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Carmakers turn to Korean drama for killer promotions

Actors of the upcoming drama 'IRIS II' pose with Kia Motors’ New K7 during the car’s launching event at a Seoul hotel on November 13. ( Kia Motors)

Publication Date : 26-11-2012


Kia Motors’ K7 sedan was once called “Lee Byung-hun’s car” after the Korean Wave heartthrob drove the car in the several chase scenes of the 2009 hit spy thriller IRIS.

Company officials would not offer the specific sales data on the drama sponsorship. But during the eight months after the drama ended, the K7 topped the nation’s large sedan segment sales, outperforming Hyundai Motor’s steady-seller Grandeur.

Unveiling the facelift version of the K7 recently, the carmaker, an affiliate of Hyundai Motor, is betting this time on the drama’s sequel IRIS II, which is slated to air in February.

“The K7 became a smash hit with the drama IRIS. The New K7 also will join the main actors of the upcoming IRIS II,” Seo Chun-kwan, Kia’s marketing director, said at the car’s launching event.

Amid a proliferation of drama productions in Korea and their better quality, carmakers are paying renewed attention to placing their products in TV dramas.

There are two options for marketers to slip their vehicles into TV shows here.

Through a deal with the state-sponsored Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation, carmakers can show the logos of their vehicles by paying 10 million to 40 million won (US$9,000-37,000) for a 10-second exposure.

Or they can directly sponsor a drama. In this case, the cost could surge to hundreds of millions of won depending on detailed contract conditions and they are not allowed to reveal the logos.

Despite the higher cost, most carmakers are opting for the latter as they can expose their vehicles constantly throughout the storylines.

Currently almost all prime-time shows feature sponsored cars for their main characters, with many of them being chaebol family members.

BMW offers its vehicles to SBS’ Five Fingers, Volvo for MBC’s Here Goes Oh Ja-ryong, Peugeot-Citroen for KBS Ohlala Couple and another KBS drama My Daughter Seo-young, Nissan for Innocent Man, and so on.

In terms of viewer ratings, French brands Peugeot and Citroen may have made the best deal as the weekender My Daughter Seo-young is enjoying high viewership.

Citroen, in particular, which made its Korean debut this year, is successfully appealing to local customers still unfamiliar with the brand and its vehicles.

“I would not say our appearance in the drama is directly affecting car sales. But more customers are visiting our dealerships and asking about the cars,” said Joe Han, a PR manager at Hanbul Motors, the official Korean importer of Citroen.

Mercedes-Benz took a smarter strategy, weaving its new M-class SUV directly into the storylines of the recently concluded hit drama A Gentleman’s Dignity.

The Mercedes-Benz Ml 63 AMG for SBS’ A Gentleman’s Dignity

In the drama, the main character, played by actor Jang Dong-gun, never hesitates to show his affection for the car, naming it “Betty,” which sometimes causes his girlfriend to get jealous.

After he mentioned the car in the drama, the carmaker said its dealerships were flooded with phone calls.

“Mercedes-Benz was more known for its sedan models in Korea. With the aim of increasing customers’ awareness about our SUV models, we designed the sponsorship from the beginning and the plan worked perfectly,” said Choi Yoon-sun, a spokesperson of Mercedes-Benz Korea.

As much as the effectiveness of a successful drama product placement is proved, however, carmakers are concerned about the soaring costs.

An executive at an import car brand said his company had to give up sponsoring a drama production recently due to the “excessive demands” of the mediating PR agency.

“In the past, we used to offer vehicles only. But now it is common that production companies ask for additional funding,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Industry watchers predict more carmakers would use product placement as it is still less expensive but more effective than regular TV commercials.

“Viewers seem more tolerant when products appear in the show, while they turn channels to skip TV commercials. But marketers need to know product placement should be integrated into the context, not added on too obviously,” said a PR agency official, declining to be named.


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