Word-of-mouth is an extremely powerful marketing tool. In fact, some might even say it is more successful than the largest paid ad campaigns.
There are so many ways in which people communicate, from face-to-face conversations to tweets. The fact is people like to share their opinions and social media has facilitated this by giving people the ability to spread their views very, very quickly.
Take Squid Game. A show which revolves around 456 heavily debt-ridden people, who take part in six rounds of children's games. If they pass all six rounds, they win a humongous amount of money. However, if they lose, they die in terrifying and inhumane ways.
Through word-of-mouth, Squid Game has now become the most-watched programme of 2021 in 90 different countries and is already worth over $900 million. Yet, I did not see a single advert for it. The show triggered a lot of buzz across social media platforms, notably Instagram where people posted lots of memes, and TikTok, where users created #challenges based on the show’s different games.
Teens & FOMO
All this scattered information across the different social platforms generates FOMO (the fear of missing out). When people experience FOMO, they feel pressured to engage to avoid feeling left out. I believe many teens decided to watch the show due to FOMO. All over Instagram, news feeds were filled with endless memes and posts about the show. It appeared that everyone, everywhere was talking about this show. Not only did these memes/posts encourage me to watch the show, but it encouraged me to watch all nine 1-hour long episodes in less than 48 hours. This is because it was being spoken about online so frequently that I wanted to watch the show as fast as possible to reduce any chance of spoilers.
Children wanted to be involved too
Even children want to be a part of this conversation, despite the fact they are clearly not the target audience (nor is it appropriate for them at all). In fact, there has been some dispute about the target audience for the show. The creators have stated it is appropriate for 16+, however, this caused controversy as many have said it is more of an 18+, even though we know many teens younger than that have seen it.
The violent game has snuck into the kids space through YouTube Kids. According to an article published by The Conversation, the most popular videos revolving around Squid Game are Roblox gameplay videos. Roblox is an online video game which allows players to program their own games and share them with other users. Squid Game has become a very common theme in user programmed Roblox games and the gameplay videos have thousands, or even millions of views. On top of this, there are millions of children on TikTok who are seeing teens and adults recreate the different games from the show.
This has led to pupils as young as six acting out the games in the playground, as after all the show revolves around children’s games. Children often engage in observational learning, meaning they imitate behaviours that they see from watching others. Even if a child hasn't seen a single episode of the show, the variations of other people copying Squid Game online and hearing classmates talk about it in the playground, encourages children to replicate. However, children hearing about the show shouldn’t turn into a widespread moral panic. While one-off cases do happen, for most part school kids are not watching the show and fighting each other en masse.
So why is everyone talking about Squid Game?
Word-of-mouth is nothing new, BUT what makes the popularity of Squid Game so impressive, is the fact it is a Korean drama that went viral on a global scale in such a short amount of time.
Socialisation plays a big part
As social beings, we find it enjoyable to share content with friends that is novel and produces strong emotional reactions and Squid Game does just that. When watching players partake in each round of the dangerous games, the viewer is left feeling thrilled, disturbed, and uncomfortably tense all at the same time. It is within our nature to get fulfilment from seeing things that are both terrifying and stimulating. So much so, when we are scared, our bodies release dopamine which is the hormone responsible for good, positive feelings.
We have also seen a huge growth in international shows and movies, including Money Heist, Lupin and Chestnut Man. Morten Juhl, one of the producers of the Danish Drama, Chestnut Man, believes that the huge reach of streaming services have made it a lot easier for audiences to enjoy international shows. Additionally, on top of that, there’s also an understanding that local markets have their own individual look and feel. Juhl noted that shows from different countries “have understood that we shouldn't all be doing the same, we shouldn’t all be striving towards a Hollywood style or something, but actually keep our regional differences”. Hence, people enjoy shows like Squid Game, due to the fact that they have been produced, edited and acted out in a way they are not entirely used to.
Word-of-mouth is an honest and focused source
To conclude, word-of-mouth works well as a marketing strategy because we are more likely to trust the source. Unsurprisingly, we trust our friends and the whole of the internet raving about a tv show more than we trust adverts. People who do not work on the show, have no reason to sugar-coat or encourage you to watch something, so when thousands of people create posts about how good a show is, it feels that bit more believable! Teenagers are especially influenced by friends and social media. Being involved and a part of something gives teenagers a sense of belonging, which helps develop self-esteem and confidence.
Indeed, word-of-mouth is much more focused than adverts as friends will tell you about something because they know it will be relevant to your interests. They wouldn’t tell you about a new show revolving around death and children’s games unless they think it might be of interest.
However, the effectiveness of word-of-mouth depends on getting people to talk. Word-of-mouth can be extremely powerful, but what is hard is actually getting people to talk. It’s not enough just to be on social media or post things occasionally. The real challenge is understanding why people talk and share in the first place, and how to get them to do these things. But that will be a blog for another day...