What You Can Learn from the Latest Game of Thrones Brand Partnerships & Activations
Jonathan Hunt has been with PMG since 2013 and is a senior leader on the SEO team, guiding automation and technology strategy for organic search. His 17 years of experience in SEO has included leading programs for ecommerce, technology, entertainment, and b2b brands. Jonathan was recently named a finalist for AAF Austin’s 2023 Big Wigs Awards for Best Data Analyst.
Nineteen months, 85 weeks, 595 days. Each equals how long the world waited for Game of Thrones (GoT) to premiere once again for its final season. More than 17.4 million viewers tuned in for the premiere this past Sunday, combined live and streaming within the first 24 hours. This makes the season premiere the most watched scripted-program of 2019 – an impressive feat, considering the much smaller audience pool of a premium network.
Game of Thrones cast members
When the show premiered on HBO in 2011, it quickly gained a massive following because of its large scale production and penchant for killing off major characters (literally no one is safe!). It has since become a worldwide phenomenon. In a world where Netflix releases whole seasons in bulk and are binge-able on your own time, Game of Thrones uniquely represents a nostalgic and historic time where the world watches together, live. It’s become popular for experts to postulate that this will be the last time the world will watch a TV show with this scale – the end of the “monoculture” – and brands are looking to capitalize.
This large and loyal following existed even before HBO began marketing for GoT’s final season in earnest. Nearly two years ago, the podcast Binge Mode from The Ringer (a long-form extension of their popular Ask the Maester blog series) began offering literary deep-dives into every single episode in anticipation of the newest season. The podcast, hosted by Ringer and former Grantland contributors Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion, was one of the breakout podcast hits of 2018, landing on several Best of the Year lists and even recently claiming the top prize in a USA Today fan poll.
Another offspring of The Ringer’s content partnership with HBO is Talk the Thrones: a post-broadcast recap show where members of The Ringer staff recap and review what had just happened on that night’s newly-aired episode. Originally hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, the HBO broadcast version of this show only lasted one season.
However, The Ringer continues to produce the show via social media and offers new installments (now with Binge Mode hosts Rubin and Concepcion joining Chris Ryan) immediately following each new Thrones episodes’ East Coast airing, exclusively on Twitter. While there are no verifiable metrics currently available, Ringer founder Bill Simmons casually mentioned on his Monday morning podcast that the episode that aired immediately following the season 8 premiere of Thrones this past Sunday was able to maintain roughly 50,000 viewers throughout the hour-long live broadcast, which ran from approximately 10 pm to 11 pm on the East Coast.
While certainly not the first to produce GoT related content, The Ringer still preceded ‘hopping on the Game of Thrones’ train far before anyone else and to great success: their brand mentions have doubled just since the premiere. Many brands have since picked up the scent that Game of Thrones centered content is potentially widely appealing and effective given its large and loyal audience following. The Ringer is now a part of a sizeable group of brands that have enacted a partnership with Game of Thrones.
Our team attempted to round up every GoT related partnership (though we are sure there are some that we missed considering some are reporting over 100 partnerships) just to get a sense of how many brands we see riding the coat-tails of Game of Thrones’ impending final season.
Twitter x Game of Thrones
Binge Mode – Podcast, posted every week, mid-week, following each new episode.
Talk the Thrones – Live webcast, exclusively on Twitter, immediately post-show.
Ask the Maester – Blog series, focused on answering fan questions about the fictional world of Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones Meme Bracket – Online poll tournament, via Twitter, Instagram, and Web.
Amazon Treasure Truck on 4/14: Jon Snow POP Vinyl Figure
Jon Snow POP Vinyl Figure
While brand partnership is not unheard of and can be a commonplace strategy for brands, we don’t believe we have seen it exercised on this level — including previous Game of Thrones seasons. The most comparable example we can think to equate it to is Avengers: Infinity War Brand Partnerships, but even those partnerships don’t seem to tally-up like Game of Thrones’. It seems that we are witnessing a unique moment in history! Everyone wants a slice of the Game of Thrones pie if it will help them make money, but are they able to do so effectively?
Spotify x Game of Thrones
As it turns out, these ad campaigns are susceptible to falling flat or eventually feeling like overkill. The overall opinion of how a GoT partnered ad is received is largely dependent on the logical sense of partnership (i.e. “what does Game of Thrones have to do with x?”), but more-so relies on execution. When a brand is creative and executes flawlessly, it has a positive reaction from fans no matter if the brand partnership doesn’t really make sense. However, if it seems half-baked, it will likely be viewed as a tacky or confusing attempt to jump on the GoT hype bandwagon and it might leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.
Bud Light x Game of Thrones
So who did it well? One of the first ads we saw was the Bud Light commercial at the Superbowl on February 3rd. This commercial immediately made a splash with Game of Thrones fans everywhere, especially on Twitter. Both Game of Thrones and Bud Light saw an increase in mentions (according to Google Trends) which was only the beginning of the upswing for GoT (obviously). In fact, this is the biggest activation that Bud Light has done since they introduced Bud Light Platinum in the iconic blue bottles.
Other early partnerships like Oreo and Johnnie Walker Whiskey reaped the benefits of a co-op branding campaign. The Oreo activation saw increases in mentions around their Game of Thrones activations while Johnnie Walker Whiskey saw their highest awareness to date when they announced their GoT themed whiskeys.
If you’re looking to replicate those successes and thinking about how to create a partnership with a partner that has a deep fanbase already, consider these tips:
Make sure your brand has a natural cohesion with your chosen partner.
This is especially important for brands with rabid fan bases — they will see through any partnerships that are trying TOO hard to fit together. Again, there are rare cases where the execution is so good that people could forget about the logic behind the partnership, but it would likely have to blow people out of the water.
Time your activation around big moments.
In this case, a season premiere activation makes a lot of sense to capture the fervor over the start of the season.
Consider smaller activations to keep the conversation going.
This shouldn’t be a one and done launch — keep your audience engaged throughout.
Pair our tips with a smart marketing team and a bit of luck on timing, and you can position your campaign to ride the waves of influence from other brands successfully. While we are uncertain of when we will see another monoculture moment like this, there are surely opportunities on the horizon and markets yet to be tapped.
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