Fun with PPL: The Product Placement That Made Me Laugh

Product Placement (abbreviated PPL) is one of those things that come along with the dramas, movies, tv shows and drama specials most of us who frequent MDL love so much. 

While some people find PPL to be an annoying part that steps in to ruin the plot of their otherwise perfect show, some don’t really care, and then there are those who find themselves mesmerised by the products and probably have to try them all… or become fans of a certain product. When it comes to me, I am not a die hard fan of them,  but I will admit that they may have affected my will to buy more chocolate, or try kimchi, soju, hot pot, and eat ramen.

There is a whole lot of controversy surrounding PPL and there are things to say about artistic freedom ruined by the need of revenue, as well as brands ruined by scandals/making impossible demands of their idols, but I am going to bluntly ignore anything controversial, negative or deep that has to do with product placement and instead breathe it all in and embrace the Product  Placement  Content. I like to call it PPC, it has become an inseparable part of the dramas and movies I love to watch. There is even a drama (Be Melodramatic) dedicated to the joy of finding ways to fit in product placement in dramas, where the  PPC is literally a big part of the story. But it has been a while since I saw it and in this editorial I am  going to try to forget all that was seen in that drama.

If you have never heard of PPL, this is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

If you have never heard of PPC in this context, good, because I decided midway into writing this piece that I want to differentiate between PPL and PPC as well as made up both a definition and an abbreviation for this concept. I doubt I am the first, but in case I am and others use it in a different way, here is a short definition for how these will be used in the following article. 

PPL (Product Placement): The act of placing a product in a show, focus on the what

PPC (Product Placement Content): The way it is framed and written into a show. Focus on entertainment value and the how

Yes,  I do love  abbreviating thingsOther uses for PPC have not been taken into consideration when bluntly stealing it for my personal comfort.

Why do I choose to ignore all this pre-existing knowledge and content? Because 1. I am kind of lazy,  2. I can ignore it,  and 3. I am completely unqualified to say anything about marketing,  economics, and creative freedom. If you do not count that one semester I tried studying marketing about 20 years ago.  To be fair, I do have a pretty good long term memory, but I doubt it makes me qualified for this. Ehhh, enough about qualifications. I, and I assume most other people, ignore the stuff outside the shows while watching them. I shall ignore this, too, and focus on the stuff I am pretty good at understanding  while still lacking most formal qualifications. I can appreciate the aesthetics and entertainment value of the Product Placement Content, for me as a viewer. Focusing more on my highly personal opinions about the writer’s creativity, making way for the marketers’ hard work in producing this high quality?  Sometimes more entertaining (and more or less  effective) PPC. I dare say that No One knows what has entertained Me more than I do myself,  so I dare say that I am probably The No. 1 Expert on that (slightly narrow) area. 

With my (lack of) qualifications out of the way, I can share this quality of life enhancing epiphany that I once got. Embrace the presence of PPL and PPC and you may just start appreciating it. I have grown to appreciate PPL almost as much as I love Ummies, Mr. Pyramid, and Trucky (see previous article). Not because they make me want to consume  or pay for my beloved series. No, it is because  many of these PPC scenes actually can make my heart flutter, they can get me to laugh, smile and have not only been enjoyable but sometimes even the most memorable part of a show (unless outperformed  by a kitten or puppy, it is hard to beat cute kittens). This for showing up in the most amusing situations. Be it a hard action scene, a romance or a melo… I just can’t help but laugh at the sight of many of them. And since I am a bit of a humanitarian, I want to share this life altering experience  with fellow Dramaland viewers.  

These 3 gifs come from Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. If you want to watch the whole scene, just click here for the whole drama.

Before we dig in, I would like to inform you that I am in NO way associated with the product placement or drama industry, nor do I get paid for this, nor have I tried most of the products in here. This is not to be seen as a commercial or recommendation of any product shown. 

In this editorial, I go purely on the product placement that I actually remember from the dramas I have seen and it is purely based on my memory and occasional gif search and nothing else. Though I have tried to avoid spoilers: much like Royce chocolates can not fully avoid nuts, I can not guarantee that this is spoiler free.

I can, however, guarantee that as true as Ferrero Rocher does contain nuts, this editorial will contain spoilers about product placement in dramas. If you want your PPL to come as a surprise, please leave now or forever hold your piece of Royce chocolate. Also, this is best viewed in landscape mode but should work for both dark and light mode users. This piece is both bingeable as a whole or can be consumed a chapter a day.

So let’s dig in!

If a C-drama does not include Rio, is it really a C-drama? 

