To say that Netflix’s South Korean series Squid Game was a success is an understatement. It has been watched by 142 million households globally. With over 1.9 billion minutes of viewing (and counting), Squid Game became show No. 1 in Netflix Originals history in just 3 months. Bloomberg estimates the show’s “effect value” at about $900 million. Moreover, Squid Game has become one of the viral topics. The global appeal of the series can give marketers some valuable lessons on how to create hype around brands.
1. Stand out. Netflix has been investing heavily in series made outside the US with the aim of creating something different from typical Hollywood productions. Why so? Foreign productions present a completely different world: a different language, cultural references, values, the look and feel. Although audiences love familiar things, they are also drawn to everything that is new and unusual. It is worth mentioning that Squid Game is an original Netflix production. It is part of its effort to create and produce original content. The same applies to marketing: if you can come up with a new idea, you are more likely to stand out.
2. Focus on word-of-mouth (WOM). Although it is a classic marketing technique, it is difficult to predict and create it as it requires luck and perfect timing. Squid Game proves that WOM is one of the main factors behind its success. Businesses can now trigger buzz on social media. If there is a continuous flow of memes and other production-related content, the most likely result is pressure to watch that show in order not to be left out of conversations. WOM is effective because many social media users are struggling with fear of missing out (FOMO).
3. Tell a story that resonates with your audience. Squid Game has achieved considerable success because it told an attractive and engaging story. Initially, the series was rejected over and over again for 10 years until Netflix decided to produce it. This success story has attracted a lot of attention. Many people want to find out why it failed so many times, and most of them get hooked by its incredible storyline. In the context of marketing, this means making sure that customers have a strong connection with one’s brand. One of the best ways to achieve it is to create an appealing story.
4. Release a production at the right time. Studios have repeatedly rejected Squid Game’s script for 10 years. However, if the show was released when it was written, it may have struggled more with becoming viral because social media barely existed back then, and they were not as popular as they are today. It was estimated that there were 4.48 billion active social media users in 2021. Although it is difficult to calculate good timing, it is important to be aware of its crucial role in the success of such productions as Squid Game.
5. Surprise to attract attention. The first game, Red Light, Green Light, seems very simple. However, once a contestant is eliminated, the perception of the simplicity of the game vanishes. This twist in the plot makes the show captivating. Childhood games used in Squid Game hook the attention of the show audience and settle them into a familiar surrounding. In this context, losing a game makes a lasting impression. In digital marketing, one of the best ways to make a brand story lively is to create the element of surprise. This means that instead of asking: “What do we need to say?”, we should ask: “What expectations do our potential customers have, and how can we subvert them?”