By Greg Manago, Creative Development and Production Lead / Executive Producer, Mindshare Content+ and Entertainment
It’s not all just fight scenes, brothels, and dragons: we’re here to unearth the marketing principles lurking in “Game of Thrones,” Season Five. Here’s what we took away from episode five, “Kill The Boy.”
And with that, we’re halfway through this season of “Game of Thrones.” Episode five, “Kill The Boy,” aired on Mother’s Day and whether it was intentional or not, had motherhood playing a key role throughout. We saw Danaerys feeding her dragons and espousing the tenets of child-rearing, we learned a little about Ramsay Bolton’s mother, and we saw the announcement of a new mom-to-be with Walda Bolton.
But there was another theme pulsating throughout this week’s episode: that of leaders making tough choices. Jon Snow knew that his radical idea — for the Night’s Watch to join forces with the wildlings — would cost him the support of many. But Maester Aemon told him that he had to make the hard choice. He said Jon needed to “kill the boy and let the man (inside him) be born.”
That’s easy for him to say — as Jon predicted, at least half of the Night’s Watch really hated this decision, including his own steward. And when he brought it up to defacto Wildling leader Tormund Giantsbane, he only agreed to it if Jon himself would come north of the wall to convince the rest of the Wildlings. What could possibly go wrong?
While it’s the obligation of all leaders to make hard decisions in the name of the realm (or in our case, in the name of the business) — does the same rule apply to marketers? When it comes to making business decisions, difficult choices are a feature of corporate leadership, not a bug. But what about marketing decisions? It’s much more difficult to make hard choices when you’ve got millions of consumers on social media ready to pounce. Marketing history is littered with new products, different packaging, and “groundbreaking” campaigns that consumers didn’t take to.
Nonetheless, the answer to that question is still yes. How many of us have been told by brands to "make me feel uncomfortable" during a briefing only to have a radical new idea be met with "not that uncomfortable"? Shouting "kill the boy!" in response might not go over well in a conference room, but feeling uncomfortable is a hallmark of taking risk. Sometimes just letting a new partner come to the table, or going with a big brand idea brought outside of your traditional creative shop, can be all it takes to get on the road towards a breakthrough campaign.
Dany made the hard choice to feed one of her enemies to her dragons last night (which as a viewer is something we’ve been waiting five seasons for). But while watching your enemies cooked alive by dragonflame and then torn limb from limb makes for great television, as a leadership strategy, it may not be the best long-term plan. So by the end of the episode, the Khaleesi made an even bolder (and with Daario around, potentially a more difficult) decision — to marry Hizdahr Zo Loraq. This wedding will send the message to her subjects that the Mother of Dragons is serious about Meereen.
Perhaps that’s the message for marketers this week — if you're going to make a bold choice, go all in. We may not have fire-breathing dragons to fall back on, but then again, they say that fortune favors the bold. Big ideas don't start with "let's do what we did last year." Maybe Maester Aemon has an opinion on that ... if only they had Twitter in Westeros.