When Netflix debuted Squid Game in September, nobody expected the K-drama to blow up. However, with eye-catching set design, instantly iconic costumes, and a relatable narrative, the dystopian series, trailing a group of contestants in a life-and-death competition to win a cash prize, has become a global pop cultural juggernaut.
As of November, Squid Game has been watched by 111 million viewers, according to Netflix, and generated nearly $900 million in “impact value,” the platform’s internal calculation based on the estimated value of a program’s viewership. It’s the streamer’s most popular series, far outstripping the successes of Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit, and Bridgerton. And with a hit show on its hands, Netflix has been swift to capitalize on its IP.
Following a pop-up installation in Seoul, a Squid Game experience in Paris in October invited fans to play games from the series, including the honeycomb (dalgona) and paper flipping (ddakji) challenges. Los Angeles hosted a larger scale experience in Koreatown featuring games, photo opportunities, and Squid Game-branded food trucks. And a pop-up event is currently touring New York’s White City, Birmingham, and Manchester.
Beyond Squid Game, Netflix has also been deploying the IPs of its other properties across multiple platforms. Earlier this month, Netflix released Netflix Games for mobile devices, offering games like Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3: The Game. “We’re going to take a bunch of different approaches to try and be successful in [the gaming] space, just like we did in movies and TV shows,” Netflix’s Chief Operating Officer Greg Peters told Quartz.
And in addition to an official e-commerce platform offering licensed products (some in collaboration with well-established brands), Netflix has announced a collaboration with retail giant, Walmart, to release branded merchandise. Earlier still, in 2020, Netflix partnered with the Brooklyn Museum for an exhibition centered on costumes from The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown.
According to Patricia DeLuca, Managing Editor of License Global, Netflix’s licensed products often ring true to the original series. Noting the Stranger Things collaboration with bicycle company, Schwinn, she says, “This partnership is not a cash-grab, but authentic, as people who grew up in the 1980s most likely owned a Schwinn bike. “
With Squid Game, Netflix doubled down on IP experiences to more deeply immerse viewers in a world that’s been uniquely designed, in turn making the series newly relatable. “While the premise of Squid Game is fantasy, the characters are relatable,” DeLuca says. “Viewers could see themselves wearing Squid Game apparel and not think of it as a costume.” In May 2022, Netflix is planning to adapt that relatability for Stranger Things: The Experience, an exhibition that will immerse attendees in the universe of Hawkins, Indiana.
While Netflix-sanctioned Squid Game experiences are plentiful, unofficial events have also popped up across the world — a phenomenon that DeLuca says ultimately hurts the series’ reputation. “If a licensee is only capitalizing on the fanfare around the series, unauthorized licensees may not meet attention to detail in the product line,” she says. “A loyal fan of the series will not wear Squid Game apparel with incorrect symbols. However, some consumers may not know the difference between a branded product line and pirated merchandise.” Only a partnership with Netflix can deliver quality control and products that are authentic to the series.
It’s difficult to predict how long Squid Game’s hype will last, but if Netflix is savvy with its IP, the series has the potential to become a household name not unlike that of a Disney property. “People don’t want to experience the evil and horror these characters endured first-hand, but the magic of television is that it opens a portal to new worlds without having to actually live through consequences,” DeLuca says. And with a licensed product or exhibition, Netflix is ensuring the continued force of that emotional engagement and in turn, the longevity of its IP.