In an episode of the Korean television show “The K2,” which takes place in a world of fugitives and bodyguards, a man is being treated with a defibrillator when he enters into a dream state. On the fringe of death, he recalls taking a past love to a Subway restaurant and to a park for a picnic, where he gently feeds her a sandwich and soft drink with the Subway logo facing the camera.
The detail is not a narrative quirk. It is a result of South Korea’s broadcasting regulations and the aggressive use of product placement in the country’s shows by Subway, the American sandwich chain famous for its $5 foot-longs.
“People joke, ‘If I had a drink every time Subway popped up, I’d be drunk before the first half is over,’” said Jae-Ha Kim, a journalist in Chicago who reviews Korean dramas. “Everyone here’s like, ‘I never got a Subway sandwich that looked that good, with that much meat.’”
Product placement in TV shows is a reality the world over. But South Korea’s terrestrial stations are prevented from inserting commercial breaks during programming, meaning many Korean companies must be creative about getting their wares in front of viewers. As Korean dramas have become more popular with international audiences, global brands have pushed to be part of the action.
world’s largest fast-food chain by store count since its founding in 1965 in Bridgeport, Conn.
Colin Clark, the country director for Subway in South Korea, said product placements in popular dramas like “Descendants of the Sun” had a positive impact on global sales, specifically citing markets in China, Taiwan and Singapore.
“I swear to you, it was a difference between night and day — before the product placement and after the product placement — the effect it had on the customers,” said Mr. Clark, who declined to provide specific sales figures.
an Irish court ruled is not bread, and its tuna, which a lawsuit claimed is “anything but tuna.”
But on TV, pristinely clean Subway shops pop with bright colors serve as the setting for business meetings, social gossip and dates for beautiful couples. Instead of cookies and tea, elderly Korean TV characters keep freshly wrapped Subway sandwiches at the ready — you never can know when an unexpected guest will drop by and crave an Italian sub.
On the popular Korean drama “Crash Landing on You,” North Korean soldiers and a South Korean businesswoman find common ground through Subway sandwiches.
Product placement in Korean shows began in earnest in 2010, when South Korea’s stringent broadcasting laws eased restrictions on the practice in an effort to increase network revenues and promote Korean goods. In 2018, South Korea’s networks sold $114 million worth of product placement, up 15 percent from the previous year, according to Soobum Lee, a mass communication professor at Incheon National University.
Shows collect an average of about $900,000 from product placements, although 2016’s “Descendants of the Sun” sold triple that amount, Mr. Lee said. It was also criticized by some viewers for excessive product placement.
Other American companies, like Papa John’s Pizza, have used product placements in Korean dramas, but none are as ubiquitous as Subway.