Trend-jacking with Squid Game and PSLE’s Helen & Ivan

Flagrant trend jacking

I finished the 9-episode Korean survival drama ‘Squid Game’ over the weekend after succumbing to the barrage of Internet memes and Netflix’s awesome marketing. As an avid consumer of entertainment content, I must say that this is the best show I’ve seen this year. Superior scripting, directing, aesthetics, acting, and overall storytelling. It is around 8.5-hours of content that is worth watching if you can stomach M18 violence.

I was hooked from the get-go because of the bread-and-butter themes: economic hardships, wealth disparity, human depravity, and money – or the lack of money. Another thing: I was reminded of shows I enjoyed. For example, the anime/manga, ‘Gantz’ and Chinese movie ‘Animal World’. The show does feel a lot like anime/manga storytelling, and I enjoy anime.

Anyway, what’s really telling of this cultural phenom is in how companies are trend jacking ‘Squid Game’. For the uninitiated, trend-jacking is when organisations leverage the latest Internet buzz to bring exposure to their brands.

For ‘Squid Game’, I’ve seen brands like Gardens by the Bay, RHB, HL Milk, and FIBA jump on the bandwagon. Here are some examples:

So did government ministries:

Trend-jacking is a quick and easy way to quickly generate publicity for brands, by capitalising on Internet buzz. Brands can exploit simple references such as motifs, symbols, the concept, and memes, among others. And ‘Squid Game’ was a goldmine for brands to dig into the content, from the lavish sets to the games and outfits.

The way trend jacking works is somewhat akin to media outlets jumping on celebrity and breaking/trending news to ride on people’s collective interest. Certainly, there was also no lack of news coverage on ‘Squid Game’ given the relatable themes and its immense popularity.

Helen and Ivan, PSLE, and elitism in Singapore

Within our shores, marketing folks also had a field day with the PSLE question surrounding Helen and Ivan’s coins:

The PSLE, or Primary School Leaving Exam, determines where 12-year old Singapore kids will head to for secondary school, including what stream. Why a PSLE question can go viral requires an understanding of the Singapore psyche. It shouldn’t be a big deal right, since these kids are only 12? Shouldn’t kids be enjoying their childhood?

Unfortunately, not in ultra-competitive Singapore. You know the school’s branding matters when ministers like Vivian can diss other MPs based on their school. So, it would be nice to believe that every school is a good school, but the reality is that your relatives, peers, and employers will discriminate. And, this is certainly not a Singapore thing. It’s the case in every competitive city in the world.

For brands, riding news trends can be a risky strategy. Some issues requires a deep understanding of the nuances, otherwise brands risk jeopardizing its reputation. Riding the trend for controversial news issues such as racist incidents tend to be risky, such as in the case of Circles.Life:

I’m reminded of a PR lecture that I watched, where the speaker shared that good PR practitioners are like lawyers. While lawyers navigate legal issues in courts, PR folks work with public sentiment in the court of public opinion. Good PR folks should be astute observers of what can be done in good taste.

For more on public relations in Singapore, please check out the book “Navigating Disruption: Media Relations in the Digital Age“.