Checkmate!: How The Queen's Gambit Increased Sales of Chess Sets


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An Unforeseeable Win 

Immediately after The Queen’s Gambit premiered on Netflix, I had at least 1 relative, 1 friend, 1 coworker, and even a random cashier at Trader Joe’s recommend the show to me. Then, I started seeing chess games being posted all over social media by friends of mine who, I don’t think, have ever muttered the words “checkmate” or “rook”.

The show has been watched by over 62 Million and has skyrocketed sales in all things chess, from online chess programs, chess board sets, or even chess books and classes. It goes to show that the TV and Film industry can be mighty tools for advertising if executed correctly. In this blog, Hollywood Branded outlines the rise of chess sales after the release of Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, along with other product placement success stories proving the monumental influence of entertainment marketing. 

Checkmate!_ How The Queens Gambit Increased Sales of Chess Sets

A Direct Correlation

At the end of October, about a week after The Queen’s Gambit went viral, Mary Higbe, the director of Marketing of Goliath Games told NPR that “chess sales are up 1,048%!”. Earlier that month, chess sales were up by 178%, which was most likely due to the pandemic forcing us to find new ways to entertain ourselves, but the dramatic increase in sales occurring immediately after the release of the show created a direct correlation. The VP of Marketing from toy company Spin Master shared the same success story with NPR.

Usually, when we talk about the impact of product placement, it can be difficult to accurately prove the influence it has had on a brand's sales. Chess, being a rather archaic game in a newly technological world, hasn’t had a visibly dramatic increase in sales since the 1970’s when “The Match of The World” took place. Chess sales had been plateauing and even declining for decades, and then suddenly, after the viral release of The Queen’s Gambit, they catapulted! This gives us cold, hard numbers that prove the power that streaming television series and films have to drive a brand’s sales.


The Proof is in the Shwarma

There have been several other triumphs like this that add more evidence to the importance of brands getting involved in the entertainment industry. The most recent being rise in shawarma sales (yes, that’s right...shawarma sales) due to the last minute credits scene added to the first Avengers movie. In the scene, all of the Avengers decide to celebrate their win by going to a local shawarma restaurant and we then see them gathered around a table indulging in the Middle Eastern cuisine! According to TMZ, there were several different shawarma restaurants across Los Angeles that reported heavily increased sales right after the release. They said, “At Ro Ro’s Chicken - a famed Lebanese joint in Hollywood - the manager says that shawarma sales jumped 80% in the days after the movie opened. We’re told the same thing happened a few years back with the baba ghanouj joke, featured in ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan’". 

The Avengers Shwarma

The fact that I am discussing the rise in chess and shawarma sales means that literally anything is possible. It doesn’t matter what the product or brand is as long as there is a personal, relatable, or impactful connection to a story or character.

In 2012, The Atlantic reported on how chess, a once-popular game, was “suffering from boring grandmasters and controversial leadership”. Although this article has absolutely nothing to do with Film or TV - a profound point is made that, I think, directly correlates to the Branded Entertainment world: “The lack of a compelling story to fit the most important matches is one of the main drawbacks that contemporary chess has faced”.  He goes on to say that this lack of story and character in relation to the game is diminishing its reach to broader audiences. 

Medieval Branding in the Modern World

The other crucial observation to note, is that The Queen’s Gambit is a period piece. It is one of many in the infinite world of content creation. Some other examples of period pieces that have garnered millions of impressions include Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mad Men, Peaky Blinders, The Crown, and the list goes on. You’d think that brands would be racing to explore opportunities for exposure in these shows, but it is actually quite the opposite. One of the biggest misconceptions in advertising is that the main focus should be set on showcasing the latest and greatest product on the shelves. For brands that have been around for decades, it is absolutely crucial that they start to take advantage of the unique promotional activations within these period pieces. Vintage is in! 

Canadian Club Mad Men Don Draper

Hollywood Branded shared a case study on the Mad Men Canadian Club integration, and how sales were massively impacted. Stacy Jones, the CEO of Hollywood Branded, shared that “after 17 consecutive years of declining sales, Canadian Club has obtained 4.3% annual sales growth since the debut on Mad Men”. 

Another fantastic example is the 1960’s Kraft Mac & Cheese box cameo in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

brad pitt kraft mac and cheese

once upon a time in hollywood

In one of the most iconic scenes, we see Brad Pitt preparing himself a bowl of Kraft Mac & Cheese. He pours the noodles out from the 60’s version of the classic Kraft box, and seductively stirs in the cheese. After watching the film, Harris states In Vulture’s article “The Exquisite Joy of Watching Brad Pitt Make Kraft Mac and Cheese” that the first thing her and her friends wanted to do after stepping out of the movie theatre, was to figure out where and how fast they can obtain Kraft Mac & Cheese!

1500 Years Old & Thriving

The Queen's Gambit is only the most recent product placement success story, but there are plenty more where that came from. Content creation will not be slowing down anytime soon, and it's time for brands to start utilizing these unique marketing tools! Not only does it provide a form of advertising that is much more natural and cost efficient, but it also broadens a brand's audience. Connecting a brand with a storyline or character provides an emotional attachment that you can't find anywhere else. The fact that Chess is a 1,500 year old game, proves that literally ANYTHING is possible with product placement.

Stay One Move Ahead

Check out our other blogs and case studies that detail similar success stories! 

The new Advertising Age has come and we have all the tools. Learn more about how product placement works below! 

Product Placement & Co-Promotions 101 Guide