If you had no idea what this blog post was going to be about based on its title, I understand. Game of Thrones is not for everyone. However, if you’ve never heard of the thrilling fantasy drama television series that is HBO’s Game of Thrones, you definitely live under a rock. And even if this show is not necessarily your cup of tea, I kindly urge you to keep reading, as I promise to offer an enlightening perspective as to how and why Game of Thrones has quickly become America’s most beloved television series (or at least by the looks of social media).
I was inspired for the topic of this post after reading a Wall Street Journal article this past week about the success of Bud Light’s most recent Superbowl commercial, which was regarded as “one of the boldest marketing tie-ins ever orchestrated” for heavily featuring both characters and events from Game of Thrones. With its market share slowly declining in recent years due to a slowdown in overall alcohol consumption in the United States, Bud Light decided to take a risk in the hopes of benefitting from GOT’s cult like following. On the other hand, GOT producers chose to invest in the ad in the hopes of eternally maximizing HBO viewership, as the upcoming season of GOT will be its last, and the network has discovered that fans of GOT are more likely to sample other HBO series.
Although the article I read (which was titled “‘Game of Thrones’ Hijacks Bud Light’s Super Bowl Ad to Pump Its Return”) details the ‘bold’ and ‘risky’ decisions made by Bud Light in the months leading up to the ad’s debut, I am a strong proponent of an alternate viewpoint. I do not believe that this choice in crossover was as dauntless or intrepid as it is being made out to be by the Wall Street Journal. In fact, given the proven ability of Game of Thrones to successfully build public interest via social media, I think it was a perfectly calculated maneuver.
First of all, in 2017 Game of Thrones generated more social interactions on average than any other television show by far. The series averaged over 2.5 million interactions per episode. The show has its own Twitter handle with over 7 million followers, a Facebook page with over 22 million likes, and YouTube channel with over 3 million subscribers. Thus, Bud Light could have easily anticipated that the 2019 Superbowl ad that it created would generate the most tweets per minute out of any other ad throughout the event (which it did).
One key tactic used by the makers of GOT to promote engagement on Twitter is the use of interactive hashtags. In 2013, #RoastJoffrey was created to fire up fans, celebrities, and brand accounts over one of the show’s most detested characters in between the airings of seasons three and four. After season four ended in 2014, #TaketheThrone was used to generate interactions by offering fans various prizes such as the opportunity to take a seat on the Iron Throne and Comic Con. More recently, HBO invented #PrepareforWinter to trigger hype for season seven in 2017. This hashtag asked viewers to relive and tweet their favorite moments from past seasons, allowing the best to be retweeted by the official @GameOfThrones handle itself. Next, #ForTheThrone has already begun to take over to market season eight.
HBO has strategically built the GOT franchise for its episode premieres to become cultural events. Each season consists of merely 10 episodes, so every one is highly anticipated by viewers. Furthermore, audiences not only tune into HBO when these episodes air, but onto social media as well. The official GOT Twitter page promotes live tweets with fans and celebrity cast members alike, even offering real-time question and answer sessions on multiple occasions. This allows fans to bond with one another over what angers and/or excites them throughout the show’s ever-twisting plot line. As one might expect, the most action occurs during the premieres and finales of each season.
As the eighth and final season approaches, it would only be natural for Bud Light to try to hop on the Game of Thrones marketing bandwagon, especially with the foregoing success of the brand’s ‘Dilly Dilly’ advertisements, which were also inspired by GOT but on a much subtler scale. Red Bull, Spotify, Clorox, and even Sesame Street are just a few of the brands that have also aimed to capitalize on the broad and loyal fan base warranted by GOT in the past. Now, anything in the media that references medieval times is immediately perceived as alluding to a partnership with Game of Thrones, which makes people stop and look. That is not to say that if Bud Light had chosen to base their ad off of the adventures of a 3-month-old golden retriever puppy that people wouldn’t stop and look, but given the cultural influence that GOT has clearly demonstrated on social media in the past, producers definitely knew what they were doing.