Descendants of the Sun shines bright for brands

Korean hit TV show Descendants of the Sun (DOTS) has been making waves worldwide, and some global brands have been riding that tsunami to success.

Unlike most Korean drama serials which are scripted and filmed days before being shown, DOTS was fully pre-produced before its airing in order to meet new Chinese guidelines imposed on foreign dramas.

However, the series has copped flak for blatant product placement. According to Kim Si-hyung, the series' director of photography the new guidelines have made it difficult to secure revenue from TV advertising, resulting in a heavy reliance on product placement (PPL) to cover production costs.  Kim shared this in an interview on KBS2 TV's Web talk show "Got TV".

According to AsiaOne, the revenue from product placement reached a staggering KRW 3 billion (SG$3.5 million).

Starring Song Hye Kyo and Song Joong Ki, the military-romance melodrama starts in Seoul but progresses to a fictional country, where military personnel and medical staff work hand-in-hand to tackle disaster situations. According to the Yonhap News Agency, ratings shot to the 30% range in just a few weeks, outperforming My Love from Another Star, the last Korean drama to become a global hit.

The show has done so well that new three-part special episodes are scheduled to run from 20 to 24 April 2016 to satisfy fans suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Prior to these new episodes, a total 16-episodes were aired on KBS2 TV.

Read also: Chinese government warns of Korean drama ‘dangers’

How has the series helped brands?

Brands that are associated with the series have reported a rise in sales following the placements, giving DOTS a push in revenue which allowed it to surpass My Love from the Star as well. For instance, Subway and Laneige said they have seen a rise sales revenue and brand awareness as the show took off.


Song Hye Kyo, the female lead in DOTS, is also a Laneige brand ambassador. In a statement to Marketing, Doreen Chia, brand manager of Laneige Singapore, shared the positive impact the Korean drama had on their brand awareness and products.

“As the lead actress is our brand ambassador, DOTS has definitely increased the awareness of the brand with its high viewership,” said Chia.

This has translated into boosting sales and expanding their customer base to reach those who have never used its products. Chia added:

We have seen a spike in sales for the colours of the Laneige Two Tone Lip Bars featured in the show and have seen an increase in the number of visitors on the brand website.

According to an email statement to The Korea Herald/Asia News Network from Laneige's parent company AmorePacific, the number of times the lipstick worn by Song was searched on the Internet surged 11 times since the airing of the drama.

"The lipstick (Laneige's Two-Tone Lip Bar) became a bestseller in March and has sold out in some stores," it said.

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According to Eileen Lau, marketing manager of Subway Southeast Asia & South Korea, Subway Korea saw a rise in customers following the airing of the drama.

“The association with a wildly successful Korean drama like DOTS and its artistes has definitely given a boost in the brand awareness as we are seeing an increase in online searches and an uplift in the traffic and sales to stores, especially so for the home country of South Korea,” Lau said.

The brand is currently exploring an integrated approach with Korean dramas, such as looking at on-ground opportunities with the drama cast, conceptualising themed promotional offers and more. They are also open to cross regional collaborations for titles that achieved success across Asia.

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Viu, a Hong Kong based Korean entertainment streaming platform which streams DOTS for free, also reported a rise in app downloads and page views during the running of the series.

“Based on our earlier research, 53% of online viewers surveyed in Singapore watch Korean dramas on a regular basis. The recent interest and surge in views on our platforms show that Singapore has indeed a strong demand for Korean content,” said Anson Tan, general manager of digital media Singapore, PCCW Media, which owns Viu.

According to a statement given by Viu to Marketing, video views increased about five-fold during the period when DOTS was running on its platform. This was also further supported by the increase in its app installation which rose by 2.5 times.

“The high smartphone penetration here further enables fans to easily meet their Korean drama needs with either streaming or download options via Viu. We are excited to see such strong growth and engagement from the viewers, as this validates our strategy to bring localised premium Asian content to Singapore,” Tan said.

Read also: Viu app nets 1.2m downloads in Hong Kong

K-value for brands

For brands like Laneige, product placement not only increases exposure to those unfamiliar with the brand but also reaches out to a different demographic depending on the genre of the drama.

“Riding on the popularity of the show, we can amplify the effect through postings on social media platforms to emphasise on the featured products, as well as using point of sale materials to highlight the products and the show,” Chia said.

To brands like Subway, product placement is part of the marketing mix as a means to attract new customers through fans of the drama and establish the brand in other regions, in this case Asia. Lau added:

Luck is a critical factor in a drama’s success as well, as our decision to buy into a drama is often just a calculated risk. For popular hits like DOTS, we saw a spillover effect to the rest of the Asian countries.

"The effectiveness of such a strategy depends on the success of the drama, the amount of exposure, as well as the stage of brand development in each market," she added.

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