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Business

Game of Thrones: A Firestorm of Over-the-Top Marketing

Reuters/HBO

A scene from “Game of Thrones.”
Reuters/HBO A scene from “Game of Thrones.”

I may have binged my way to tonight’s final episode of “Game of Thrones,” but I’ll be as emotionally vested as the veteran fans are in this final send-off.

No matter how it ends, though, this final season might best be remembered for its firestorm of pre-season marketing, which was more outrageous at times than a gale-force burst of dragon breath blowing apart stone buildings.

Both required tremendous fire power.

For anyone who remembers the pre-season hype, it’s clear the “Game of Thrones” marketing engine is just as creative as the series itself, embracing product promotions and over-the-top activations — interactive brand experiences — to ignite fan loyalty, compel engagement and promote purchases.

A $20 million marketing budget didn’t hurt, either.

The most memorable “GOT” marketing initiatives are pretty clever — once the initial shock wears off.

My favorites for promoting Season 8 include:

• A Bud Light Super Bowl Ad that morphed from beer ad to a pitch for “GOT,” complete with fire-breathing dragon and a skull-crushing Bud Knight battle. Unexpectedly violent for a beer ad, and it’s certainly not the typical marketing you’d find promoting a streaming TV series, it stayed pretty true to the “GOT” themes, made all the more authentic with “GOT’s” David Nutter co-directing the spot.

• Of course, there is a For the Throne music collection comprised of songs that were inspired by the show, but not featured in it.

• Create for the Throne is a collection of artist re-imaginings of 18 of the show’s most iconic props.

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• Quest for the Throne was a worldwide scavenger hunt for six hidden Iron Thrones, a crown and bragging rights as the prize.

• One of the most clever and over the top, in my mind, was the immersive “Bleed for the Throne” activation. Anyone who’s watched the show knows, it uses an enormous amount of stage blood — 4,000 gallons, I checked.

The “Bleed for the Throne” activation not only reminded visitors about the final season, but it also kicked off a national blood drive at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

Visitors were magically transported to the “GOT” city of Westeros, where they found original props and nearly a hundred actors, musicians and choir singers to lend authenticity to the environment.

Success? 3,000 visitors and more than 15,000 donated pints of blood.

And then there were the brands who partnered with HBO to promote the show:

• Adidas offered “GOT” Sneakers.

• Brandless, white Mountain Dew cans revealed Arya’s kill list when chilled.

• Oreo created a version of the three-dimensional map in the “GOT” title sequence, and of course, it was made out of Oreos.

• Johnnie Walker offered White Walker whiskey, based on the feared zombie-like characters in the show.

• AT&T, which owns HBO, temporarily transformed flagship stores in four cities into “Game of Thrones” “houses” from the series. San Francisco was Targaryen, Chicago was House Stark, New York was House Lannister and Boston was a mix of Targaryen versus Lannister.

Each featured costumed characters and the chance play an AI game that confronts a White Walker.

• John Varvatos created an expensive — but very cool — line of “GOT” apparel.

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Now, one might argue that a programming powerhouse such as HBO doesn’t need to market its most popular show — 18.4 million people watched “The Bells” last Sunday. But there’s definite value in deepening brand loyalty, especially with “GOT” coming to an end.

And one of the most effective ways to do that is to make an emotional connection with fans through the powerful storytelling of great experiential marketing.

After all, filming already has begun on the “GOT” prequel series, “Bloodmoon.”

I’ll be watching. Will you?

• Tracy Pratt is a product manager and lead marketing strategist at Fusionfarm, a division of Folience; (319) 398-8343; tracy@fusionfarm.com.

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