The Game of Thrones season 8 trailer broke HBO records, racking up 81 million views in the first 24 hours of its release. Despite the pure allure of the show’s content and books’ cult following, you’ve got to chalk up some of that cultural caché to marketing. So this week, we’re looking back and digging into all the marketing making the Season 8 build up so big.
In his article, “Game of Thrones: assessing the final season’s bizarre marketing campaign,” writer Stuart Heritage looks at the “dumb stunts” the GoT team has put out ahead of season 8. The premise of this piece (which is a great read) is that the show is big enough and popular enough that even without any marketing or promotional campaign they would be just fine. His actual words are, “Even if HBO’s promotional budget for Game of Thrones only ran to a single classified listing in a small town’s residential newsletter, you’d still know about it. We all would.”
Instead, as Heritage outlines, HBO went for a campy Super Bowl Game of Thrones x Bud Light ad, and has engaged with other lighter-hearted brands like Wendy’s and Mr. Peanut in what looks like a buzz building effort. Heritage’s critique is fair, and the mystique of the season would probably be enough to usher the audience into the biggest season yet. But, who doesn’t love a little GoT sprinkled into every day advertising?
Almost everything about Game of Thrones lends itself to merchandising, writes Nicole Lyn Pesce in this MarketWatch article. From the fashion, to the drinking, to the house allegiances, there is a lot there to sell. You can now drink like the characters, dress like the characters, and claim your house on your shirt, decor, or even you Adidas shoes. In fact, the quasi-medieval fashion of the show has even driven high-end designers like John Varvatos to make their own versions. Want to look kind of like Robb Stark? Get this $2700 jacket. Not unlike Harry Potter, Game of Thrones marketing and branding has spun the success of the show into a full-on style.
While a big part of GoT marketing focuses on getting fans to buy things, there is a whole other branch trying to get fans to do things. Andy Meek covers these campaigns in his BGR article, HBO is leaning into a “would you bleed for the throne?” themed set of campaigns. The first is a Red Cross x Game of Thrones campaign to encourage fans to donate blood. Blood donors who gave blood between 2/19 and 3/17 were entered into a sweepstakes to attend the season 8 premiere. Currently, HBO has a scavenger hunt underway, where fans are searching for six Iron Thrones scattered around the world. We talk a lot in marketing about tracking engagement, but this is a different kind of action that will be fascinating to watch play out.
Reporter Andrea Valdez recounts her visit to GoT’s SXSW pop up “experience.” The marketing detailed an event where you could donate blood and then “walk in the steps of the characters who bled and relive their sacrifices as part of the experience.” Valdez entered a scene out of the show, complete with Kingsguard, Dothraki soldiers, Wildlings, and Westerosi townspeople. These actors talked to the visitors and immersed them in the world. Valdez’s report of this event highlights an interesting marketing tactic — both for HBO and the Red Cross. I wonder how “bleeding for the throne” will affect viewers this time around.