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 (63)

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  • Reply
    Fortuna 12 hours ago - 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 23 hours ago

    hehehe i like Subway :D

  • Reply
    choimari 2 days ago

    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 2 days ago - edited

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

  • Reply
    Sudapop 2 days ago - 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 12 hours ago

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

  • Reply
    Kala 2 days ago

    This article makes me want Subway! lol

  • Reply
    makeuptemple 2 days ago - 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 3 days ago

    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 3 days ago - 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

  • Reply
    Nor 4 days ago

    Goblin & DOTS had the same advertisement/product placement for candles as well.

  • Reply
    Maya 4 days ago - edited

    I see Subway everywhere, sometimes it's okay but sometimes it's just weird, like the scene in Goblin when Gong Yoo give a subway sasndwish to a man, it's from nowhere and a simple sandwish without the subway packaging can be good too.
    To be honest I think the colors of the sign don't match with serious and sad moments

    • Reply
      Loy 3 days ago

      I agree, that scene in Goblin was totally ruined because of Subway, it was a sad scene but I couldn't stop laughing when I saw the Subway sandwich

  • Reply
    peacefulsoul 4 days ago

    i see subway PPL's the most.

  • Reply
    darkn3ss 4 days ago

    lmao if w are talking PPL how about the chinese drama and the RIO fest.

  • Reply
    Klaudia 5 days ago

    Let's not forget about our still fresh big SUBWAY advertisment called 'GOBLIN' :D

  • Reply
    Absent 5 days ago

    Subway is literally everywhere. I remember watching Signal with my mum and Lee Je Hoon was ordering a sandwich and she was like, "You probably don't even eat that much calories!" True story.

    There was this Chinese web drama that had the weirdest PPL ever, some kind of aphrodisiac like Viagra, and they kept mentioning it and even had the characters reciting poems about it!

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