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 the season finale, “Mother’s Mercy.”
In today’s day and age, shocking twists are part of the deal in TV, and no show has used them more effectively than Game of Thrones. The season five finale was no exception – we saw the shocking death of Myrcella Baratheon, Reek finally helping Sansa (and killing Myranda), Cersei taking the ultimate walk of shame, Arya going blind, and in the biggest twist of all – the straight-up murder of Jon Snow.
But is there a marketing lesson to be taken away after all the carnage? Yes, there is – and that lesson is to give the people what they want. Jon paid the price for not heeding this advice. But, then again, he was in a tough spot. Jon spent the bulk of this season planning for the ultimate invasion of the White Walkers – and in doing so, he sacrificed the lives of many of his Night’s Watch brothers to save those of their traditional enemy, the Wildlings. This didn’t sit well with his constituents.
Marketers are often in a similar situation when they plan for the bigger picture, be it trends in the marketplace, a new competitor entering the market, or a new technology that will change the game. But, changing or discontinuing a product can often leave consumers angry, or worse, confused. What’s a marketer to do?
Well, in light of the finale, Jon might say to think a little bit about how your decisions could affect the consumer – and making those hard decisions is why CMOs get paid the big bucks. The best thing to do is to try and make big changes in small steps so that people can get used to them. That, or make one big change as part of a new product innovation or launch - and hope that consumers fall in love with the new product.
But giving the people what they want can also be an issue. Heading into last night’s episode, the audience wanted Cersei to be punished, but I think we can all agree that her punishment didn’t fit the crime. We also wanted to see Arya kill Ser Meryn Trant, but not with the consequence of our favorite assassin going blind! And who didn’t think the battle at Hardhome was an amazing, exciting moment for the show? In hindsight, that epic battle led directly to Jon’s demise. At least Sam, Gilly, and Baby Sam got out of there - otherwise they would have shared his fate.
This leads us to a place where marketing and Game of Thrones collide – the real world. Already this morning, a lot of fans expressed anger at the show for killing off one of their favorite (and let’s be honest, most marketable) characters. Season six of Game of Thrones will be unlike any other season – with less “main” characters than ever before, and with some of our favorites potentially doing some pretty boring things. For example, is anyone clamoring to see the adventures of bureaucrats Tyrion and Varys in Meereen? Benioff and Weiss certainly have a plan, and I am sticking it out until the end of the series. But marketing this show with a lack of core characters (and an audience as wounded and bloodied as Stannis’s army) might prove challenging.
It’s been a lot of fun watching Game of Thrones and exploring the marketing meaning in each episode this season. Among other lessons, we learned that you need to adapt in today’s changing world, that timing is everything, and that choosing marketing partners can be a make or break decision. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have, but now, my watch has ended.