Just like Arya Stark, sometimes it’s better for brands to also wait until the last minute.
HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones premiered in April 2011, but the brands getting the most attention in its eighth and final season, such as Oreo and Johnnie Walker, waited until the last season to execute -- sorry, Ned -- show-related campaigns.
"If they had partnered earlier, [consumers may have gotten] annoyed seeing something marketed over and over to them that is branded," says Laura Bedrossian, Hot Paper Lantern’s VP of social strategy, who also notes the significant gap between the show’s seventh and final seasons. "It would have been bad if a brand did something branded and cool but then they had an almost two-year waiting period until the final season."
Oreo’s Game of Thrones cookie has been one of the brand’s fastest-selling products and one of the most-mentioned brand activations related to the show on social media, with 14,247 mentions across platforms, according to Hootsuite.
Oreo brand manager Kamila De Maria says the campaign was successful because it was authentic to both brands at the right time.
"While Oreo has tapped into pop culture icons in the past, the Oreo Game of Thrones cookie marks the first time we have partnered with a TV show for a limited-edition cookie," she says. "Knowing the final season of Game of Thrones is a highly anticipated event, it made sense for us to salute the show’s legacy, while also giving fans a playful and engaging snacking experience that they could enjoy while watching."
While blowtorch brand Bernzomatic didn’t wait to create GoT-related content until the final season, it evolved its strategy as Game of Thrones grew in popularity. Before the show’s season six premiere, Bernzomatic created a video in which an artist tells the story of how he creates swords using a blowtorch, as he makes a "dragonglass dagger" inspired by the show.
The brand created the video as part of a series in which it celebrated people around the country "using blow torches in really cool ways," says Greg Tedesco, SVP of digital marketing at Zeno Group, Bernzomatic’s PR partner.
"That was authentic to the brand because he was using the product in a cool way, tapping into pop culture and moments in time, and it was really effective," he says.
The following season, Bernzomatic went from a general approach to a more specific one and developed content related to the storyline. Tedesco notes that the brand didn’t want to just do "medieval content with dragons and zombies."
"There was a scene where zombies were made of ice and a dragon melted them down," he says. The brand partnered with an ice-sculpture artist to create a similar scene using a blowtorch melting down its own White Walkers and posted the video a few hours before the show.
It’s rare when brands from across the Seven Kingdoms -- ahem, from myriad industries -- can hijack an event or hashtag and it actually works. However, the broad nature of the Game of Thrones audience makes it a fit for marketers of shoes to makeup to alcohol products, say experts.
"If you look at it on paper, a fantasy-, sci-fi-type audience would [watch it], but GoT has been able to bring in a much broader audience," says Jeremy Wood, VP of product marketing at Hootsuite. "It transcends demographics, geographies and areas that might define an audience. The breadth and the depth of the following opens up a lot of opportunities for a diverse set of brands."
Urban Decay, which made a limited-edition Game of Thrones makeup collection, received 7,580 mentions on social media from the beginning of March to mid-May. Meanwhile, Adidas, which created special sneakers celebrating the show, got 16,463 mentions and Johnnie Walker’s White Walker whisky got 2,364 mentions during the same time period, according to Hootsuite. The Adidas and Urban Decay merchandise quickly sold out.
Shame! Shame! Shame!
Yet Bedrossian notes that not every brand can authentically get in on the craze. One association she calls "far-fetched" was when 19 Major League Baseball clubs did branded giveaways this month.
"It seems like a brandjacking out of the blue," she says. "With Oreo, you can at least eat a branded Oreo while watching the show. What can you do with the Yankees?"
As with any campaign, authenticity and collaboration are important when deciding if a brand should be involved in the conversation, experts say.
"Our partnership was a true collaboration between our team at Oreo and HBO to ensure that we saluted Game of Thrones’ legacy in an authentic way while also giving our fans a playful and engaging experience that they expect from Oreo," says De Maria.