The art of unobtrusive advertising is many a time lost on the Korean drama scene—here are a few examples that highlight exactly what we mean

Product plugs in dramas are nothing new—whether they’re done blatantly, without much thought about whether they fit in a scene, or tastefully slipped into the script.

But K-dramas, in particular, take product placements to a new high (or should that be low?) by featuring an endless stream of them, both obvious and subtle, in one single episode—from fried chicken joints to lipsticks, and cars to kimchi. Korean drama aficionados are totally used to having a coffee brand suddenly thrust into focus as the protagonist is, say, having an argument with someone while making her cup of joe.

And in recent memory, some of these product placements have garnered more attention than others, either thanks to their appearances being totally bizarre and laughable, or—in the case of just-concluded ratings hit Vincenzo—being a bit of a cultural hot potato. Here are six memorable product placements in your fave K-dramas.

Related: 11 Korean Dramas With the Highest Ratings in 2021: Which Haven’t You Watched?

1. Zihaiguo bibimbap (Vincenzo)

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A hullabaloo over bibimbap recently exploded as netizens cried foul over the product placement of a brand of instant bibimbap, which was being shown eaten by Vincenzo lead actors Song Joong-ki and Jeon Yeo-been. 

What’s wrong with bibimbap being advertised in a K-drama, you may ask? The problem is that the well-loved Korean staple in question is from Chinese brand Zihaiguo. And with Korean and Chinese netizens already at war over the origins of kimchi and the hanbok, the thought that viewers might think bibimbap was a Chinese dish was too much for Korean K-drama fans. 

The furore got so out of hand that Song Joong-ki had to apologise to South Koreans for being filmed with Chinese-made bibimbap. According to the actor, it is “right to apologise to those who are disappointed with our programme”. Just a reminder to K-drama producers: While it’s tempting to accept ad money from any brand to cover huge production costs, going about it insensibly could end up in product placements backfiring.

Related: Vincenzo: Design Details and Easter Eggs That You Might Have Missed

2. Kahi Stick Balm (The King: Eternal Monarch)

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No political or cultural missteps in this one, just complete hilarity as the hit K-drama’s female police officer protagonist, played by Kim Go-eun, whips out a random makeup stick product and starts applying it all over her face while staking out a criminal.

The product is K-beauty brand Kahi's Wrinkle Bounce Moisturizing Balm Stick—a multi-purpose balm, as demonstrated so effectively by Kim, who also happens to be the brand ambassador for Kahi. 

As if this sudden beauty interlude in a police car was not bizarre enough, Kim’s partner, a burly police dude named Jangmi, is fascinated by the product, asking, “You can use it for your lips and face?” He is seen later using the balm on his lips as he walks in a back alley, just before taking down a suspect. Talk about a product placement executed with comedic effect—it certainly made us laugh hard.

3. Cellreturn LED mask (The King: Eternal Monarch)

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Even though The King: Eternal Monarch was a hit with audiences as a romantic fantasy romp, it received its fair share of criticism for its relentless and unsubtle product placements. One of these was the appearance of a strange Iron Man-inspired mask, an LED skincare device, which was used by several characters in the drama. 

No surprise there—the K-drama’s leading man, Lee Min-ho, is the ambassador for Cellreturn LED mask. Yes, the products endorsed by actors and actresses often enjoy appearances in whatever shows the celebs star in, especially beauty products like lipsticks and skincare. Might as well milk it, right?

Related: 7 Iconic Trios From our Favourite Korean Dramas

4. Subway (Record of Youth)

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K-drama fans are no strangers to fast-food sandwich franchise Subway, as it has been prominently “featured” in quite a number of top Korean dramas. Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo ate in Subway countless times in Descendants of the Sun, the supernatural characters in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God loved Subway sandwiches, while the folks in Crash Landing on You, whether they were from South Korea or North Korea, hung out in Subways restaurants a lot. 

But what takes the cake (or should that be sandwich?) is when Record of Youth had Park Bo-gum’s struggling actor character serve up Footlongs as a Subway employee. Guess K-drama characters just eating in Subway wasn’t enough—they now had to work for Subway. Even more mind-blowing: When Park’s character is on his off day, he takes his girlfriend on a date to—you guessed it—Subway.

5. Swarovski (Crash Landing on You)

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Jewellery, bags, clothes, shoes and makeup worn by glamazon female protagonists in hot K-dramas often receive a massive amount of love from audiences, as fans obsess over the characters and run out to buy the dress, heels, rings and lipsticks worn by their heroines. This was never more evident than in Crash Landing, where every item from Swarovski worn by Yoon Se-ri, played by Son Ye-jin, sold out in stores worldwide. 

Crystal-embellished necklace and earrings from the jewellery brand’s Moonsun series in the debut episode? Flew off the shelves. Long drop earrings paired with a striking purple Isabel Marant dress? Sold out. Crystal studs worn with her North Korean Goodbye hairstyle? Forget about finding them. A very effective product placement or sponsorship that didn’t mess with the script or plot, yet was prominent and captured audiences.

Related: Hit K-Drama, Crash Landing On You, is Getting a Musical Adaptation in Seoul

6. The Body Shop (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God)

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While we’ve gotten pretty used to K-drama characters hanging out in Dal.komm coffee joints, eating BBQ Olive fried chicken and strategically tilting their Laneige lipsticks toward the camera so viewers can see the brand, this particular brand promotion in Goblin was so blatant that it bordered on comedy. 

In one scene, Gong Yoo, who plays the titular Goblin, gifts Eun-tak (played by Kim Go-eun) the iconic White Musk eau de toilette from The Body Shop. Harmless enough, except that the scene went on for far too long, with long, lingering camera zoom-ins and pans around the perfume, and Kim’s character innocently doing a sniff test. 

Then there’s another scene where Gong Yoo gets a bit trippy in an actual The Body Shop store, spritzing White Musk on himself and telling Eun-tak that while the perfume won’t make her immortal like him, it will help her “smell nice for a while”. Zero subtlety.

Unsurprisingly, Gong Yoo is The Body Shop’s ambassador, and apparently, if you buy its White Musk products in Korea, the packaging has his face on it. 

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