Okay, I will admit there are probably C-dramas without Rios, most of them are probably youth or historically/costume oriented and I am sure some (very few) modern day ones won’t have Rio. They may be rare but they probably do exist. However, if you have watched more than one contemporary C-drama, chances are you have seen at least one bottle of Rio on your screen. Be it actually being consumed, stored on a shelf, on a table, or used as part of the interior design. From fridges filled with it to karaoke bars and restaurants, this drink seems to be everywhere. I even think it was used in a proposal scene somewhere, I just cannot remember which drama it was. 

The one drama I remember the most for its Rios is Boss and Me, showing Rios everywhere, making me laugh and with all due respect to the drama, it had me remembering the Rios more than anything else in it, giving me the inspiration to make this little game I like to call Find The Rio:

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

This type of placement just never gets old.

Level 4

Level 5

These Levels for Rio are not only colorful but can also serve as a great scale to decide how obvious the PPL with other products  is done. 

My personal favorite type of mix:  

Private Lives has such well-written PPC, a feast for the eye, important for the plot and  guaranteed to make you laugh. Just like the show itself has a perfect balance of suspense, humour and romance, so does its PPL. Just getting to see Go Kyung Pyo with this Samsung and this beautifully placed massage chair. Both products are very common products placed in dramas in 2019 – 2021 seen in all types of dramas.  However, few were as beautifully placed as here. Take a look at that glance he is giving us while holding up that phone. It just screams style, intensity and coolness while casually matching the surroundings just enough to look good but not too much to make it obvious for the untrained eye. A pure delight for the viewers.

And that chair! Unlike most product placements of massage chairs, this one actually proves its worth as not only a multi purpose seat, but also takes part in solving a misunderstanding, issues, and makes for some pretty lovely plot twists. Come to think of it, is a newlyweds apartment really a home without a huge massage chair in the living room?  Hey, if I were a newlywed, I would probably buy one  or at least put it on our register… or not, but still, it is not as ugly as most other chairs, and it looks really comfy, too. 

Have you noticed how everything in this scene is color coordinated? From Seo Hyun´s pink dress matching both the chair by the dining table and  the pink drink on the living room table. Go Kyung Pyo’s white and beige clothes match the carpet, walls…  The massage chair brings all the colors together (when Seo Hyun is in it), perfectly matched with everything from the people to the couch, pure genius styling. The creators of this PPC really thought of it all. 

From one seat to another: Cars, they have seats but they can move, too!  

I just love it whenever cars show up in dramas. Not that I am a huge car enthusiast or anything, but seeing how the car will be placed, will we get to see the label, will they zoom in on some useless detail for the plot or will we get to see the all mighty car on its own? Will the clothes match the car? In Dramaland anything goes!

As seen in The K2
 (and almost any other drama that shows frontal car pictures ) 


How about a close up!  Such as this scene from Forever and Ever
Or why not play another game… 

I am just going to place the following pictures here… They have little to do with cars and do not even match the color scheme so they should fit here just as much as they fit the drama they were placed in. I can not help but wonder if  the PPC creators used PPL in Forever and Ever to compensate for the hardship of fitting PPL into the  historical prequel, One and Only. So instead of going back in time to get people to invest in the drama with their products, they figured they would leave that to the future (not unlike the couple in the drama).

Even the guard notices the slightly absurd amount of 7 Honey Stars in the bag, maybe not very original Product Placement Content, but pretty ok entertainment value, and I got to play with a screenshot, the rest were taken as they were.

Now we shall act as if we did not see the Honey Stars and slide back to vehicles, because one drama that completely shines with its huge amount of PPL vehicles is the Devil Judge, where the PPC creators got to go all out with their creative ways of smoothly placing blurred, zoomed in, drifting, exhilarating chases, completely illogical income mismatches between character and product placed car… Ah yep, this drama has them all and was clearly sponsored by several expensive car manufacturers. Which it is of course not completely alone to have, but what gives this drama that all important edge in the competition to be remembered and featured in this all important editorial is one scene from the drama that will forever be logged in my memory. Not the fights, corruption, fires, explosions, the steamy kissing scene, bondage, or the pretty awesome filming locations. No, what stuck with me the most here was that one particular scene where Jung Sun Ah (Kim Min Jung) matches her car, with everything from clothing to nails (or at least it looked like that on my screen during the show, down here not as much). It was just so pretty and made me wonder if she had a car to match every outfit or if it was just this one. 

I feel Pretty, oh so Pretty… 

Speaking of things that match and are there to make people look pretty. The place I learned most about beauty products has to be Dramaland. I am going to admit that I knew nothing whatsoever about beauty products before I entered Dramaland. I  do  own  a  red  lipstick and occasionally use Nivea for my sometimes dry skin, but this is where my interest and understanding  of beauty and skin products pre-Dramaland ends. 

