Let's Talk About: Product Placement in K-Dramas

Ok, class. Group participation time. How many of you have seen something in a Korean drama and thought, "Oh, I wanna try that!" or "Where can I get that adorable top?" 

If you haven't experienced this, you may want to look in the mirror, as you may be a unicorn. Korean dramas – especially the popular ones – are coveted sponsoring spots for fashion, food, and technology, just to name a few. 

Let's take a look at some of the more famous examples, shall we?

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1. My Love From Another Star

When most K-Drama fans think of product placement, or "PPL" as it's commonly referred to, they think of the Yves St. Laurent lipstick "Rouge Pur Couture" in "No. 52 Rosy Coral". Within weeks of the news breaking that this was the lipstick responsible for Jun Ji Hyun's vibrant pucker, it quickly sold out around the world, even on the brand's website! The YSL counter at Sinsegae Gangnam alone reported 2,577 units being sold in the month of January, 2014.

..turns out that said lipstick had actually never been worn by the actress in the drama. The Korea Herald later reported that her lip color had been achieved by a mixing various lipstick colors. Behold! The power of product placement! (Be it true or not!)

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2. Doctors 

Model-singer-actress  Park Shin Hye garnered a lot of attention for her role in Doctors, and not just for her steamy love lines and literal ass-kicking as the delinquent-turned-doctor she was portraying. 

Park Shin Hye has been the spokesmodel for make-up brand Mamonde since Spring 2014, so it is no surprise that the make-up line was featured repeatedly in her latest smash hit drama from 2016. The marketing masters at the flower garden themed brand saw it as the perfect opportunity to promote their latest product, the "Mamonde Highlight Lip Tint #6, Pin Spot", which quickly sold out the very week the drama's lead posed with it on her Instagram.

Other items from the drama, such as Bruno Magli's white and blue tote "Rosa", also sold out and met such a high demand that the brand had to re-release the bag in order to meet the fans' numbers.

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3.  Descendants of the Sun

This show was undisputedly one of the biggest hits of 2016, but the finale was met with its fair share of criticism from the audience. So much so, in fact, that the Korea Communications Commission saw fit to review the show in order to decide whether or not disciplinary actions were necessary. (Read more about it here!)

So much product placement funded DotS that it officially surpassed My Love From Another Star as the highest ad revenue drawn in by product placement. (Source)

Brands included in the drama were Subway, ginseng, fried chicken, Choco Pie, and dal.komm Coffee

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4. Misaeng

Not exactly a trend-setting drama, Misaeng was still a huge hit and with good reason! – But that's for another article. "Maxim Gold Coffee" was featured in this workplace drama, so much so that character Lee Sung-min commented on how it was "really good instant coffee" to the new hires. 

More recently, Shopping King Louis had a lead who was addicted to the instant coffee, and several of my K-Drama pals have admitted to keeping it close-by for a caffeine hit!

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5. The Heirs

No article about product placement is complete without the trendy drama The Heirs. Coffee and tea salon "Mango Six" was put on the map internationally thanks to this drama starring superstars  Lee Min Ho, Park Shin Hye and Kim Woo Bin. Its first branch in the United States opened in August 2014 in Los Angeles!

The Heirs also featured the Samsung Galaxy in the hands of many characters – and a little bit of trivia: Samsung is the biggest contributor to product placement in Korean dramas. 

...and that's just the tip of the iceberg! Has a product placement in one of your favorite drama ever influenced your purchasing decisions? Have there been any product placements that you found especially jarring or hilariously placed? Talk about them here!

Comments (72)

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  • Reply
    Dani May 22, 2017 - edited

    The most hilarious product placement I've seen was in Goblin, when Kim Shin saves a man from hanging himself then hands him a subway sandwich and the camera zooms in on its logo for a few seconds. It was like a commercial lmao. In fact, the whole drama was like one huge commercial!

  • Reply
    Meljus3 May 7, 2017

    What about ramyeon? Every drama has them! Lol

  • Reply
    Rezia May 4, 2017

    It's seriously not that deep XD

  • Reply
    SmileHoney Mar 17, 2017

    The more obvious product placements would be big name products like Subway, Quiznos, Dunkin Donuts, and coffee mixers. The less obvious but still notable would be diet pills, hair products, water purifiers, and even printer paper that had no actual business being the drama except to promote the product. I've even seen the male lead "accidentally" dropping his phone in the sink to promote its water durability. I actually like product placement and find it fun. Take a breather from all the melodrama and just enjoy some Subway, lol. I think it's smart for dramas to take advantage of it.

