Digital Marketing lessons you can learn from Game of Thrones

  • Marketing

Written by: Action Digital

The HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones came to an end leaving a massive, dragon-shaped hole in our hearts. But while it is curtain down for this global phenomenon, its digital marketing strategy blazed a new path in the marketing world. While treading uncharted waters, the parent company, HBO, created a blueprint on how to use social media effectively and in a manner that boosted their brand and increased their audience to a degree traditional media can only aspire to do.

So, let’s saddle our dragons, yell “Dracarys” and off we go!

Use every weapon in your arsenal

When the HBO marketing department launched its strategy on Game of Thrones they left no stone unturned. Every platform, every social media outlet, everywhere people went to communicate and connect, GoT was there with an official account that did nothing but promote the series. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, even Spotify was employed to promote the show by regularly releasing original soundtrack written by acclaimed composer Ramin Djawaldi. Music became such an integral part of the show that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss even used the music distribution platform as a means to tease the ending of the series.

The digital media landscape is ever expanding and gives you plenty of options for marketing and promotion. Since signing up is for the most part free, ignoring any social media platform is done at one’s own peril. There is no downside to maintaining a presence in as many platforms as possible.

Do not let up

When considering a digital campaign, marketers have a very specific time frame in mind within which they carefully plan all promotion steps. Launching, audience selection, duration of ads, micro-moments, artwork, and a carefully crafted post calendar all together to achieve the best possible result for the client’s campaign. After the campaign is done, the social media pages used for promotion more often than not are for all intents and purposes abandoned. Clients accounts rarely see much movement after the campaign is done or are abandoned and unmonitored all together.

Game of Thrones went the exact opposite direction. With at least a one year between seasons – 2 for the last one- the marketing team behind the TV hit never let their social media fall into disuse. The moderators are constantly posting pictures and updates on the show, launching competitions, sharing fan art and memes, everything possible to show fans that their accounts are alive and well and not just a tool.

Investing time and money on keeping the accounts live has added benefits; attention is the most valuable currency of our time and an active social media account grows constantly in followers. Followers that come in handy when the actual marketing campaign for each season kicks off. And HBO campaigns have a tendency of being over the top. Either that is White Walkers walking through London, holding a Facebook live stream to watch a block of ice melt or send people on a worldwide scavenger hunt for the show’s most iconic prop. Stunts like these multiply in digital marketing reach if propelled by an already engaged audience, something the HBO marketing team learned all too well. And speaking about learning lessons…

If you can’t fight it, embrace it

The bane of modern TV and cinema is illegal torrenting. People sharing your intellectual property for free on pirate sites, while creators see none of the profit. Being the most watched show of the decade, Game of Thrones was, of course, a prime target, seeing a billion illegal downloads over the summer of 2017.

Seeing that there was no way to crack down on the piracy, HBO decided to go a different route. Asked on his take on the fact that GoT was the most pirated show, HBO head of programming responded by saying that it was a compliment and that such a thing was inevitable for a hit-show. Seeing that there was nothing to do to stop it, the HBO marketing team opted instead to make it part of its marketing plan, which didn’t stop there. Playing fast and loose with copyrighted material also extended to YouTube, where a thriving community of users resides making videos by taking clips from the show, taking stills, using music and other copyrighted material, art sites Tumblr and DeviantArt, and basically everywhere on the internet where fans had the chance to create something in celebration of the show. And instead of going on a witch hunt, HBO decided to embrace the fan love and even shared a lot of those fan tributes. By allowing fans to take advantage of its intellectual property, HBO won itself a dedicated fan base that boosted its follower ranks even more.

While most companies cannot inspire that kind of creativeness, what is important here to note for digital marketers is that there is no one road to success. They need to be flexible, identify the strengths and weaknesses of their brand and allow for creative solutions to problems that at first seem insurmountable. Rigidly applying the rules can more often than not end up in disaster.

Traditional media take an exit

While cross-promoting your brand with others is not something new, GoT took it to a whole different level. Recognizing the appeal and reach it had with their core demographic, other companies reached out to HBO to suggest collaborations and the TV-behemoth was all too willing to do so. HBO launched a collaboration with Bud Light beer for a spot on the coveted Superbowl ads lineup, a collaboration with Mountain Dew for collector’s can and a reimagining of the show’s title sequence in association with Oreo cookies.

What needs to be pointed out is that in these multi-million collaborations, social media took a front seat. Digital marketing here wasn’t an afterthought, a part of the campaign to work in tandem with the other branches of promotion. These campaigns were crafted with a social media promotion in mind and tailored to accommodate a digital landscape. A show that has gained cultural phenomenon status struck up marketing deals that came to millions and promoted them mainly with social media in mind. HBO trusted the marketing and promotion of its best show, the network’s top earner, almost exclusively to digital marketing. Social media is now taking front and center and any brand or company decides to sidestep it, does so at its own risk.

We at Action Digital are both avid Game of Thrones fans and passionate about exploring the vast potential of digital marketing. Contact us to learn more!

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