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. As digital marketers, we couldn’t help but draw parallels to the various learning lessons in running digital marketing campaigns and advertising on platforms like Facebook or Google.

Here are nine lessons in digital marketing and advertising we learned 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 to a finish line without being gunned down. Right off the bat, we see two players rushing forward and being shot for not ‘freezing’ in time or moving during ‘Red Light’. Upon realising it is a life-or-death scenario, the rest of the players play the game more carefully, with a handful eventually reaching the finish line.

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

Lesson: In digital marketing and advertising, jumping on a trend first is not always necessary, but don’t 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

In many parts of Squid Game, we see how a last-minute strategy helped the players progress to the next round. In episode 5, Gi-hun’s team wins their tug-of-war, and in episode 3, he also manages to survive the Honeycomb game. In the Honeycomb game, the players are given a needle and a honeycomb candy with a shape engraved on it.

The task is to remove the shape without breaking it. The majority of the players choose simple shapes like triangles and circles, but Gi-hun ends up with the most complex shape – an umbrella. Initially, he struggles and almost gives up. But he remembers his childhood when he used to eat this candy. He realises that licking the candy can make the task easier. Although risky and time-consuming, this strategy ends up saving him at the last minute once again. This recurring theme of last-minute strategies and survival instincts highlights the players’ desperate circumstances and strong willpower to survive in the deadly Squid Game.

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 end up like Team 5 without a prior plan (like ten guys on one side of the rope).

Lesson: Having a thoughtful strategy is crucial for digital marketing and advertising campaigns.

3. Goliath doesn’t always win

Goliath doesn’t always win in squid game

‘David’ beating ‘Goliath’ in Squid Game.

Referencing 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 plan, 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. Whether large retail spaces or having many outlets nationwide, none matters online.

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, digital marketing does not 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 suit your competitors in these aspects best.

Lesson: With smart digital marketing and advertising, smaller businesses can outcompete larger, established players.

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. Still, in digital marketing, surprises in your campaigns or lead count are anything from exciting and can be akin to the life-or-death situations Gi-hun and his friends face in the show.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Like Gi-hun in the show, you can never fully prepare for all incidents in your campaigns, but you can choose how you want to react and tackle these issues. 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 is to be mentally prepared and have nations in digital marketing. Knowing in detail the platforms you are advertising on is essential, but more importantly, knowing how to attribute and correlate your campaign results with your actions is necessary. For instance, whether it was a different Facebook ad used which caused your campaign cost-per-click to increase or whether it was 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.

Lesson: Digital marketing brings surprises – be ready to quickly adapt and optimize campaigns.

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 in episode 8? If you like us, you’re likely to be impressed with 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 had not been observant of his surroundings and had not known when to seek an opportunity to infiltrate, retreat, or confront a fellow worker.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
On the online sphere, the platforms our businesses would rely on would mostly be Google and Facebook, and perhaps Instagram and YouTube. Private companies own all these platforms, and we rely on the boundaries and algorithms in place. Hence, knowing the platforms you are marketing and advertising on is necessary.

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

Lesson: Stay updated on digital marketing and advertising platform algorithms and changes.

6. Love your products, but remember your bottom line

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

Ji-Yeong and Sae-book realise 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 has 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 was having to see one player each out of the pairs of Gi-hun and Il-Nam, Sang-Woo and Ali, and Sae-book 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 marketers, keeping the big picture in mind is essential, 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 economic crises, studies have shown that marketing expenditure is usually the first to be cut, especially if results are not justified.

Lesson: Marketing aims to drive revenue – keep the big picture in mind.

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 morally correct decision versus personal benefit, Sang-Woo’s swing towards winning the game at all costs from episode 6 onwards was challenging (and enjoyable) to watch. From coming to Ali’s aid in episode 2 to betraying him in episode 6 for his 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 essential, but business owners might forget that results take time and cultivation of leads, too. It’s not always the case where running a 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 can answer these three questions with a confident ‘Yes’ and establish its 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, you are increasing the prices of your products without reasonable justification.

So how do you increase profits without leaving a bad taste?

Mark Joyner’s book, The Irresistible Offer, shares insight on this. The Irresistible Offer refers to marketing a high-quality product from an angle suggesting that it will be a considerable loss if they decide to pass on the product offer.

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

Lesson: Marketing is also about nurturing leads and providing real value.

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 how the players are constantly watched, whether resting in their bunks or 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 can watch all activities in his control room with his surveillance team.

Lesson in Digital Marketing:
Like in the games, moderators on Facebook and Google’s algorithms and your audiences watch whatever you do on your social media platforms.

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 Crooms’; 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 all these data to form a picture of your business traffic and create a business strategy from there.

Lesson: Use your digital analytics to optimize marketing and get customer insights.

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), and directly eliminating others (episode 4, Night riots). Yes, it’s a free market, but what makes us hate those who lied and pushed others to be sacrificed is how 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 maharm’stagonista and Gi-hun. Who mainly showed care and concern for his fellow players despite everyone being in it for himself.

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

Stick to a great product, compelling messaging, and a great marketing angle; your business will go far.

Lesson: Ethical, honest digital marketing and advertising wins long-term.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Squid Game's mystery marketing campaign built intrigue and FOMO without revealing much. This made people want to be part of the conversation and watch it.

Its shocking twists, relatable characters, and compelling visuals were perfect fodder for memes, discussions, and reactions that spread organically.

Carefully targeting interested audiences and using intriguing teasers and clips can be more effective than broad mainstream advertising.

They can focus on creating shareworthy content and experiences tailored to their niche rather than big mainstream campaigns.

Don't exploit others or overpromise. Build trust through honesty and delivering real value for your audience.

Last Thoughts

Squid Game was undoubtedly a thrilling, gory, and exciting show, showcasing the various sides of human behaviour and how people act on their survival instincts differently. 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 to your next campaign, we hope Squiyou’re has given you some insight just like it has given us! Otherwise, 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.