"Game of Thrones" is back, and we’re here to unearth the marketing principles lurking in season five. Here’s what we took away from “The House of Black and White.”
Episode two certainly set more pieces in motion for an exciting season. There was fierce swordplay, a surprise election, three beheadings (two human and one pigeon), a dysfunctional small council meeting, and Drogon the dragon’s return. But one of this episode’s big themes was “the company you keep” — and how it can affect your future. That’s an important point for brands, because partnerships led by content, live events, or media properties have become a key element in marketing campaigns today. We saw some of the show’s most important characters make very specific partner choices in this episode, which clarifies how they plan to move forward in the series narrative. And while in our world, choosing partners or sponsorship opportunities isn’t a life or death decision, borrowed equity can help marketers tap into culturally relevant events that they typically wouldn’t touch.
Jaime volunteered to head to Dorne to rescue Myrcella from the grasp of the Martells, but he surprised us when he chose everyone’s favorite sell sword, Bronn, to be his companion. While Bronn has a killer sense of humor, his greatest asset is his incredible swordsmanship. Jaime knows they’re potentially in for some trouble and by aligning with Bronn, he’s giving himself a secret weapon – one that he needs now that he lacks a right hand.
Similarly, Sansa chose to stay with the relative security of Littlefinger rather than choosing the uncertainty (and loyalty) of Brienne. Look at where she’s come in just a few episodes now that she’s embraced Littlefinger (literally and figuratively) and you can understand her desire to stick with the former Master of Coin.
From a sponsorship perspective, marketers spend lots of money, time, and resources to activate around tentpole events. When done right, this investment can pay off in spades, allowing brands to play in spaces and be associated with cultural moments that they have no natural place in. Sometimes, those associations, like a good swordsman (or swordswoman) at your side, can be priceless and literally change the trajectory of a brand.
Speaking of changing trajectories: Daenerys’ association with dragons has led her from the Dothraki desert all the way to Meereen, where she’s trying to bring both “freedom and justice” to the people. In fact, her dragons have become a massive part of her brand identity. But as we’ve seen so far this season, even the best intentions have unintended consequences. In last night’s episode, we saw firsthand how Daenerys’s decision leads to dissatisfaction amongst her subjects — placing her entire campaign in jeopardy.
Marketers can take another lesson from “Mhysa’s” problems in Meereen: that the denial of a problem can only make things worse. Sometimes campaigns have unintended consequences, and denying that fact can only lead to ruin. It’s best to “turn into the spin,” or face the problems head on, especially in an always-moving digital world. Recently some brands have even tried creating assets with clear mistakes in them to generate conversation. While this strategy may be as questionable as letting your eldest dragon roam the countryside freely, it shows that crisis management (manufactured or not) has a big role in today’s marketing environment.
Here’s hoping that the Mother of Dragons gets some better advice in the weeks to come. The trick for her, as it often is for marketers, isn’t actually procuring advice — it seems as if everyone has that to share — rather, it’s figuring out whose advice to heed.