Game of Thrones and The Rise of Terrible Marketing Tie-Ins

April 12, 2015

Marketers are, if nothing else, a predictable bunch.    

Oftentimes when “content” appears on-line it is possible to see beyond the words all the way through to the “brainstorming” session which inevitably spawned the “topical” piece. It is the job of “content strategist ninjas” and “copy gurus” to churn out (approximately) 500 words either linking an upcoming event to their product or, more desperately, hack out zeitgeist-inspired click-bait.  

Most recently, the internet found itself drowning in “April’s Fools”-inspired content all dreamt up months in advance. Brands and publishers fell over themselves to scrape the bottom of the barrel of organised zaniness. The Sun’s Ed Miliblond story, Santander’s “Cycle Through” branches and Tesco’s Bouncy Aisles each reeked of the quiet desperation of a student intern with a looming deadline perspiring content through their overworked and underpaid fingers. Or, perhaps more upsettingly, a large team of grossly rewarded “strategists” and middle-managers fuelled equally by cocaine, ennui and hubris.   

The day’s nadir may, however, be summed up by a broadsheet publisher who should know better: The Guardian’s half-hearted reports of Jeremy Clarkson backing sustainable energy policies perhaps mark a low-point (in terms of humour and effort) for the whole endeavour and, indeed, the human imagination. This was an April Fool’s joke which deflated souls of all who stumbled upon it.   

With Game of Thrones set to return to television, in one of the most heavily publicised pop culture events of the year, the sad inevitability of a deluge of new content “inspired” by the show greets us all. Winter is coming, and so too are some terrible PR and marketing campaigns.  

Brands and publishers aiming for a boost in traffic – or growth in “digital brand presence” - each look to capitalise on media-inspired interest in the show. “Clever” and “topical” content, they feel, can be used to and SEO wins and social media games.   

On many occasions, such tie-ins are poorly conceived and, on many others, contrived at best. The latest Game of Thrones articles which have sprung up across the World Wide Web prove this truism whilst, unintentionally, inspiring mirth from those who revel in schadenfreude at the plight of the junior copywriter tasked with cobbling together such content. Like playing in goal during an Under 10s Five-A-Side game, the position of brand copywriter at such times is a position no one wants but someone, regardless of desire or talent, has to do.   

14 Ways Facebook Is Like Game of Thrones” is perhaps the perfect example of how to spot a hacked together click-bait post as described above. With the Buzzfeed-ification of the internet, lists represent one of the easiest and cheapest ways to attract traffic and to suggest the link between the headline and the content is tenuous would be generous.   

The first point, “Grammar Police run rampant on Facebook and are very unforgiving”, seems to ignore entirely any connection between the show and social media and, as the article progresses, it is clear to see a very unsatisfactory pattern emerging. By this point, though, they have your page-view and advertising dollar so a good night’s sleep can be had by all.   

Tyrion Lannister Clothes

Yet, such shameless appeals for your clicks can be found from much higher-minded institutions too. In between the bare breasts, broadswords and beheadings it would seem one of the virtues of Game of Thrones is that our water cooler moments now consist of us discussing fictional weather.   

Inspired by quotes from a research fellow at Arizona State University, Reuters have published a report that would not seem out of place in Viz – “Is ‘Game of Thrones’ aiding the global debate on climate change?” If the answer is “yes” then we, as a species, need to begin worrying for so many different reasons it would be impossible for this articles’ word count to facilitate them.   

Dove Men+Care have managed to get into the action of leveraging insubstantial connections to Game of Thrones for brand exposure too. Men's Journal saw it fit to base an entire article around quotes from Dove's spokesman and stuntman Bobby Holland Hanton to create a piece entitled "The 'Game of Thrones' Strength Workout". The peculiar logic behind the post is that because the series uses stuntmen, and Hanton is a stuntman too, you can take his advice on how to work out and everyone is happy because Dove have a link from a well-read site and readers of the post now know that a stuntman they've never heard of sometimes does up to 72 push-ups per workout. Truly, the internet has welcomed us into a golden age of shared knowledge.

Perhaps most impressively of all articles, however, is this post which manages to tie in religious holiday themed children’s crafts with one of the most violent shows to ever air on television. One can only assume that the inevitable follow up to inedible Game of Thrones’ Easter Eggs would be a post dedicated to constructing Bates Motel-inspired decorative Christmas Crackers.




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