  • Reply
    darkangel662008 Feb 28, 2017

    I don't mind PPL as long as it goes along with the scene but emphasizing too much of it makes it annoying, for example the PPL of phone, I forgot which drama is it that they show how to operate it t take video, tsk,tsk,tsk that's what you called too much.

  • Reply
    kittenmittons Feb 21, 2017 - edited

    I am surprised Goblin wasn't #1 on this list. The amount of PP was insane in it - the water brand, the juice brand, Subway, Discovery Ski resort, BBQ chicken restaurants - just to name off top of my head

    • Reply
      kennetskyz May 5, 2017

      You forgot the phone lol.

    • Reply
      Meljus3 May 7, 2017

      Cake, perfume, bag, variety store, coffee shop, etc... Every episode has one or more. And we cant forget the magical candles and the miracle sandwich. Still love Goblin though ;)

  • Reply
    Fortuna Feb 20, 2017 - edited

    I'd be shocked, almost offended, if the characters didn't carry Samsung phones. Support local businesses. :) But yeah, I like finding out about Korean brands, etc. so I like PPL when they're not too obnoxious and when they're not Subway.

  • Reply
    DarioAdrewsky Feb 20, 2017

    hehehe i like Subway :D

  • Reply
    Yee Feb 19, 2017

    I think the S7 Edge PPLs are the best, they're just everywhere and in all situations, from dropping the phone into the sink full of water and simply washing it off with flowing water to outright throwing it in the floor and grabbing it intact later to receive a call.

  • Reply
    cheza7307 Feb 19, 2017 - edited

    Product placement come in every size or form but for sure and drinks, subway and car brands like Hyundai.

  • Reply
    Sudapop Feb 19, 2017 - edited

    I actually bought the white musk fragrance from The Body Shop, coz of Goblin. but i'm guilty of rarely putting it on!

    • Reply
      Fortuna Feb 20, 2017

      Lol! I didn't watch Goblin enough to notice that. Interesting.

  • Reply
    Kala Feb 18, 2017

    This article makes me want Subway! lol

  • Reply
    makeuptemple Feb 18, 2017 - edited

    TBS was one of the sponsors of Goblin, thanks to them their white musk fragrance now sells like crazy, even I end up buying but after a few sprays now it's serving as an air refresher in my bath. On one they were using Mac mineralise skin finish powder camera zoomed on the product. Chanel lipsticks Dior perfume, on stay with me they used celine handbags

  • Reply
    chante Feb 18, 2017

    Subway was like in 80% of the dramas I was watching. For that reason I tired of seeing it. But they gotta make money.

  • Reply
    Rouzmary Feb 18, 2017 - edited

    I've got no problem with product placements if they're incorporated in the plot and make sense. cuz come on, we use those products or other products ourselves in our everyday life.

    Women using lipstick - that's normal.
    Going to caffee's or eating/drinking stuff - that's also normal.

    Not normal is when they start to say - I LOVE this or that.

    For example, in Goblin Shin gave a subway sandwich to a man, cuz later the man would need it for his daughter, I honestly do not care if it's subway or whatever the hell else sandwich, it was part of the plot, so I don't give a damn if it says subway/macdonalds or nothing at all on the wrapping. The food was part of the plot and made sense and so I'm ok with it.
    Another example would be DOTS, so what if they met in subway? They met to eat, what do I care where it is? I don't

    But what I do care about is when they start all that I LOVE this or that bullshit, perfect example would be from The K2. Kim Je Ha portrayed by Ji Chang Wook actually said that he loves this place (subway) and their food or smt like that. Like, what? Now that is just too much. I don't care if they go for dinner or meet up at someplace, go ahead, advertise till you turn blue, I still don't care, but specifically emphasizing that the character LOVES it? uh, no, no way. THAT is too much product placement, hell, you can't even call that placement, that's pure advertising or more like stuffing it in your face


    so yeah, aside from outright saying that a character LOVES this or that, as long as the product is part of the plot & makes sense, I'm ok with it, lol, I actually don't care XD
    Therefore, go ahead korea, show as much subway as you want, still not gonna go there just cuz I saw it in a drama, and china can do the same with it's rio, none of this stuff influences me XD

    rather, I'm always laughing my ass off when they blur the brand names XD I think that's mainly in chinese dramas thou, but still, that's hilarious XD

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