Fishy timing for Squid Games
It’s all the rage and everyone is talking about the new Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) psychological thriller, called Squid Game. Another Korean masterpiece since the movie Parasite won 6 Oscars last year including best picture and best director. It seems that the Korean film industry is starting to make its impact on global cinema. The Korean 9 episode series has everyone talking about such deep topics as money, morales, and the value of human life. While these topics are interesting and make for great table conversation, the thing that gets my attention is the time of release and the circumstances surrounding its production.
By Sept. 21 2021, just four days after its global release, Squid Game was already number 1 on Netflix in most regions that the company services. However, the script was interestingly finished back in 2008 and shelved when no major production houses took any interest with most claiming it was too grotesque and unrealistic. Ironically enough, the writer of the series Hwang Dong-hyuk, said that some of his initial inspiration was drawn from the financial crisis of 2008; and in particular the economic disparity between the classes in South Korea with his own poor financial situation at the front of his mind. After about 10 years, the series was finally picked up for production in September of 2019 and with COVID shedding new light on economic disparity amongst the classes, the concept was reborn and couldn’t be more relevant.
With Squid Game’s core concepts being deep and thoughtful; answering questions related to handling of the poor, indebted, and the weak amongst us, the final execution of the project was nothing short of capitalist in nature and enriching for the parties involved. This could be all a coincidence, but as the title suggests, I find it fishy.
Consider this; another Netflix special that took the world by storm was Tiger King. It was released within weeks of the first COVID lockdowns in 2020 and since no one had anything to do, it was viewed by almost everyone with or without a Netflix subscription. Even with this significant success, and followed by a flurry of other very popular shows, Netflix is still hammered by investors every quarter looking for higher average revenue per user (ARPU). The idea they came up with was to create a Netflix apparel shop, officially released in June 2021. On the face it may not seem too creative, but when you consider how viral some of Netflix’s content has become over the years, it’s surprising how many 3rd party unofficial vendors have been able to sell the likeness of many of its shows for so long without Netflix getting any piece of the pie. Consider the marketing campaign that could have been accomplished with apparel opportunities for shows such as Tiger King, Stranger Things, or even Bojack Horseman.
Now we are coming out of the era of lockdowns, and the world is approaching its first major merchandising opportunity since the lockdowns began; Halloween. With no surprise, you can guess exactly what is being promoted in the Netflix shop. It’s as if Squid Game was produced specifically for Halloween with its excellent costume design and highly recognizable face masks. You can bet that Netflix is going to try to take part in what is sure to be a wave of costume sales now that the general public is going to be able to take part in the fun October tradition once again.
In my opinion, this was part of a very sophisticated and precise marketing plan on the part of Netflix. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it is another example of the great success that can be found when you let creative people do creative things with the incentive of free flowing capital and profit if success is found. By all measures, this was a success whether you consider viewership, the brilliant writing, intricate character development, or amazing cinematography. For a show premised on his own poor status in society, you can be sure that it will result in writer Hwang Dong-hyuk sitting with the VIP’s rather than the players moving forward.