Unless you’ve been hiding under one of Orson Lannister’s beetle smashing stones, you’ve probably heard of Game of Thrones. Even at a time when television production was in its heyday, the show stood out from all the others. With a budget of $ 6-15 million per episode, HBO spared literally no expense for the series and spent an amount that no other network could afford. The result was a visually stunning product.
Since its initial release in 2011, Game of Thrones has taken over the world and broke all sorts of records. Over eight years of explosive drama and unexpected twists, the show has grown from an average of 2 million viewers per episode in the first season to over 16 million per episode in the last season. Needless to mention, the show was far more pirated than legally watched. The season 8 premiere alone was pirated almost 55 million times within the first 24 hours. Love it or hate it, the show is a global phenomenon that has attracted huge viewing figures for HBO and won a huge international fan base.
It’s been 10 years since Game of Thrones opened the gates to Westeros. And even after all these years, the show is still worth watching. Let’s dig deeper into how this all happened.
How did HBO pull it off?
When HBO brought George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire to the screen, Martin was already famous. He had sold more than 15 million books worldwide and was profiled in The New Yorker. This meant that HBO had to attract two different audiences while developing its marketing strategy for the first season of the show. One, passionate fans of books and readers of the fantasy genre. And two, its mainstream customers.
With the aim of getting the initial engagement from the fans of the book and eventually capturing a wider audience, HBO released an alternate reality game – The Master’s Path. Basically, it was based around a website which allowed fans to solve a series of puzzles to unlock rewards that included previews of the show’s scenes. The game also put great emphasis on cooperation, encouraging players to use social media to recruit helpers and followers. In fact, players had to invite at least five friends to The Master’s Path to finish the final task. The results were impressive – 37,000 users registered for the site, 12,000 people downloaded the Ice and Fire app, and 190,000 visitors interacted with one of the campaign’s digital elements.
By 2012, after the show only aired for a year, fans of Game of Thrones were named the most devoted all fan base by New York magazine’s Vulture.com, even beating the devotees of Oprah Winfrey, Star Wars and Twilight. And after three seasons of the show, the audience has become more emotionally invested in the characters than ever before. However, the show left the fans aghast with the penultimate episode of season 3, “Rains of Castemere”, in which one of the most shocking events in the history of the series took place -The Red Wedding.
Social media lit up after the brutal murders of the Starks’ most promising characters. It was arguably the biggest television event of the decade. Many people who had not previously watched the series began to binge-watch the first three seasons and joined the conversation.
@GameofThrones When King Joffrey cries, the tears run down the back of his head to avoid his face. #RoastJoffrey
— BraveShagwell (@BraveShagwell) December 12, 2013
As fans eagerly await season 4, Game of Thrones launched # RoastJoffrey, one of the show’s most famous Twitter campaigns. Fans were encouraged to roast King Joffrey Baratheon – the character the Internet loves to hate. The hashtag trended within an hour of launch and amassed 60,000 roast in just 48 hours. It got so big that big brands like Oreo, JCPenny and Charmin joined the fun.
Send the King to bed without his cookies. #RoastJoffrey https://t.co/QjcKsTMJ2X
— OREO Cookie (@Oreo) December 12, 2013
One year later in 2015, HBO teamed up with BitStrips, the creator of Bitmoji, to drive anticipation to the fifth season and maintain its status in the cultural zeitgeist.
.@ConanOBrien gets a #GoT @Bitmoji makeover. Watch the cast on #Conan tonight from #SDCC. #ConanCon @TeamCoco pic.twitter.com/7I6sVO1CDP
— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) July 10, 2015
In the same year, Uber launched a campaign called #RideofThornes, which gave New York based fans the chance to sit in the infamous Iron Thorne.
Sit on the Iron Throne.@Uber_NYC riders now have a chance to seize the throne: http://t.co/A5S5KuwfoZ #RideOfThrones pic.twitter.com/TD4uVsxqYV
— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) April 16, 2015
As the show’s audience grew steadily over the seasons, more brands began to jump on the Game of Thrones bandwagon.
Just two days before the launch of the first episode of season 6, music streaming platform Spotify released a tool that let users discover which Game of Thrones character they are most like based on their musical tastes. It turned out that Jon Snow loved indie rock, Daenerys was into shimmer pop, and Tormund Giantsbane was a metalhead.
Johnny Walker merged the brand’s iconic striding man with the show and introduced a limited edition scotch, “White Walker” – best-served icy-cold. The “Winter is Here” quote, which became visible only in freezing temperatures, was inscribed on bottles using heat-sensitive ink.
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As the finale of the series approached, the buzz around Game of Thrones on social media reached an all-time high. For the premiere of the eighth season, HBO launched the #ForTheThrone campaign, asking fans how far they would go for the throne. The campaign’s website included three calls-to-action: “bleed,” “quest” and “create.”
Fans were able to “bleed” for the throne by donating blood in partnership with the American Red Cross. They could also embark on a “quest” for the throne by participating in a scavenger hunt for six full-size replicas of the Iron Throne planted in different locations across the globe – Spain, Sweden, Brazil, Canada, the UK, and New York. And lastly, fans were able to “create” for the throne by producing fan art for an opportunity to be featured on Game of Thrones channels.
The King and Queen in the North! #ForTheThrone #ThroneoftheNorth https://t.co/kOPbDP9KRn pic.twitter.com/dej7BkOCa5
— HBO Nordic (@HBOnordic) March 21, 2019
And for brands known for getting into the spirit of pop culture events, the premiere of the show’s final season was no exception.
In the run-up to the eighth season, Oreo joined forces with Game of Thrones and released a line of limited-edition cookies embossed with the emblems of the houses still battling for the Iron Throne – House Lannister, House Targaryen, and House Stark – as well as The Night King and White Walkers. They also re-created the iconic Game of Thrones opening title sequence with 2,750 Oreo Cookies.
Mountain Dew also commemorated the last season by launching “A Can Has No Name” campaign. When they were warm, the cans appeared all-white and brandless. But once chilled, the cans turn into yet another “Game of Thrones” reference, revealing Arya’s iconic kill list. Truly chilling.
The language-learning app Duolingo even launched a course in “High Valyrian”, a language spoken by Daenerys Targaryen.
Trying to speak like a Targaryen or command dragons like Khaleesi before Sunday? Our High Valyrian course has you covered! Now featuring new content and audio pronunciation by @Dedalvs. 🐉https://t.co/PEkQou3InV pic.twitter.com/u7XApEsqal
— Duolingo (@duolingo) April 11, 2019
These creative and expertly timed marketing campaigns are only the tip of the iceberg. Through the years HBO partnered up with many other global brands such as IKEA, Urban Decay, KFC, Adidas, Bud Light and has rolled waves of marketing campaigns to keep everyone on the edge for months on end. Game of Thrones got everyone talking from the Kaspersky Lab to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, from Stephen King to Barack Obama.
Suppose–just suppose, now–that Jon and Dani BOTH died (along with Cersei, of course). Suppose–just suppose–that a certain little man with a big heart ended up sitting on the Iron Throne?
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 6, 2019
It doesn’t matter whether the show is on or not, references, photos of lead actors, quotes and memes as well as ponderings about the potential spin-offs are ongoing. Game of Thrones has pulled out all the stops with social media and as a result, it still remains the biggest TV hit of the last decade.
We still can’t believe Game of Thrones is all over, but what is dead may never die, right? If you can think of any other social media marketing examples from Game of Thrones, pop them in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!
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