Learning the marketing secrets of Squid Game
Tay Ling
Vice President, TBA Hong Kong

South Korean drama Squid Game has become a surprise global phenomenon, drawing more than 110 million viewers and becoming the most popular series on Netflix since its mid-September release. But why was it so resoundingly successful? The answer to that question offers many valuable lessons for marketers seeking to increase campaign ROI.

1. Its basic ingredients resonated with audiences
Break down Squid Game to its basic moving parts, and you’re left with universally relatable things such as childhood games, personal actions and consequences, and the struggle to learn lessons from those consequences and improve as people – to salvage positives from negatives. There’s no need to explain such things at length; audience members instantly understand the themes, identify with characters, and invest in the story.

Marketing lessons

  • Learn about the background and common characteristics of your target audience
  • Use your audience knowledge to devise a theme or themes that reflects what they have in common
  • Develop content around the theme(s), including immersive experiences that amplify their resonance

Example: OPPO at ChinaJoy 2021
At ChinaJoy 2021, the OPPO booth’s ‘Case Closed’ exhibition invited visitors to join an immersive mini escape room game designed around OPPO products. Participants searched for clues at check-in points hidden in a display of limited-edition products and backdrops of famous animation scenes. Their correct or incorrect solutions to the mystery triggered different special effects. The ‘Case Closed’ zone also physically debuted customised mobile phones and other limited products, ensuring that it would attract a constant stream of fans.

Example: HP Indonesia – Play to Progress virtual launch
With Indonesia in lockdown, HP Indonesia’s online launch of HP’s OMEN 16 and Victus 16 gaming PCs created a challenge of bringing the event’s excitement and engagement to a housebound audience of gamers, media and partners. The launch was accordingly developed as a virtual interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ affair, enriched with product commentary from professional gamers and key HP Indonesia staff, AR content, Q&A opportunities, and a lucky draw.

Primed by an online pre-event campaign, guests were greeted to the platform and introduced to its gamified format by a holographic emcee. Scanning a QR code unlocked the launch in the form of a personalised video journey through different product experiences. As in a game, visitors’ own choices would determine their route through the story.


Source from Pico Global YouTube channel

Further examples include the recent HP Malaysia – Virtual Partners event, which featured an AR virtual scavenger hunt game; and the Mother Tongue Languages Symposium 2021, featuring an ‘online quest mode’ in the form of a story-based interactive digital game for Gen Alpha visitors.

2. It got everybody talking
A true sign that Squid Game had struck a chord was that the viewer experience didn’t end with the roll of the final credits; instead, everybody who saw the show talked about it with friends, family and colleagues. ‘Easter eggs’ hidden throughout the episodes reinforced viewers’ compulsion to scrutinise, speculate and discuss every detail of the programme. Many scenes even generated popular social media memes, helping the programme go viral as people attempted to find the ‘source material’.

The word-of-mouth marketing ensured a steady flow of new viewers, all wanting to find out themselves what all the excitement was about.

Marketing lessons

  • Make your campaign unique, surprising and even humorous. No trend was ever kicked off by a completely predictable campaign.
  • Up-to-date content marketing shows younger audience members that the brand actually understands their needs and point of view.

Example: Gucci memes to the young

In 2017, luxury fashion brand Gucci began using memes in a marketing effort to connect with a younger generation of consumers. The brand even devised a ‘TFWGucci’ hashtag, in which TFW stands for ‘the feeling when’. A Renaissance painting was employed as a final touch to make the meme viral, whilst supporting Gucci’s image as a paragon of luxurious high style.

Example: Escape Room Experience at Midea Pop-up Store
A gamified pop-up store in Chengdu was at the core of a 2021 campaign to engage a young, tech-savvy audience with the Midea brand. Inside the store, visitors were introduced to a new promotional character, ‘M Bo’, by searching for clues amid Midea products and apps to restore its lost memories. Winners were entered into a gift draw.

Extensive online content was integral to the pop-up store experience. It included an online promotional game on Midea’s WeChat H5 page, and KOLs from tech, gaming and other popular channels on platforms including Weibo, Douyin, Kwai, Youku and iQiyi. During the broadcast of the live experience, the KOLs enabled online fans to interact with Escape Room users by voting on their actions.

In all, the pop-up store and online campaign gained over 150 million impressions, as well as more than 140 million livestream views. More than 95% of participants were from the targeted ‘35 years old or under’ audience group.


Source from Pico Global YouTube channel

3. The visuals were memorable
Nobody who has watched even one episode of Squid Game is likely to forget the experience soon. Much of its staying power is down to visually striking scenes, costumes and scenery, all of which also did their part to arouse audiences’ curiosity.

Marketing lesson

  • Content is king, so it makes sense to guarantee the impact of your content marketing with striking visuals. Visual storytelling also brings your marketing message to life.

The 2021 edition of this premier Hong Kong fashion event gained more raves than ever thanks to an innovative fusion of physical and virtual elements. On the runway, XR technology was combined with a creative show to create an impactful and especially immersive experience. For online viewers, the show was livestreamed through the CENTRESTAGE website, Facebook and Instagram, enhanced with added AR effects for yet another layer of experience.

Source from HKTDC YouTube channel

Squid Game may be the latest Netflix sensation, but its success is underpinned by a truly classical approach to delivering a story. Its makers have taken care to know their audience, respond to what the audience regards as meaningful, and do it all in an original way that lends itself to striking imagery.

If it worked for Squid Game, it is a timely reminder of what will work for a successful marketing campaign.