Squid Game is all the rage on the web this month, and if you haven’t caught it yet, the series is about a group of players coming together to play a series of children’s games, in life-or-death scenarios with the final prize being 46 billion Korean won. And us being digital marketers, we couldn’t help but draw parallels to the various learning lessons to how we run digital marketing campaigns, be in on Facebook or Google.

Here are 9 lessons in digital marketing we found from watching this latest thriller – Squid Game.


1. You don’t need to be first, just don’t be the last

You don’t need to be first, just don’t be the last in Squid Game
Players in “Red Light, Green Light”

In Episode 1, we are introduced to “Red Light, Green Light”, a game of run-and-freeze where players try to make their way towards a finish line without being gunned down. Right of the bat, we see 2 players rushing forward, and being shot for  not ‘freezing’ in time or moving during ‘Red Light’. The rest of the players, upon realising it is a life-or-death scenario, play the game more carefully, with a handful eventually making it past the finish line.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
In digital marketing, the same applies where there it’s not always necessary to be the first to jump onto a viral trend or a new practice (but it can be great). In fact, being second is actually a better position since you are able to witness the risks and results of the first mover. However, the overall pros and cons of being a first mover, or a “fast follower” is dependent on your industry, as this report elaborates more.

But one’s thing for sure: just don’t be the last to jump on the trend, or miss the boat entirely.


2. Have a strategy

Have a strategy in Squid Game


Gi-hun’s team, team 4 facing off against team 5

At many parts in Squid Game, we see how a last-minute strategy executed helped the players to progress to the next round. In particular, in episode 5 with Gi-hun’s team winning their tug-of-war, and also, back in episode 3 with Gi-hun deciding to lick his dalgona biscuit to help achieve his chosen shape.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Having a strategy for your digital marketing campaign is one of the most important parts, if not the most important. From setting whether you want a budget driven campaign, or a leads driven campaign, to the branding direction of your business, all these have to be set in stone beforehand.

Otherwise, you and your team might just end up like team 5, without a prior plan in place (like 10 guys all on one side of the rope).


3. Goliath doesn’t always win

Goliath doesn’t always win in squid game


‘David’ beating ‘Goliath’ in Squid Game

Referencing to Episode 4/5’s Tug-of-War games again, having a strategy helped Gi-hun’s team take down the opposing team of 10 men, which shows that with a great strategy, a team with a physical disadvantage can stand victorious over an opposing team.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
If your business is a young entrant to the industry, or your industry has heavyweights that have been established for years, this lesson is for you.

The great thing about digital marketing is that it levels the playing field between Davids and Goliaths, removing many physical advantages that large businesses have. Be it large retail spaces or having many outlets over the country, all these don’t matter on online platforms.

Hence, online eCommerce is a great way to edge out players that have long been in the industry provided you also use a properly, thought out strategy that enables you to out-market and out-position them.

However, the things that digital marketing does not level include: the online advertising budget your competitor is willing to spend, the duration they want to run their campaigns for, and brand reputation. So if you’re a new entrant, your Facebook marketing campaign and Google PPC campaigns will also need to best your competitors in these aspects too.


4. Be ready to deal with surprises

Be ready to deal with surprises in Squid Game


Gi-hun, on Sang-Woo’s apology for not figuring out the puzzle

Who doesn’t love surprises? To us viewers, the different games in every episode provide thrilling entertainment, but in digital marketing, surprises in your campaigns or lead count is anything from exciting, and can be akin to the life-or-death situations that Gi-hun and friends face in the show.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Like Gi-hun in the show, you can never prepare fully for all incidents that might occur in your campaigns, but you can definitely choose how you want to react and tackle these issues. In fact, both Facebook and Google frequently update their algorithms, with Facebook increasing its strictness on ad copy keywords during certain events, and Google releasing relevancy algorithms once every few months. Such changes can easily throw your marketing plans off course. Ad quality score suddenly drops, and keyword rankings on Google disappear from Page 1.


The solution to this is not only to be mentally prepared, but also having good foundations in digital marketing. Knowing in detail the platforms you are advertising on is a must, but more importantly is knowing how to attribute and correlate your campaign results with your actions. For instance, whether it was a different Facebook ad used which caused your campaign cost-per-click to increase, or whether it is due to a lack of search demand on weekends. Or could it be both? These are data that any good marketer should learn to make sense of in the long run.


5. Stay observant of happenings around you

Stay observant of happenings around you in Squid Game


Jun-Ho, picking up a fallen manager’s mask

How many of us felt for Detective Jun-Ho’s fate at episode 8? If like us, you’re likely to be impressed in how he came so far in infiltrating the game first as a worker, then as a manager, and lastly infiltrating the VIP room while posing as a waiter. This would not have been possible if Jun-Ho was not observant of his surroundings, knowing when to seek an opportunity to infiltrate, when to retreat, or when to confront a fellow worker.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
On the online sphere, the platforms our businesses would rely on would be Google and Facebook mostly, and perhaps Instagram and YouTube. All these are platforms owned by private companies, and we are actually reliant on the boundaries and algorithms in place. Hence, knowing the platforms you are marketing and advertising on is a must.

