Adapt Or Die: 'Game Of Thrones,' Week 1

"Game of Thrones" is back — and while the unexplainable magic, confusing names, and larger than life characters seem like they could be drawn from this weekend’s Coachella festival, every week we’ll be here to unearth the marketing principles lurking in season five. Here’s what we took away from “The Wars to Come.”

As we saw in Sunday night’s season premiere, the murder of Tywin Lannister has put many of our favorite characters in unfamiliar circumstances — and they need to do more than just drink themselves to death in response. Surviving in Westeros means being adaptive in one way or another. The stakes for Madison Avenue may be different, but it’s a big takeaway to apply for marketers everywhere.

Cersei and Jamie Lannister are a great example – thrust into unfamiliar territory by Tyrion’s act of patricide, the twins must adapt to a new world without their powerful father. Cersei seems more focused on blaming Jamie and staring daggers at Margaery, but brands must always plan to be agile in order to act on, and take advantage of, unforeseen circumstances. Most brands have war rooms set up for this very purpose, but that’s not enough. Good or bad, only a select few can break through the clutter when real world events intervene in an otherwise expertly curated marketing plan. Creating an adaptive culture is key for brands who want to win at this game. 



Luckily for Tyrion, he’s got a great strategic advisor working with him: Varys, the former Master of Whispers. When the two arrived in Pentos, it was Varys who gave Tyrion — in the midst of an epic pity party — a roadmap for how to align himself with Daenerys Targaryen on her quest to take the Iron Throne. For us back here in the real world, we can take away that having a plan is great, but a process is what helps bring the plan from theory into action. It’s more than just having a plan B — it’s thinking through various scenarios to pre-plan how you’ll react. Surely, when Jamie asked him to help Tyrion escape King’s Landing, Varys had a plan in place and was able to put it into action. He also took the extraordinary step of joining Tyrion, which tells me that he, as usual, knew what the next few plays might look like. 

Finally, being adaptive sometimes means brokering an unusual partnership. We saw Jon Snow in just such a situation when he tried to negotiate a deal between Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder. Marketers may not have to convince someone to “bend the knee or burn … by sundown” (how’s that for a deadline?), but these days, insights and observations can be actioned in so many different ways that success requires cross-functional disciplines at all times. As different as they may be, you need data scientists, planners, buyers, and content producers trained to work in concert with one another. 

Sometimes, marketers even have to broker deals where rival media partners are working in conjunction for the greater good of the campaign. That can be a hairy proposition — but at least in the real world, one of our partners won’t be burned at the stake if the negotiations aren’t successful like poor Mr. Rayder. Then again, maybe leverage like that is a lesson for another episode… .

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