Can anything shock or surprise a “Game of Thrones” fan anymore? HBO wants to give it a try, especially because the premiere of the highly anticipated, long-awaited final season of the show is right around the corner.
In 2018, HBO launched its “#ForTheThrone” campaign to generate excitement for the concluding season, which is set to premiere in April 2019. The $20 million marketing effort includes a series of social stunts, experiential activations and social promotions. The campaign also includes a Super Bowl LIII spot.
Every year, the Super Bowl sets the stage for the creation of some of the most iconic spots in advertising, and every year, brands that buy into the hype try to make themselves stand out from the crowd. At $5.3 million for a 30-second spot this year, HBO certainly doesn’t intend to produce anything short of momentous.
With expectations high, and a spot slot on the books, how can HBO capitalize on the hype of the Super Bowl and create a memorable spot that will excite fans for the final season of “Game of Thrones”?
Do what we do best.
“Game of Thrones” is well-known for shocking viewers and showing no mercy when it comes to killing off favored characters. These traits have resonated with fans; therefore, if HBO is hoping to excite fans for the upcoming season, why not play into everything fans already find exciting about the show? Hype doesn’t need to be generated; it just needs to be amplified.
When the spot begins, it feels just like any other Bud Light commercial. A crowd has gathered to watch a typical joust, and everyone has a Bud Light in hand. The Bud Knight arrives on the scene, and everyone cheers “Dilly Dilly!” You think you’re about to watch a humorous joust in which the Bud Knight emerges victorious.
Then, suddenly, the Bud Knight gets brutally knocked off his horse. His opponent walks over, and viewers realize it’s none other than Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane from “Game of Thrones.” The Mountain delivers the final blow, and everyone’s jaw drops. To make matters worse, a dragon flies overhead and sets the stadium ablaze. The “Game of Thrones” score plays, and you realize the spot is actually an ad for the HBO show’s final season.
The Super Bowl spot was just one component of HBO’s larger campaign, which kicked off last November with the airing of a #ForTheThrone retrospective video on HBO’s social media platforms. The campaign has also included the release of #ForTheThrone character posters on “Game of Thrones” social media profiles, a custom emoji designed by Twitter, as well as “Game of Thrones”-inspired metrocards at Grand Central Station.
In an interview with Adweek, HBO stated that the intention of the Super Bowl spot was to help HBO honor all of the “Game of Thrones” characters who have died throughout the series and those that do just about anything for the throne. With that in mind, Droga5, HBO’s partnering ad agency, decided to take the question, “How far would you go for the throne?” outside the realm of the TV show — thus, the inspiration to execute the Bud Knight.
More is set to come with regards to the campaign, but based on recent posts on “Game of Thrones” social media platforms, none of it appears to be directly linked to the Super Bowl spot itself.
What they said:
“We began developing a campaign around a simple idea that, for seven seasons, characters have battled and sacrificed for the throne,” explained Zach Enterlin, EVP, program marketing at HBO. “That got the team thinking, ‘What would fans and even brands do for the throne?’ ”
Lessons to be learned:
Embrace collaboration. — A lot of big players had a hand in the creation of this spot. A partnership between HBO and Bud Light is one thing, but this stunt also included the collaboration of two of the biggest ad agencies in New York. It doesn’t take a genius to know that that’s a lot of chefs in one kitchen.
Jono Paull, creative director at Droga5, stated: “To do it right, we had to think of the spot in two halves.” Alissa Heinerscheid, senior manager, Bud Light, added: “We wanted you to feel like this was another humorous Bud Light spot in the first 30 seconds, and the moment when the Bud Knight is knocked off his horse, the spot changes and becomes full ‘Game of Thrones.’” This method allowed the creative integrity of all the players to be maintained. Collaboration prevailed.
Take the risk. — While HBO and Droga5 deserve credit for the idea to execute the Bud Knight, it was Bud Light that made the call to allow its iconic character to be killed.
Bud Light had found a lot of success with both the character and the Dilly Dilly world over the past year. Fans embraced the phrase “Dilly Dilly!” The phrase became a talking point at the 2018 Masters Golf Tournament, and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles referred to his team’s Super Bowl trick play as “Philly Philly.”
However, despite the success of the world and the Bud Knight, Bud Light jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with HBO. The brand took the risk and helped HBO shock fans of the brand and show alike. The destruction of the realm by its muse brought the “Dilly Dilly!” world full circle.
Steal an idea and make it your own. — In Super Bowl LII, Tide ran a series of spots throughout the game that viewers believed were for one company, only to learn last minute that they were for Tide. In this spot, “Game of Thrones” did the same thing; however, rather than hijacking ads of uncomplimentary brands, HBO hijacked a brand that crafted a world inspired by “Game of Thrones” itself.