As the Season 6 of Game of Thrones premieres, it has thrown its fans all around the world into frenzy. According to Entertainment Weekly, the premiere episode ‘The Red Woman’ netted 10.7 million total viewers, breaking the overall viewership record. That includes the premiere at 9 p.m., two repeat airings, and live streaming numbers from HBO Go and HBO Now. The numbers reveal that it’s the network’s most-watched episode ever, beating the 9.8 million viewers for season five’s premiere and the 10.3 million viewers for that same season’s finale. In fact, even the pirates had a field day as the new season opened. It witnessed more than a million pirated downloads in half day after it was aired! Looks like the show will carry its legacy and success story forward this year as well and set new records.
HBO’s long running and most popular epic series of all time is telecasted in 170 countries and is one of the most pirated and legally viewed shows worldwide. The Wrap News Inc, a leading digital news organization covering Hollywood entertainment and media news has crunched some interesting figures to track its viewership record across all previous 5 seasons.
Now, the big question is how this show has managed to remain the King on television for so long? Is it the dark storyline with unexpected twists & turns, the star cast who breathe life into their complex characters, sword fights & blood baths, steamy sex scenes & nudity, breathtaking locations, HBO’s subscription based revenue model or the way it is marketed? Perhaps, a mix of all, we would say.
HBO has always focused on two things: Subscriptions and Content. More the number of subscribers, higher the revenue. Better and more unique the content, more popular the show and more subscribers it would bring.
The powerful content has made Game of Thrones what is today – a great brand. And, this brand is getting bigger every season. Let’s understand what marketing lessons Game of Thrones teaches us.
Don’t kill the creativity
The creative team of the show took home 8 Emmy awards in 2015. There’s a reason behind such a magnitude of success. HBO is known to give a free hand to the creators of their shows, in this case to George R.R. Martin. It believes that if people behind the show are committed, then they should be allowed to follow their creative nose.
Takeaway: Don’t impose creative restraints. Trust the imagination and knowledge of your marketing folks, they know how to influence the audience and what resonates with them.
Be confident about whom you sell
HBO was fully confident that it has a history in making with the Games of Thrones. It broke the archetypal barriers (sell what the most customers like) and instead created a niche target (sell what only a few like). These few customers were so captivated with the show that they publicized the show by word of mouth or through their social media networks. As the show soared the popularity charts, it attracted more viewers. Today, Games of Thrones is HBO’s most viewed show.
Takeaway: Don’t worry about wooing the maximum number of customers. Find your niche market, believe in what you have created and deliver the promises & rise upto the expectations. A niche product too can sell like a hot cake and create a new demand, which was perhaps latent earlier. Even if non-target customers don’t buy it, they are still aware of its existence, and are your potential customers.
Master the art of storytelling
The makers of Games of Thrones have woven a masterful story that intrigues, excites and enthralls audience in anticipation from the word go. The story is replete with characters who create conflict and keep the viewers engaged throughout the episode. Every scene gives moments to remember and evokes new emotions – anger, frustration, lust, love and humour. The audience wants to experience in real what a life in the fictional world of Westeros entails and what it takes to be Daenerys Targaryen, Joffrey Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow or Sansa Stark.
Takeaway: The art of storytelling can make all the difference. Create a distinctive, engaging story around your brand in such a way that your customers can feel a deep connect with it. They want to buy your product not only because it meets their apparent demand, but also because they perceive their own personal story around it.
Back your story with exciting content
As the Season 6 approached, HBO started rolling out content that teased the audience in anticipation. It started with short clips without any new footage and animated videos to refresh their memory, followed by a minute and half long trailer showing the corpse of Jon Snow, Sansa running through the forest and The Night’s King standing in front of flames. Enough material, we must say, to keep the audience on a cliffhanger.
You might have also noticed how live and active the Facebook page of Game of Thrones is with its interesting content on trivia, videos, visuals, quotes, contests and quizzes around characters & story to spark the curiosity of the audience and keep them engaged even when the shows are not airing.
The branded content is another strategy that has paid off well – be it Shutterstock images that showed Westeros as a corporate battlefield, Virgin Mobile’s ‘Game of Phones’ app, Brewery Ommegang’s ‘Fire and Blood Red Ale’ or BuzzFeed’s shareable stories such as ‘Which Game of Thrones character are you? And currently trending Hall of Faces.
Takeaway: Creating stories isn’t enough, it should be portrayed with the help of videos, pictures, and other breathtaking visual elements. The customers should be tempted to dig into more information about your brand. Use innovative, fresh and catchy content to evolve your brand and build customer loyalty towards it.
Conquer the social media
The Game of Thrones caught the social media bug from the 3rd season onwards. It has avid followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Vine, which it uses for both push and pull content, passive and hardcore fans. A few of its most popular social media campaigns have been #RoastJoffrey, 30 day countdown called Beautiful Death and #TakeTheThrone.
The social media strategy to launch the premiere of Season 6 triggered the hype that the makers were aiming at. According to social media analytics company Talkwalker, the show generated more than 1.5 million social posts in the week before the launch. During the hour of the show, nearly 200,000 interactions happened on social, with spikes at the open and close.
Jim Marsh, HBO Director of Digital and Social Media, in a Fast Company article, breaks down the Game of Thrones approach to social marketing and fan engagement. He says, “”Our job is to amplify excitement and conversation, so we’ve always just looked for ways to capitalize on an activity and reward the fans.”
Takeaway: Create a powerful social media presence. The strategy should be such that customers are always talking about your brand. Run campaigns that involve participation from fans. Keep them engaged by posting relevant content, replying to their messages and sharing their reactions.
The Game of Thrones has managed to retain its old audience and acquire new ones, all the while sustaining their interest ever since it first aired. This is definitely an example of great marketing!