Squid Game’s Subtle Banner Game

The success of ‘Squid Game’ on Netflix is going to spark a lot of creative discussions; will there be a sequel? How did it managed to break through internationally? What’s the recipe for dalgona candy?; all spring to mind.

I want to highlight one space in the Netflix app… the banner. It’s probably the most valuable space that Netflix has. Taking up nearly the full screen when you open the desktop client and almost half the screen on the mobile client, it’s an autoplaying advertisement, selected by Netflix, promoting the latest and greatest choices.

While you are free to search through your own list or explore the algorithm-created topics, human nature will always be to consider what is in front of you. If Netflix want’s you to make an active choice over content, the content will be here. While I can’t specifically remember, I’ll bet that my first experience of ‘Squid Game’ was Netflix shoving it under my nose.

It helps that ‘Squid Game‘ is a great piece of television, a true auteur’s vision with much to say about society. Yet, for all the idealistic talk of organic growth and becoming a breakout hit all on its own, it’s had a lot of help to do that.

Unsurprisingly, Netflix is not alone in this; take a look at any media service and you’ll find the algorithm surfacing the ‘big name’ content – in what world would Spotify’s algorithm decide that I would be interested in Joe Rogan? Or is there another factor at play? Sitting above that you’ll find the marque banner that will capture more attention and drive people away from their own exploration and discovery towards the guidance and whims of the directory.

In one sense this is ‘same as it ever was, a digital equivalent of the posters and ‘end of aisle’ promotions in record stores. Which is fine. Standing up and leaning into an organic growth story? This doesn’t feel fine.

But it’s a nice piece of mythology.