However, besides learning some commonly used drama phrases in Korean and Mandarin, I have also learned about beauty and what I should be doing to stay fresh. Little did I know that I need to get a lipstick for my partner to truly shine, and there is no better way to get that perfect look than by mixing lipsticks with each other. How, you may ask? If you watch or have seen My Fated Boy, you will know it is all about the kissing, how it mixes and then stays there is a still a bit of a mystery to me, or do you have to stop kissing right after to keep the shade? I may need to examine this further. 

But enough about the lips. Did you know that there are pink sticks with gold text called Kahi that can rejuvenate the most tired eyes, be it for the students in At a Distance, Spring is Green, the prosecutor in Taxi Driver, or a rich daughter of a corrupt politician in Dali and the Cocky Prince, it seems to work magic for more or less anything and is the worst kept secret to beauty in all of Dramaland.

I have also learned of the existence of facemasks, not the ones to keep people safe(er) from Covid, but the ones to make people look like mummies. I have also gained a deeper understanding of the importance of reading and keeping to the instructions on these products. Most importantly, it is never too early or too late to start using these, no matter who you are, face masks and pink sticks are there to leave anyone feeling beautiful and refreshed!

However! Do not fall asleep with a mask on your face, or you may get a huge pimple. This will  give the other lead a chance to show sincerity and make way for even more products, however, I think you have to have met your lead pre-pimple so just be aware, pimples are often uncomfortable and seldom worth the risk. 

Is there really any better way  to spoil your BFFs than giving them beauty products? Not if you ask the girls in Unforgettable Lovethere isn’t.

Yumi’s Cells taught me that masks are best used at night and are really refreshing, but can also be used to tease your slightly thirsty girlfriend… Also, who needs food in the fridge when you can fill it with white packets of face masks? 
The 3 F’s of Romance (and forgiveness): Flowers, Ferrero, Face masks. Be it a confession or an apology, it will not be complete without a red bag filled with face masks. Is The Red Bag the new Rio
Pictures from 
To Fly With You 
No Breathing  taught me what taxi drivers do  to keep fresh during off time, but as far as I understand, it shouldn’t affect your breathing. If it does, you are doing it wrong (or having an allergic reaction, that I figured out on my own).  

Speaking of thirsty eyes and beauty, I would here like to thank the soap industry for giving us sometimes completely uncalled for shower scenes just to show their products. Shower scenes can, of course, be lovely and funny with or without PPL, but next time you see one you could ask yourself if it is necessary for the plot or there to give Head and Shoulders a spot.  

It is important to stay hydrated! 

It is not only the face that needs to stay hydrated, the body needs fluids, too! How would the plots in K-dramas move along without the popular soju, and how would our favorite stars make a living if they could not promote soju? they would probably starve!  According to a very reliable source, this brand of soju is not only the most sold soju, but also the “MOST SELLING SPIRIT BRAND IN THE WORLD” (see banner below). Where the labels may vary (or not), I can not read that label, but this is actually one I have tried and it works really well with blackcurrant pickled herring. 

Time for another game I like to call Count the bottles of soju in the frame: 

Notice how the label is in the center? 

Do you need many bottles or is less more?

99 bottles of soju in the fridge… 99 bottles of soju, you drink and go kchchh, 98 bottles of soju left  in the fridge…

Less may be more, but do not forget to count the ones in the background.

48 bottles of Soju are left in the fridge… 48 bottles of soju in the fridge,  48 bottles of soju…

Learning how to consume soju correctly  is of course also important if you are to increase the product’s place in consumers’ minds.

 Having  Park Seo Joon do it helps, too.

 Pictures: 1Work Later, Drink Now: 2; Jealousy Incarnate, 3:Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, 4: Private Lives 5: Itaewon Class

These sojus are often combined with the product placement of their friend beer, often used to make soju bombs in various settings from rustic bars to showing off skills as a rookie at work, or just at home with your bestie! This blog wrote all about the different uses for soju, and much like me, the writer seems to get the urge to count bottles. As  you can see, the opportunities for fun filled PPCs and gifs are endless… much like the gif from The Producers (if I recognise it correctly). Pro tip: Searching for the words Soju + Gif gives the most amazing PPC and otherwise drama-related results. You will want to click on them all.

