25 Oktober 2019
That opening line was questioned by a salesman (Gong Yoo) to Seong Gi Hun (Lee Jung-Jae), to unfold the story about 456 individuals who competed in a game of survival. This deadly game is a new series on Netflix that shows cruel competition by adopting a Korean traditional children’s game to win a prize of 38 million USD (540 billion Rupiah).
The show is Squid Game, which became a huge phenomenon this year. “Squid Game is currently the biggest show in Netflix history in any language,” said Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, ABC News (Saturday, October 2nd 2021). It has officially reached 111 million fans in just 17 days, making it Netflix biggest series launch ever.
WHY SQUID GAME GAINED POPULARITY
The last time we saw something this big was when Game of Thrones and its disappointing final episode was aired. Squid Game is the opposite of that, it is not from Hollywood, there is no dragon or monsters, or a sturdy or handsome macho hero. More importantly the main character is not young and have and has a tendency to less appeal to younger audiences. It is intriguing to see why this show has become such a phenomenon.
We’ve sorted out several possible and debatable reasons why it is happening. The main reason is Squid game is a part of a big wave of Korean culture that has swept the world in awe. South Korea has produced some of the demanded entertainment of today’s generation. They produce the endless pop upbeat from Big Bang, BTS, Blackpink, NCT up to Seventeen. They gave us the 2020 Oscar winning movie Parasite, and their best Director Bong Joon-Ho. And they also mesmerize us with various series from Reply series, Goblin, Hospital Playlist and many more. Since the market is there, a different kind and fresh genre will attract the already massive audience potential.
Another reason is that it has a relatable story and characters. We, who have had our fun playing games as children, will be intrigued to see how adults play children’s games. The series also has relatable characters. The main character is a loser and every character played in the Squid Game was having their own difficult situation and suffering major debt. With so many people that are in debt right now (US, for example, has 80% in debt percentage according to American Debt Statistic) it is possible, somewhere, someone is watching the show thinking “I would love to play, even if it’s cost me my life, to save me from this pile of debt”.
Third reason, and it is the main reason, is that it produces a viral content. It seems that by now, everybody (yes, including us) is talking about this series on social media posts, even news outlets are covering this with various angles and coverages. (example, this piece from New York Post). In retrospect, Squid Game started small with little promotion or relatively small advertising, so how did it get this big?
ONCE UPON A GAME IN ITAEWON
At the same time with the release of the series, Netflix built the Squid Game World. They have beautified Seoul’s Itaewon subway station with the series’ iconic theme and background. The Squid Game-themed decorations, from the Giant Doll, Red Light Green Light, to the pink corridor that characterizes the Series, are fully executed at this Underground Station.
This Pop-Up Event automatically attracts the attention of locals and tourists in the Seoul area. Visitors can play games and win prizes, just by documenting their visit on social media they will get Squid Game themed prize. Unable to accommodate the overwhelming enthusiasm of fans with following the restriction rules of Social Distancing, Netflix was “forced” to extend the period of the event.
Promoting on the station was a smart move. Apart from the title was asked in the scene of the station, branding in the whole station could captivate the passenger, giving a feel for domination (decoration on the whole station).
It was a massive experience, and it was also interactive since the people inside can play all the games in the station. It could bring the experience of being in the movie. The people there could feel and see the guards’ character, the huge doll, and even the colorful stairs. No wonder there were a lot of people put their social media on and post it online this was a very effective move in gaining popularity. Passengers in their dwell time, sending message from Itaewon to a huge potential audience across the globe.
Cleverly using the station’s media as a promotional activity pays off to the success of the series. It will be interesting to see if in the future there will be many offline activations that can bring people’s attention to a global level. So, next time someone asks whether they want to play with outdoor media, especially transit media, if it’s not our lives at stake, the answer is: Yes, of course.