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6 Things Marketers Can Learn from the Success of Netflix’s Squid Game

Those are two words you might never have put together, and suddenly it’s October 2021, and you’re not hearing about much else.

The Korean-made dystopian drama series produced and streamed by Netflix is, by all measures, a record breaker. Not just in viewership or money (it made nearly $1B…) but also in terms of audience mindshare, which, after all, drives every other success. 

There is plenty that marketers can learn from Squid Game about how to engage audiences and make them go a bit crazy for your brand or product.

Let’s dissect the show and see what takeaways can inspire your next marketing campaign:

1. Design Matters (A Lot)

Squid Game Marketing: 6 Things That Made The Show Go Viral

One of the impressive aspects of the series is its visual design, which pops out and sticks with you, a memorable part of the show’s character and identity. The show creators incorporated many elements that reference familiar art, like the Escherian stairwell and the red suits from Money Heist. This is important because familiarity is a powerful way to appeal to audiences. It creates a sense of comfort and belonging, which are key to building trust and boosting affinity.

The series uses colors smartly, as if from a set palette. The backgrounds are pastels, which effectively counteract the vivid red of the staff uniforms and the players’ green. The colors reinforce the underlying sense of the story – innocent, childlike settings in light pastel tones, nasty devil colors for the staff, and the hope and renewal of green for the players whose lives we are rooting for! Marketers know that color drives different emotions, and using different colors can hugely impact a campaign. Squid Game makes it all the more clear.

Another element of design that deserves mention is the simple, clean symbols representing the games and those on the masks of the guards. When it comes to creating brand logos, simplicity is really important. It provides the viewer with a somewhat blank slate on which to project their feelings and perceptions, which is a large part of building a relationship with a brand. Plus, it’s a good lesson to remind marketers to simplify their message, only making it easier for customers to assimilate. 

2. Know Your Audience – Via Data

3 Marketing Lessons We Can Learn From Netflix's 'Squid Game'

“Know your audience” is the first rule of marketing. And it has proven to be a key reason for the incredible success of Squid Game.

As it happens, the series was repeatedly rejected by production studios for almost ten years. No one wanted to take it on until Netflix.

Netflix is a data-driven enterprise. Whenever a user chooses a show to watch, stops watching, clicks “Like,” or searches for a title, Netflix gathers data about their interests and preferences. This not only drives the recommendations served to the particular user; the massive pool of global user data provides a picture of the mood and interests of the general viewing audience and even the overarching cultural mood. This powerful, data-driven guide helps Netflix make intelligent decisions about which content to invest in and promote.

A decade ago, the world was not ready for Squid Game. Two years ago, Netflix used data to predict that the time was ripe, so they took the risk. And it paid off, bigly. This should inspire marketers everywhere to pay close attention to their data and use it smartly in future decision-making.

3. Word-of-Mouth Works, Big Time

The Most Important Lesson Netflix Must Learn From 'Squid Game'

If you are working at the office, you will have heard a lot of water-cooler talk around Squid Game. There’s no avoiding it. That’s the power of word-of-mouth marketing, and Squid Game has achieved it better than any other show, probably ever.

In September 2021, content popularity analytics showed that Squid Game was “the most in-demand show in the world,” garnering 79X more interest in online discussions and searches than any other series. “Squid Game” was popping up everywhere, from LinkedIn posts and feed notifications to dinner table talk and overheard conversations on the bus or train.

Word-of-mouth drives no less than $6 trillion in annual spending worldwide. Human nature being what it is, word-of-mouth is and will always be the key to successful marketing and sales. Squid Game is the proof in the pudding.

4. Be Different 

How 'Squid Game' gets attention from brands | Ad Age

Whether you’re a brand, business, or a TV show, the best thing you can ever do is stand out. Netflix is working on this angle, investing more and more in foreign-made series very different from the usual Hollywood fodder: Squid Game, Fauda, Money Heist, and the list.

Why? Foreign productions are exotic and different, from the language to cultural references, values, and sensibilities. Even the look and feel are distinctive. While audiences love the familiar (as noted above in the section about Visual Design), they are also drawn to the new and unusual. Not just a “foreign” production, Squid Game is also a Netflix Original, part of the huge investment Netflix makes in creating and producing original content. In marketing, if you can bring something new to the table, you’re already on your way to standing out.

5. Going Viral

What Marketers Can Learn from Squid Game Success - Outbrain

Going viral is not necessarily something you can plan for or predict. Even Netflix may have been surprised by the viral success of Squid Game. As one senior strategy analyst in the streaming industry put it“I’m assuming that the [Netflix] executives knew because of the talent they used, because of the region they released it in, that this was going to be a hit in South Korea. I would put good money that the executives had no idea this would be a global hit.”

Squid Game has proven to be the quintessential example of contemporary “virality.” Since the show’s release, there has been a tsunami of TikTokers posting videos of themselves playing the games. Mentions of Squid Game have exploded on social media networks and feeds such as Google Discover. 

While you can never force going viral, you can do your part to encourage it, as Netflix did with push notifications, recommendations, and of course, endlessly reminding the world that Squid Game is the most popular show ever broadcast on the streaming platform. Even when the series drops from the top spot (already happening, BTW), it will still be remembered as having smashed records and preoccupied the world. That’s the kind of “virus” every marketer hopes for. 

6. Be Inspiring 

6+1 important lessons that Squid Game teaches us

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in marketing, if you’re ‘copied,’ you know you’ve succeeded. The success of Squid Game has spawned a host of marketing campaigns inspired by the popularity of the series (this blog post included!). Brands rushed to engage their target audiences with social media posts, ads, and images that draw on themes and visuals from the show. The critical element here is timing: brands had to move fast to join the Squid Game bandwagon while it was at its peak. Luckily, the show’s symbols and visuals are so distinctive and straightforward that many brands could quickly create a quick-win campaign at a low cost, designed to attract instant attention from audiences with notoriously low attention spans. 

Some brands decided to go heavier than just social media posts. RHB, Malaysia’s fourth largest financial services group, even issued a limited edition Visa card featuring the Squid Game card design

If you missed out on marketing around the Squid Game frenzy, keep in mind for the next craze – act quickly and engage audiences with an inspired campaign that capitalizes on their interests right now.

There’s Something About Squid Game…

Every artistic success has a certain indefinable quality, a sense of wonder or magnetic pull, that is hard to quantify. The mind-boggling reach of Squid Game can never be wholly understood, but we know this: the excellent story told in the right way to an audience ready for it can reach a level marketers should strive for. Use what you can from Squid Game to win your marketing game. If you want even more great blogs, check out our My Blog Poster. We have a lot of related blogs to help you. And social media is a great, free place to start.