suspense, action, and emotion into 9 episodes. Not for the faint-hearted, the show is addictive in its ability to weave highly topical themes of social inequality, instability and insecurity into its relatively short runtime.

This article will explore why the show gained such significant accolades and what marketing lessons we can learn from it.

*Warning: contains minor spoilers.

Global Impact

Squid Game was released on 17th September 2021 and in 10 days became the highest-ranking Netflix show in90 countries. This is the first time a Korean series has topped US charts, with over 95% of its overall audiences viewing from outside Korea. This landmark is significant because it challenges the long-held notion that younger generations are not willing to read subtitles.

The show generated insatiable fascination and had a notable impact on pop culture. Below are a few examples of the impact:

  • The leading actress, Jung Ho-Yeon, gained 20million Instagram followers in four weeks

  • Sales of white slip-on vans increased by over 7800%

  • Searches for the "dalgona candy recipe" have increased by over 10,000% since the show first hit screens on 17th September

  • Squid Game inspired outfits are predicted to be the hottest trend for Halloween 2021. Writing this on Halloween weekend with my pink guard jumpsuit on, I can personally attest to this.

Social Commentary

The show's premise is that 456 people catastrophically in debt, are competing for riches in a series of whimsical children's games. However, losing the games has deadly consequences. This dynamic makes the show both exciting and terrifying.

Squid Game adds a new spin on the death game genre. Rather than having the underlying anxiety be environmental collapse following a freak accident or war, as is the norm in the genre; the underlying threat is debt.

The hyper-real, unrealistic drama hits on an anxiety that drives the audience everyday, making it hit closer to home. Amid all the action and violence, there are characters that the audience can sympathise with as they represent all socioeconomic classes.

The show takes this simple concept and turns it into an elaborate reflection on society; a society overpowered by capitalism. Viewers can recognise that money and power run the Squid Game world, and that there are glaring wealth disparities between the rich and the poor. Consequently, people regardless of their background will do anything in their capacity to gain and maintain financial security. A dark mirror image of the world we live in today.

4 Marketing Tips from Squid Game

Squid Game is still on the rise, gaining acclaim and global notoriety like no other TV show before it. With its original premise, lethal children's games, and twisted plot; each episode of the show contains several important marketing lessons that would be valuable for a brand.

Here are four marketing lessons we can from Squid Game:

Warning: This section will contain heavy spoilers, so proceed with caution!

1) Always Leave the Choice to Opt-Out

One of the most crucial rules in the Squid Game is that the games could officially end if a majority of players decide to quit. Following the events of the first game, the surviving players decide to end the games and go home. Interestingly, 93% of them opted back into the deadly competition when offered the chance.

The lesson in this is to give your customers the chance to leave, and they'll come back willingly, more engaged than ever.

By not coercing them into a long-term relationship with you, you empower them to stick around on their own terms.

If your product offering is worth it, your customer retention rate will shoot up. And if, unfortunately, some decide to leave along the way, there's a high chance they'll return. This is the case for many subscription-based platforms such as Spotify, Netflix, Disney+, etc.

2) Gamification and Incentives Promote Adoption

While gruesome, people continued to play the deadly games because they had a clear and well-thought-out incentive system. The system had two components:

  1. If a player dies, 100 million Korean Won is added to the final cash prize. Thus, the more people that die during the games, the more money the winners get. This encouraged a survival instinct in players and encouraged them to kill other players.

2 . If a player dies, their family gets some money. However, if the player decides to quit and go home, they get nothing. This system prevents them from quitting and creates a fear of losing out. Also referred to as the sunk cost effect.

Gamification can be implemented in marketing campaigns and is proven to increase customer engagement and brand recall. It could be as simple as implementing a timer-based incentive to shorten the sales cycle or a referral system with value-packed rewards to invite more customers. The possibilities are only limited by the marketing team's imagination.

3) Early Wins Help Build Trust

During the show, the games' recruiter, who actively headhunts participants, plays a simple game with the prospects first. If they win, the prospect gets a cash reward, and if they lose, they get a slap.

Initially, the prospects were understandably sceptical of winning real money for participating in the games. But later, all the prospects got to win cash and experienced quick wins. The experience showed them that there is an actual chance of winning a large sum and incentivised them to join the actual Squid Game.

This is called the principle of commitment, where people believe that everyone will be consistent with their previous actions, and once we have publicly committed to something or someone, we are more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment. On a psychological level, it can be explained by the fact that people have aligned with self-image.

In marketing, you can use the power of quick wins by offering free trials, lead magnets, free plans, and pre-order services. The offering needs to be so good that it gives immediate value to your prospective customers and convinces them to use/buy your services.

4) People Don't Always Buy With Logic

In the series, while a majority of the players joined the Squid game for the promise of riches, luxury, and a debt-free life; Player #1 had a brain tumour and entered to have fun before his demise.

Different audiences have different use-cases for a brand's offering. Thus, gaining a clear understanding of what their specific needs are will help inform your marketing strategy and will lead to a more effective campaign going forward.


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