Like everybody else, I was also hypnotized by the craziness of the new Netflix hit Squid Game. Squid Game is a thriller from South Korea that has taken the world by storm and is on its way to top the streaming platform’s charts. When watching the games and the strategies of their players, I couldn’t stop thinking that many of these tactics are basically the same as the ones we apply when running paid advertising campaigns for our clients.
The show portrays a dystopian world where a mysterious organization gathers people who are in debt and living on the edges of society. These candidates must compete in a series of children’s games for the chance to win a huge sum of money. Every game is a Korean traditional game, but the consequence of losing is death.
So let me share some of my thoughts about the 6 games on the show and what we can learn from them about our online advertising campaign strategies. This article has no specific spoilers other than naming the games, and it will help you think about your online strategies after watching the show:).
Game 1 – Red light, Green light, or how to put together the right copy and creative
In the first game the ‘tagger’ is a huge robot in the shape of a little giant girl, she turns her back on the group and sings a song, while all the players need to run past her until the singing stops. When the girl turns around everyone needs to stop and freeze.
This game reminds me of the first step of a good online campaign, the copy and creative. When users scroll their feed on Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter, the advertisers must make them stop and keep their eye on their sponsored posts. A good creative will use strong colors that will make it stand out from the feed that usually uses monochromatic colors like white, grey, and blue. It will use strong imagery, like photos of real people looking right at you, or impressive illustrations that capture viewers’ attention. It uses short and interesting taglines in a large font and a bold call to action. Video creative is also strong in capturing users’ attention and since the video is auto-played on most feeds the first 5 seconds are the most crucial to make them stop and engage.
The copy that accompanies the creative should be personalized as much as possible. It should ask a question, mention the prospect’s biggest pain point, offer a piece of downloadable content, invite the viewer to a special event, or offer them another kind of value. Copy must be short, clear, and focus on one major CTA. For ABM campaigns you might want to use the name of the company, or job title, or job function on the ad itself.
The attention span of users who scroll down the feed is extremely low so only the advertisers with the best copy and creative will make them stop and that’s how you win the game.
Game 2 – Honeycomb/Ppopgi or how to find a market fit with the right targeting audience
In the second game, the players cut stamped shapes out of honeycomb candy, and they need to cut it out perfectly. If the candy cracks, you lose the game.
The Ppopgi game reminds me of the struggle to find the right targeting for your online campaigns. On social advertising platforms such as Linkedin ads and Facebook ads, there are many different ways to create the right targeting mix. You can combine a shortlist of companies together with a list of job titles, and job functions, industry, or seniority. You can target users by their demographic, interest, and behaviors. You can use custom lists, retarget users based on certain pages they’ve visited or haven’t visited, can upload custom audiences, create lookalike lists, so the targeting options are endless.
But as smart advertisers, we must carve out the right targeting combinations from the platforms in use, in order to display our ads to the right users without wasting our time and money on irrelevant impressions. Utilizing the right audience will bring us the qualified leads we seek.
Game 3 – Tug of War or how to outbid your strongest competitors
The tug of war is as simple as it sounds, two teams of players pull the rope, and the team that passes the middle line wins. In the Squid Game, the weaker team managed to win against the team with stronger players by working together and applying a good game strategy.
As online advertisers, we often bid our campaigns against bigger and stronger advertisers with larger budgets. But despite this advantage, smart advertisers can outbid stronger ones by applying some simple tactics. Research shows that when your ads are shown in a high frequency to the same users over and over again – users develop banner blindness and tend to ignore the ad.
Wise advertisers don’t let the same users see the same ad more than 3-5 times, they often switch between the messaging and are more precise with the offering. They also know to stop the campaign when they are low on budget and push harder again right before they need to reach the campaign goal.
Game 4 – Marbles or how to date your prospects
The fourth game was marbles, which is popular around the world, but it is interpreted slightly differently in the show. The players were asked to split into pairs and played against each other. Each team of two was given two sets of 10 marbles and one of them must win all of the marbles. The players needed to decide on different games they could play with each other in order to win their opponents’ marbles.
This game felt to me like the relationship we are developing with our prospects and the marketing funnels we create in order to convert them to be our customers. We advertisers like to look at our online advertising campaigns as dating. On a first date, you wouldn’t want to push too hard by telling your prospects everything about yourself and it is obviously too early to propose. On a first date, you can only win one marble by introducing yourself and getting them familiar with your brand.
On the second or third date, you can win more marbles by introducing them to gated content they might find interesting. This is also called a cold lead generation campaign. And only then when you get to know each other better, you get ready to propose and ask them to take a demo or try your product and basically win all their marbles.
Game 5 – Glass stepping stones or how to track campaign attribution along the funnel
In this game, players have to hop across a suspended bridge lined with panels of glass – but some of them are normal and will break and some of them are stronger and can hold the players. If one of the Squid Game players chose the regular pane, then it would break and they would fall.
The mirror bridge reminded me of our greatest marketing challenge to track the success of our digital advertising efforts and getting them to complete the marketing funnel. Many of our prospects engage with our campaign offering along the way but we fail to attribute our campaign impact to their final conversion. Each new customer had a few different touchpoints that influenced their final decision to purchase our product.
Many stakeholders in the company, such as the Sales team, will always be skeptical about the real impact of our campaigns. As online advertisers, we always need to improve our ability to track all of these touchpoints along the funnel in order to show how it led them to the final conversion without bouncing along the way.
Game 6 – Squid Game Final round or how to achieve the campaign KPI
The final game on the Squid Game is basically a version of tag that was played in South Korea in the 70s and 80s. It is played on a squid-like field, a square with a triangle on top, and a circle above and below.
Two teams go up against one another, a defender and an attacker. A player from the offensive team must reach the squid’s head at the top and touch it with their foot, but the defensive team will do everything to stop it.
The squid game is basically our ultimate race to the bottom of the funnel to achieve the campaign goal and bring a positive ROI. The squid field is designed like a funnel and it reminds us about the efforts we should make in order to reach our goal and convert our campaign leads.
In order to win this final game, we must create attractive copy and creativity that will make our users stop and notice us. We need to make sure that we find a market fit by targeting the right audience combination. We should outbid our strong competitors with smarter offerings and good budget utilization. We must date our prospects with patience while creating rich marketing funnels before making the final move. Attribution of our campaign performance is always a key to its success. And only when we apply all of these tactics we can make it to the squid’s head and win the big ROI prize.
Lastly, While the show criticizes the modern world, capitalism, and class gaps, I chose to only focus on the game tactics disregarding the violence and user manipulation aspects.
Please let me know what you think and how you play your online advertising squid games.