In terms of industry or marketing happenings, staying observant will allow you to observe what your competitors are doing, and evaluate whether it is great for your business.


6. Love your products, but remember your bottom line

Love your products, but remember your bottom line in Squid Game


Ji-Yeong and Sae-byeok realising one of them needs to die

From the many comments and reviews of Squid Game, one of the most heart-breaking episodes is episode 6, where every player-pair have to play games of their choice using marbles as currency, and one player has to win all the marbles of the other. What was heart-breaking is having to see one player each out of the pairs of Gi-hun and Il-nam, Sang-Woo and Ali, Sae-byeok and Ji-Yeong lose and die this round.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
When running digital marketing campaigns, we might have well-performing ads or well-performing keywords, However, it might turn out that it is either not generating enough leads and revenue, or the company is planning on a new product or service, and marketing for your previous product is no longer needed.

As marketeers, keeping the big picture in mind is important, and like it or not, conversions are the outcome that all digital marketing campaigns should strive for. Only by doing so can expenditure on digital marketing be justified. In times of economic crises, studies have shown that marketing expenditure is usually the first to be cut, and more especially so if results were not shown to be justified.


7. Results are great, but don’t just focus on them

Results are great, but don’t just focus on them in Squid Game


Ali being eliminated

Throughout Squid Game, one of the most love-hate characters in our opinion, is Sang-Woo. Always teetering between taking the moral right decision versus personal benefit, Sang-Woo’s swing towards winning the game at all costs from episode 6 onwards was hard (and interesting) to watch. From coming to Ali’s aid in episode 2, to betraying him in episode 6 for his own benefit, we see the best and the worst of Sang-Woo.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Focusing on the benefits of digital marketing, in leads and conversions, is definitely important, but business-owners might forget that results take time and cultivation of leads too. It’s not always the case where running social media marketing campaign or a Google Pay-per-click campaign will generate leads and profits immediately.

Questions such as these have to be considered:

Is the product attractive to users?

Is it price-competitive?

And most importantly, does it offer the user real value?


Until a business is able to answer these 3 questions with a confident ‘Yes’ and establish their unique selling point, leads and conversions do not fall from the sky that easily.

While focusing on driving up profit margins is great, overly doing it can leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. For instance, increasing the price of your products, without good justification.

So how do you increase profits, but not leave a bad taste?

Mark Joyner’s book, The Irresistible Offer, share insight on this. The Irresistible Offer refers to marketing a high-quality product in an angle that suggests that if he or she decides to pass the product offer, it will be a huge loss to him/her.

The learning point from this would be to focus on your product quality, to drive up its ‘irresistibleness’ and the value it offers users.


8. The system is always watching

The system is always watching in Squid Game


The Front Man, watching the players move around

In Squid Game, we are reminded on how the players are being watched every single moment, be it whether they are resting in their bunks, or when they are moving around the colourful corridors, even after game hours.

From watching soldiers leading player 111, the doctor to salve body parts for harvest, to tracking Jun-Ho and his soldiers, the cameras are aplenty in the game compounds, and the Front Man is able to watch all activities in his control room with his surveillance team.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Just like in the games, whatever you do on your social media platforms are not only being watched by moderators on Facebook and Google’s algorithms, but also by your audiences.

On the flip side, as a business owner you also have access to these ‘control rooms’ for your platforms, namely Facebook Business Manager and Google Analytics/Search Console, you have access to the data and behaviour of your traffic to your social media platforms and website.

So, like the Front Man in the show, leverage on all these data you have to form a picture of your business traffic and create a business strategy from there.


9. Stick to white-hat techniques

Stick to white-hat techniques in Squid Game
Gi-hun, on helping Player 001 cover his soiled pants

In the show, we see how players get forward at times by means such as lying (episode 6, Ali’s marbles), pushing others down to solve obstacles directly (episode 7, glass bridge), or directly eliminating others (episode 4, night riots). Yes, it’s a free market, but what makes us hate those who lied, pushed others to be sacrificed, etc, is the way they put themselves over others, even if it means putting them in harm’s way.

Rather than taking after these players, it would be good to take after the main protagonist, Gi-hun. who showed mostly care and concern to his fellow players, despite everyone being in it for himself.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Like the digital marketing world, the similar is also true, where there will be techniques to ‘cheat’ the system and gain that crucial advantage over your competitors. Whether it is misrepresentative advertising, or negatively portraying your competitor, these actions will eventually catch up to your business.

Stick to a great product, effective messaging, and a great marketing angle, and your business will then truly go far.


Last Thoughts

Squid Game was no doubt a thrilling, gory and exciting show, and it showcased not just the various sides of human behaviour, but also how people act on their survival instincts in different manners. All these are lessons that can be applied to digital marketing as well. So if you’re a digital marketeer looking for ideas to apply your next campaign, we hope Squid Game has given you some insight just like how it has given us too! Otherwise, come join a digital marketing course with us at FirstCom Academy where our trainers will share ideas on how to kickstart your campaigns, be it on Facebook, Google Search, or Youtube!


All screenshots are courtesy of Netflix.