Are you guilty of ordering packs of ‘ramyun’ noodles or scouring the net for a brand of lipstick hitherto unknown? As Korean shows introduce Indian viewers to new products, you are not alone, just one of the many thousands caught in a ‘K wave’ sweeping through screens big and small.
The world of ‘K-dramas’ has opened a new chapter of product placement, or PPL, the practice by which manufacturers or providers of a service gain exposure for their products by paying for them to be featured in films and television programmes. And just as viewers are learning about a new culture and its ways — the word for this South Korean cultural phenomenon is hallyu — so are they getting to know about different brands.
In a world of shopping anywhere with the click of a button, all those products are available at your doorstep too. So Doha-based Sugandha Sharma said she took to Korean beauty brand Laneige when she saw Song Hye-kyo, a top Hallyu star, using its products in the superhit K-drama “Descendants of the Sun” six years ago.
“Following these dramas and their flawless glass skin seven-step routine, I was inspired to attain that kind of skin. So I googled the famous Korean brands that I came across on these shows. I started using Innisfree’s Jeju Volcanic Clay Mask because Jeju Island is very frequently mentioned in K-dramas,” Sharma told PTI over the phone.
Abhijit Prasad, an advertising professional, said the PPL model has been in existence since 1960s syndicated television shows such as American classics I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch.
“It is about integrating the product into the show and product integration becomes a brilliant way for a product to meet its world. The personality of a brand can be formed by the narratives in pop culture,” he told PTI.
A collaboration in terms of a celebrity with a brand is purely about “equity exchange”, Prasad said.
“In other words, Ranbir Kapoor will make Pepsi look cooler but Pepsi will also make him look more successful.”
Equity exchange quite clearly works.
Sharma said she also uses Mediheal Sheet Masks because “Crash Landing On You” star Hyun Bin, Park Seo-joon and South Korean music sensation BTS do so too.
Fourteen-year-old Chitralekha A Borah and her mother are the proverbial peas in a pod when it comes to being fans of South Korean music sensation BTS. While Borah confessed she found interest in K-dramas only last year, she started using Korean products courtesy her mother.
A proud member of BTS ARMY, (the name by which fans of popular K-pop band BTS identify themselves across the globe), she said watching the septet eat together on a V Live session piqued her interest about Korean food, especially ‘bibimmyeon’ (spicy Korean cold noodles).
“Getting Korean food in India is extremely rare. My mother started ordering Nongshim Shin ramyun from Big Basket after she watched BTS eating those noodles in their reality travel series ‘Bon Voyage’. Sometimes we also try stir fry chicken. My mom also buys beauty products from Innisfree,” the Delhi-based Borah told PTI.
When done tastefully, PPLs work brilliantly.
Citing the example of coffee-flavoured toffee Kopiko, an Indonesian brand which had a presence on the hit K-drama “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha”, Prasad said the idea of the company is to get as close as possible to coffee equity.
“It takes time to make a cup of coffee or order it. This product is instant and fits in your pocket.”
“(Popularity of) Shin ramyun has gone up madly in the past few months. People are posting Instagram Stories about it. It’s basically a cut of that niche audience that likes cup noodles. That ‘I want the real thing’. It’s getting quite in vogue now and increasingly as ramyeon becomes mainstream,” he explained.
Ramyun or ramyeon are the instant variety of noodles that come in different packs and flavours. They should not be mistaken for ramen, another popular noodle dish that’s prepared fresh. But then K-drama regulars would know that.
Prasad said the viewer knows where the advertisement ends and where the story begins. “And no one wants to watch a very long ad,” he added.
The audience tends to run away from advertising like it’s “a disease”, Prasad observed.
Sharma, a social media manager with an education firm, said she doesn’t mind the PPLs.
“It doesn’t irritate me much as I understand the importance of product placement being a marketing major myself.”
Not everyone agrees.
For Min Kim, a Toronto-based Korean, product placement is a massive downer.
The VFX artist, who hails from Busan, said the positioning of the products in the shows is sometimes “unnatural” and ends up interrupting the storyline.
Recalling the controversy faced by “Descendants of the Sun” back in the day, Kim said two characters named Seo Dae-young and Youn Myeong-joo, played by Jin Goo and Kim Ji-won respectively, are shown kissing in a car in one scene.
“One of main sponsors of the show is Hyundai and they want to show an auto drive system, so a scene showed the couple kissing while their car drove by itself. It comes in for criticism because it’s not safe,” he added.
Shows such as Goblin: The Lonely And Great God, The King: Eternal Monarch and Memories of the Alhambra were lambasted because of too many PPLs that were included to manage the big budget of these star-studded series.
Last year, South Korean star Song Joong-ki tendered an apology after his show “Vincenzo” featured an instant bibimbap product made by Chinese company Zi Hai Guo, which was slammed by native viewers.
Brand associations must be done very smartly that way.
“On the safe side, you risk being bland and therefore, you’re not a brand on the edgy side, you risk alienating,” Prasad said.
All in all, Korean brands have an “opportunity” here, he said.
“They have been smart about it in the past with Samsung and Hyundai. The opportunity here is the self-expressive benefit which you can communicate much easily through shows. If they are smart they will leverage this too.”
Over the last 20 years, Southeast Asia, including South Korea, has become a big destination for India — be it for work or reasonable holiday getaways, Prasad added.
“When you pair that with pop culture or people doing something on screen, it legitimises it in a certain way. Then people go looking for those products or brands.”