A Song of Ice, Fire, and Viral Campaigns — How to Succeed in Marketing Even If You’re Not ‘Game of Thrones’

The premier of the 8th and last season of Game of Thrones is right around the corner (April 14th, 2019, but who’s counting!?), which means it is a perfect time to reflect on some of HBO’s craziest, most creative (and expensive!) marketing campaigns. Is there a lesson for marketers here? Read on to find out.

1. The Melting Ice Block

In 2017 HBO made fans tune into Facebook Live just to see an enormous block of ice melt to reveal a plate engraved with the season 7 premiere date. Three million Facebook users watched the streamed event for a whopping 69 minutes. Yes, GoT fans are so hooked on the brand that they’re willing to spend a whole hour watching a block of ice melt. To induce the melting process, followers were encouraged to comment “FIRE.” While the event was highly engaged, it had its downside: fans were upset that the ice was taking too long to melt (after all, winters in the show last for generations) and took to Facebook and Twitter to complain about it.

Credit: Hello Giggles

2. The Giant Dragon Skull

In season 1 of Game of Thrones, Arya Stark ends up lost in King’s Landing. In a dark dungeon under the Red Keep, she discovers huge skulls that belong to Vhagar, Meraxes, and Balerion, dragons of House Targaryen. This scene was the inspiration for an unusual 2013 campaign that promoted the 3rd season premiere of Game of Thrones. A 40 foot dragon skull (the size of a London bus!) was created by 3 sculptures over the span of 2 months, and was placed on Dorset beach in the United Kingdom (which historically yielded numerous real dinosaur fossils). The impact of the campaign mostly included astounded beach-goers and news media coverage.

Credit: Amusing Planer (amusingplanet.com)

3. The Game of Cones

Another 2013 campaign by foursquare and Game of Thrones pitted New York City and San Francisco ice-cream parlors against one another in the “Game of Cones”, which was promoted by Foursquare on social media using hashtag #SummerIsComing. The ice cream shop with the most Check-Ins, was the game winner. While the campaign aimed to advertise the app and local ice-cream shops, it also got social media users buzzing about the premier and getting into the spirit with GoT inspired hashtags.

4. The Dragon Hunt

To generate excitement around the 5th season premiere, Game of Thrones encouraged Twitter users to help Daenerys Targaryen find her dragon, Drogon, who went missing at the end of season 4. The game, called “Dragon Hunt”, encouraged fans to select GIFs from a designated Giphy page and use them as baits to lure Drogon into their Twitter profiles. The GoT Twitter account would then tweet a GIF of Drogon flying toward the bait. To catch him, users had to quickly retweet the post before it was deleted and the dragon “flew away.” In just one day, the campaign generated over 74,000 tweets, 6.6 million interactions and 1 billion impressions.

5. The Ride of Thrones

Aegon Targaryen, the first king of the 7 kingdoms, constructed the Iron Throne from swords surrendered by his enemies which he heated together with the breath of Balerion, a Targaryen dragon. In 2015, replicas of the iconic throne were transported around New York City in see-through HBO Uber trucks — finally, fans no longer had to kill a king or travel to Westeros to sit upon the Throne! Competition for a ride on the thrones was fierce as so many Uber riders wanted a chance to snap a photo of themselves sitting upon it. HBO and Uber hoped to trend on social media as riders shared their selfies using hashtag #RideOfThrones.

What is the lesson for marketers?

The common denominator between all of these campaigns is that they are extremely creative, crazy expensive, and rely solely on strong brand awareness — would any of them work if Game of Thrones wasn’t one of the most popular TV shows ever created? Probably not. Here are 3 major takeaways for marketers:

1. Don’t just target engaged customers
2. Allocate your marketing budget wisely
3. Form a strategy that activates conversion

Most companies don’t have as strong a brand, or as large a budget, as Game of Thrones. They can’t afford to limit their marketing strategies to already engaged customers. Moreover, this brand-awareness-based marketing is quickly becoming a thing of the past. It works for simplified, linear sales funnels, in which the goal is for customers to watch the episode, buy the can of soda, or purchase the candy bar. Nowadays, sales funnels are more complex, non-linear, and include multiple touch-points as individuals move along the process of decision-making.

There are innumerable ways in which customers may choose to engage with your brand. With loads of information so freely available to us, each customer journey begins with research and consideration of a plethora of brands. Individuals have their own unique research paths in which they define, refine, and subsequently redefine their requirements. This leads them to zeroing in on the last product standing — the one that best answers their needs. If your campaign objective is conversion, make sure to meet potential customers right at the comparison stage (hint: old-school creatives and non-actional campaigns don’t work here).

“Today, people are no longer following a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments. People turn to their devices to get immediate answers. And every time they do, they are expressing intent and reshaping the traditional marketing funnel along the way.” Think with Google

Companies with limited marketing budgets should certainly stay away from fancy stunts, TV ads, billboards, or any type of non-digital marketing for that matter. Don’t spend your dollars on creating a need — leverage one that already exists for a leaner marketing strategy that is focused on conversion. Yes, enormous dragon skulls, blocks of ice, and a throne made of swords, are super cool, but are they actionable? Do they convert? Is their impact measurable? Not so much.

So how do you successfully market to individuals who aren’t aware of your brand but have a need that it could answer? It’s all about information — valuable, useful, high-quality information. As each potential customer begins their search for a product to meet their needs, make sure to be there as they compare with content like reviews (text and video), news articles, bi-lines, useful blog posts, and more.

To really nail it, make sure to research and understand your target audience — what are they searching for? What deals are they interested in? What features are important to them? This way, you’ll be able to redirect them to the right landing page, with the right information or enticing offer, at the right time.

Remember — 90% of customers aren’t committed to a specific brand when searching online to make a purchase (Status Labs), so this is your chance to leverage search intent to increase your brand awareness and drive conversion, while truly maximizing your marketing budget.

Originally published at www.naturalint.com on March 18, 2019.

UX Writing Team Lead — Wix.com