The combo of  soju and beer will complete each other like The Grim Reaper and the Goblin, like Prins Min Min and Bong Soon and like Billkin and PP-krit. And these bombs coexist perfectly with the product placement of hangover cures. Supplement and small bottles of any kind are a popular gift to hand out while investigating cases: as used in D.P or the first encounter/flirting scene in One Spring Night these are shown taken as precaution as well as the day after drinking. If they actually work against a hangover as much as hangover soup, I do not know? But for flirting and getting information, they seem to be the perfect remedy. Here is how we can combine the three products in three simple steps: 

Step 1: show people having fun with beer (+ soju)

Step 2: place beer + soju on the table next to people sleeping to mark a potential  hangover.

0 bottles of Soju are left in the fridge… 
Step 3: When people can relate to the hangover, come with the solution, and show the people that if you drink soju and beer, you may just have a guy that looks like Jung Hae In fall in love with you at first sight! 

While One Spring Night‘s hangover meds placement is a little bit more subtle, the one in D.P is just a little bit harder to miss. Showing again Jung Hae In handing out the good stuff, getting people to talk, because that is just how great this stuff is, it will make the most dolled up karaoke bar host talk. 

But just in case the label was not visible enough… They provide us with a close up! 

Yes it is really, really, really important to stay hydrated 

Of course, we can not settle for just tiny vitamin drinks and alcoholic beverages, the entertainment industry would probably be lost without its variety of fluids. They are used for practically anything, though we rarely get to see people actually drinking the non alcoholic beverages, with the exception of Yakult‘s beautiful ceremonial straw pitching through the metal foil, followed by us getting to watch and listen to  a person or two slowly suck on the tiny straw till it makes just the right sound. These are literally used for anything, be it a celebratory drink, having a deep conversation or finally finding those all important words of apology, not only making me laugh but actually often enhancing the mood of the scene making me feel all gooey and yoghurty inside.  

Speaking of beverages used as apologies, Sprite served as the perfect apology or at least I think it was an apology, I do not remember the details of the scene but I do remember the drink. When Type (Gulf Kanawut Traipipattanapong) buys a whole bag of Sprite and scatters the cans all over Tharn’s (Mew Suppasit Jongcheveevat) bed in TharnType. Since then, I can not see a can of Sprite without getting a smile on my face. You may say what you want about this drama, but the the PPC was really top tier entertainment. 

However, most beverages never get to be consumed and are rather used to be a pretty placed prop, a splash of color or thrown in a person’s face. It can not be easy to be a beverage on a set in Dramaland. Drinks  have also been used for such great purposes as hiding as seen here in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo: 

The one drama that is most memorable for its beverage PPC has to be Be Loved in House: I Do where the beverages seem to make it into almost every scene, be it coffee and wine in the café where half of the plot takes place, the placement of a fridge full of Vann in the house, or the detailed explanation given to us on the importance of soy milk for the growing (grown up) man. Also, this may be a long shot but even though I do not remember the words used to say this, something tells me this drama was sponsored by HWC roasters, I do not know why… 

Speaking of roasters and coffee, the placement of coffee can make for a whole new article, from Kopiko coffee candy to the huge amount of instant coffee placed next to different types of coffee machine placements (totally contradictory PPL) and just the number of coffee appliances shown in one and the same kitchen can tickle anyone’s laughter. Not to mention the amount of cafés and their management who are actually part of the main plot as well as placed in the most unusual places. Sometimes I wonder if the franchises and labels shown are real  or if they are just there for the show, and guess what, the labels are often already existing ones and most probably spots that have been paid for.

We have the liquids, time for some solids 

Speaking of franchises, when I was a kid, McDonalds came to the city I lived in for the first time. Something that was very big for this kid (me) who had only eaten at McDonalds abroad till that point. Stacked with fond memories of those happy, happy meals, I remember convincing a friend from Norway visiting Jerusalem for the first time to take me to what I thought was just the most significant place in the city center. To be fair, it was a lot prettier than most McDonalds are with the typical Jerusalem stone, but I am willing to say that the city had and still has quite a few more interesting attractions (with all due respect to the McD). As we came up to the restaurant, I just said: “Isn’t it beautiful”, I was dead serious, however, the person I was with, who wanted to see the beauty of Jerusalem, was not as impressed with this building as I was. Instead, the person broke out in laughter. 

Now as an adult I get to experience something similar whenever I watch a drama since so many romantic moments take place in all kinds of lovely fast food restaurants and with take outs. From BBQ chicken to the at least as romantic spot Subway and the all so seductive KFC breakfast, the PPL has also made way for this sweeter than sweet manifestation of the all so important bromance in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, not only showing them snuggling up together to show us how the Domino’s Pizza app works but also showing them playfully sharing a beautiful pizza moment, of course zooming in on both phone and app, pizza box and the pizza again. Several PPL’s working together in perfect harmony.  The PPC here was just sooooo  good that I had to make four gifs out of it. 

