So massive is HBO drama Game of Thrones that it may seem like the final season could flourish with House Stark dimwit Hodor overseeing the promotion. But HBO’s marketing team has been hustling, crafting a unique and many-faceted campaign to make the most of the fantasy drama’s swan song. The campaign has included a blood drive, a Bud Light commercial ending with a dragon breathing a blast of pyro, White Walker whiskey from Johnnie Walker, and a “secret” Game of Thrones menu at burger chain Shake Shack. The latter offers a Dragonglass Shake, the dragonglass made of toffee.
Zach Enterlin, executive VP of program marketing at HBO, acknowledges that the show, in some ways, markets itself. But his crew was inspired to take it further. “We felt an enormous sense of responsibility to celebrate what’s arguably the best show in the history of television,” he said.
Based on the novel series by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones was created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Several families from different kingdoms scheme to sit on the Iron Throne. The cast includes Kit Harington, Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke and a few dragons.
The marketing focused both on bringing new viewers to the series, and reminding fans to prep for the final season. Season eight begins April 14 and features six episodes. Enterlin said the goal was a “truly epic send-off” for Game of Thrones. The series’ colorful setting and vast array of characters aided the marketers. “We felt incredibly fortunate to have such an immersive, rich world” to work with, Enterlin said.
For The Throne has been the marketing message, and Droga5 is HBO’s ad partner. Viewers have seen the extreme lengths that characters will go to for the throne, and that fueled the marketing approach. “What would fans do for the throne?” said Enterlin. “What would brands do for the throne?”
Campaigns also include bobbleheads given out at Major League Baseball games, a John Varvatos collection of Game of Thrones men’s clothing (that includes a “cross-over Henley” and “textured messenger bag”), Iron Throne Ale from Ommegang, Oreos spotlighting House Targaryen, House Stark, House Lannister and the White Walkers, and New York City subway MetroCards sporting show images and a ForTheThrone hashtag.
Enterlin calls the subway campaign, which launched in December, “incredibly successful,” with the cards turning up on eBay (the four-card set can be bought for about $25). “There were very long lines of fans looking to purchase them,” he added.
The Bleed For The Throne blood drive, unveiled at South by Southwest in Austin last month, tallied over 350,000 pints of blood around the world. American Red Cross was the partner. “It was an incredibly great opportunity to give back,” said Enterlin.
Quest For The Throne was a global scavenger hunt that launched March 18, and had six Iron Thrones hidden around the world. Create For the Throne saw 18 artists craft art out of Game of Thrones props starting April 10, including a shield, cloak and dragon egg.
Enterlin and his crew can catch their collective breath in a matter of days. They’ll send off Game of Thrones with a mix of joy and sadness. “We’re feeling a tremendous sense of excitement,” he said. “It’s an incredibly cool moment for the brand overall.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.