Random Thoughts on ... Product Placement in KDrama

Coffee, cars, mobile phones, clothes, shoes, food, ... there is So.Many.Things.In.KDrama that I covet. I guess I'm the perfect victim for product placement. And boy, is there a lot of that in KDramas!

Starting to look out for product placement (PPL) is not advisable, however. You know why? It is a certain recipe for spoiling any innocent viewing pleasures you might otherwise have. Once you start looking, you cannot help but notice. So: Do not try this at home!

It was my current hate-love Nice Guy that gave me the idea for this post. Episode 8, in fact; where PPL is so thick, there's hardly anything else but products. And heartbreak. But Nice Guy is not the only show that does it, far from it. What I'm presenting you below is just the tip of the iceberg. If you happen to be a media or communication studies student looking for a topic for a Master thesis: this would be one. You can do hours and hours of drama watching, all in the name of science.

Clothing / Shoes

In Episode 8, Kang Maru goes into a North Face shop and buys Seo Eun-ki shoes and a jacket. Not that I mind this type of outdoor gear, I actually don't, but this PPL was so un-subtle, it hurt. Shoes from this angle, from that angle, and zooooooom in, show the logo.
Outdoor gear (this time from MontBell) also makes a rather frequent appearance in Secret Garden (there also are MAIM cosmetics, LOEL department stores, an Hite beer, but that's another story). Any other dramas with many outdoor scenes? Try to spot the company that gave them the gear next time!
Luxury shoes are another frequent object of desire, not only for the heroine, but also for the viewers. Apart from the obvious (like I Do I Do, which was about shoe design), Prosecutor Princess showed us a lot of wonderful shoes, all designed by Jimmy Choo. Wonderful to look at, but I would never, ever, ever, EVER want to walk in them. Never. Ouch.
A Gentleman's Dignity also made shoes one of its themes, or rather the giving of shoes as a sign of love and appreciation (or something like it). This is a creative variation on the Korean superstition about couples that says that giving shoes as a present to a boyfriend or a girlfriend means they will leave you soon (you know what's funny? Writing about AGD makes me realize that I have come to actually dislike the drama by now. It's been a long coping process. I guess I will have to write about it soon).
The red thread-shoes (or should that be threat-shoes?) are worn by Han Jae Hee (I'm tempted to use the b-word for this female but will try to hold back a bit longer) and I'm assuming that this close up of her feet means that this is PPL.
Wait a minute... There is more close ups on more shoes in Nice Guy. All the time. And close ups on other things, too. Like umbrellas. Or security cameras. Or motorcycles. Or Barbie dolls! Argh! See? That's what I meant above! Do not start looking for possible PPL, it will drive you crazy!!


Man, there are a lot of phones in KDrama. They are quasi constantly on the phone (there also is a lot of car-driving in KDrama, more about that below), which may be kinda what people are like in real life, but do we want to see that in TV shows? I do not have scientific proof for this, but I think there is far more phone conversations or car-driving in Korean than in American shows. And you know what I suspect? It is because of the PPL contracts that we have so many of those: Both Samsung and LG Electronics are rather big players in Korea and they seem to be rather generously sponsoring many Drama productions. 
Back to Nice Guy, Episode 8. Eun-ki is in the beautiful ocean scene ... pulling out her Samsung Galaxy S III. Showing us how to take pictures with it. Yes, it's a small "how to" introduction, with all the necessary buttons to push and things to do! How to turn the phone on, find the camera, take photos, and save them ... 

 Most KDramas use Samsung phones (The phone used in Rooftop Prince is a Samsung Note 2. You might remember that mobile phones played quite an important role in this drama). 
A Gentleman's Dignity markets the LG Optimus 4X HD (rather aggressively - Seo Yi-soo is constantly fiddling around with it). There isn't many confirmed figures available but if people asking online about what type of phone they are using in this drama is an indication for the interest in this type of phone, then this was a huge success for LG Electronics.
Interesting piece of trivia: City Hunter is the only one that I remember that used iPhones and iPads and not a Korean brand. Ha! I wonder how that happened ... (BTW: Lee Min-ho! I miss you! Come back!!)
credits: Starstruck, tumblr


Next to being on the phone, KDrama heroes and heroines spend a felt 1/3 of the entire show in cars. Mostly driving fast and doing at least one skillful U-turn. The most famous car from KDrama this year is most certainly "Betty", Kim Do Jin's (main?) love. The marketing of this M-class Mercedes Benz was at least done in a charming way, which can't be said about a lot of PPL. I rather liked Betty. The car had a better character than her owner.
You think there is a lot of car-driving in Vampire Prosecutor? So do I, but one of the main sponsors is Ford. I suspect it was a different car sponsor in the first season, but I will not confirm this. Seriously. I'm already spending far too much time chasing products. And I'm not even interested in cars!
Lots of car driving in Nice Guy, too? Check. It's the Infitini line, produced by Nissan. Nice cars.


Another very prominent thing in many KDramas is meetings in coffee shops. Sure, people go to cafés a lot, but usually, there isn't just ONE type of coffee in their lives, yes? Because coffee branches are big sponsors too, characters in KDrama get to go to the same café over and over - and one of the second or third leads probably also works at that café. Or owns that café. Or lives in the café. It's a first that I come across Zoo Coffee in Nice Guy, but I must say, I rather like their interior. 
Do you remember which drama showed us a lot of Hollys Coffee? No? Rooftop Prince did.  
Rather than coffee, A Gentleman's dignity made us crave smoothies. Would I go into a Mango Six shop if I saw one in, let's say, Seoul? YES I WOULD! Here's the address of the one they did the kissing scene at (or rather, in front): 97 Nonhyeon-dong (734 Eonju-ro), Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea. They should have put on about 10 kilos from drinking all that sweet stuff. But, well ... this is KDrama.


Okay, there aren't that many watches in KDramas. But there is one. Maru wears it in one or two episodes. Hmm ... I want it. Seo Eun-ki also wears one in the same scenes. I want that too.
It took me at least an hour and the help of my watch-expert husband, but I found out what type of watch this is!
It's a Bulova Accutron Amerigo 63B024.


From what I have read in researching for this post, PPL works rather well for companies and the costs seem to be lower overall than for normal advertisements. As a company rep says in this article, after a specific object was shown in A Gentleman's Dignity (that horrible thing Kim Ha-neul uses to remove hair from her leg, a scene I really hated) visitors' numbers to their website instantly soared more than 240 percent. True or not, we can expect much more or at least the same amount of PPL in the future. The list of sponsors at the end of each episode is an indication of who is involved - and these lists tend to be rather impressive.

I'm not one to complain about nice things. But what I wouldn't want is these things dictating the amount of coffee shop, phone, and car driving time I get exposed to. As long as it fits the story - fine. But please don't overdo it.