There is, however, no food that has been as successful in establishing its place in Dramaland, featured in practically every type  in Dramaland regardless of origin (except for maybe Japan, but I think I remember seeing it there, too). More popular than kimchi, hot pot and the big M put together, the oh so holy ramen! This food is so well established that even the people who have never watched a K-drama can understand what ramen means, and yes, it is everywhere, even if the label itself may vary, the ramen lobbyists truly did an amazing job at establishing their cause. Ramen is a part of Drama, Drama is a part of ramen. Splash Splash Love even made sure to take the ramen into the Joseon (with labels and all). Because they know there will be neither sismance nor romance without the ramen. Here it is also used to bridge this time shattering  sismance, uniting the future and past sisters in ramen, now that’s what I call creative placing! 

Speaking of creative placing, Dali and the Cocky Prince has some beautifully placed multipurpose Chupa Chupa lollipops that show up already in the first scene of the drama and follow our main protagonist on her journey through life, they are her fond memories, they are her lifeline, her heros, her cover and show up when you least expect them. Yes, they are everywhere and probably show up more often in this show than the Rios do in Boss and Me. Yes, she loves them and is even willing to give speeches to support them… overeating “real food”. 

“Well, science says that humans store about 16,000 calories in their body.” Then she just goes on and on about why it is perfectly fine to live on lollipops…

When the PPC is the perfect comic relief 

I may not be able to pinpoint the exact scene, if it was the Big Mac or the boxes of vitamin drinks or if it started with the Choco Pie. Whichever scene it was, if it was a specific scene or if it was the combination of them all. But something here made me notice the by far most brilliant use of product placement I have ever seen in Dramaland (as a whole). Making D.P the drama that cemented my appreciation for the art of placing the products and PPC. This drama is one of the most powerful and painful dramas to watch that have been released last year. So the product placement became one of the best comic reliefs, not silly, just the perfect balanced sliver of light in the dark, the moment of pause, the breath of much needed fresh air. When suddenly Han Ho Yul (Koo Kyo Hwan) sings “Pa da pa pa pa I’m Loving it!” after a physically and emotionally draining day’s work. I just found myself exhaling in relief. Watching them unwind with the use of PPC made the show just that bit more copeable. The show also made great use of PPC for giving context and opportunity to show people’s character without having to use too many flashbacks or go into detail, the Choco Pie said it all, be it to mark that those guys are meanies for stealing the oh so important Choco Pie in the past or to show us the caring nature of Cheo Suk Bong (Jo Hyun Chul) for giving his friend a Choco Pie to get him to eat something after refusing to eat for days. The PPL actually means something more than just being a pretty label.

Wrapping it all up 

To wrap this little joyful piece up, I will mention not one, not two, but three titles on MDL that stand out (to me) for their commercial value and esthetics. The first is 7 First Kisses, a commercial that admits to being a just that, a commercial, yet made as a web drama exploring/making a parody out of popular drama cliches in a pretty sweet way, its counterpart Bite Me which claims to be a drama but is more of a Visit Thailand commercial, populated with a bunch of product placement (mostly Line Man) and had a higher ratio of products shown per scene than the 7 Kisses commercial and the soju commercials in the staying hydrated section of this article. And last and shortest but highest entertainment value per minute is the 9-minute short film Shining In My Eyes. I read that it is supposed to be an advertisement, I am just not sure for what, could be a phone? Could be shrimp? Or maybe a sauce? It is, however, truly just a spark of cuteness for those in need of a quick fix of fluff. Three very different sides to the sweet, sweet comercial side of Dramaland bringing this piece to an end. 

I hope you have enjoyed this article and that it will help you enjoy Product Placed Content just a little bit more (if you do not enjoy it already).  There are of course a lot more PPLs and PPCs to write about, but I am going to leave that part up to you. By way of the comment section, DM, a post somewhere, a handwritten letter in a bottle of Rio, a thought out in the open… Or just let you have it in mind next time someone produces great product placed content, putting the products in the perfect place… or just whenever PPL pops up on your screen. I really do hope to get to read your thoughts. The constructive and kind comments on the articles I write are the second best part of writing these editorials (the creative process being the first). However, comment or not, I do hope you will enjoy all Dramaland has to offer. 

Bonus thought: Ever noticed that PPL sounds just like people? If not, now you probably will. 😉 

Credits: I do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Images are from the official stills and posters, drama screenshots, MDL, and Google searches. Gifs and screenshots are either taken/made by me from the drama scenes or have a direct link to their source in or under them. Special thanks to  the editors! 
Edited by: devitto (1st editor),  SumiTheCat (2nd editor)
product placement

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