Surprise! 4 Lessons to Learn from Game of Thrones and Mad Men

Surprise! 4 Lessons to Learn from Game of Thrones and Mad Men

Marketing Strategy
HBO’s Game of Thrones is at the forefront of the booming business of producing series for both classic TV and streaming channels. Six years since the series, which is set in a fictional medieval world, first went on air, the US private channel’s show is the most successful TV production of all times. GoT has long gone viral and dominates conversations on social media, in the family home and at watercoolers. Game of Thrones and shows such as Mad Men utilize – and break – some basic storytelling principles in order to achieve marketing success, providing marketers with some valuable lessons…

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - Tuesday 19th March 2013 - Press Release image - (C) Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye | HBO

Press Release image
(C) Picture by Kelvin Boyes | Press Eye | HBO,_Emilia_Clarke,_Richard_Plepler,_Martin_McGuinness_(2013).jpg.

Marketing lessons learned from Game of Thrones and Mad Men
We all love a good story, whether for entertainment or marketing reasons. While viral hits can neither be planned nor forced, shows such as Game of Thrones or cult hit Mad Men, which follows the ups and downs of an advertising agency in 60s New York, built their word-of-mouth success on 4 factors which can also help you create your successful product marketing plan.
Marketing lessons learned from Game of Thrones and Mad Men
Marketing lessons learned from Game of Thrones and Mad Men

1. Offer something to identify with
GoT’s medieval fantasy-universe seems to be miles from Mad Men’s sleek Madison Avenue setting. While bloody battles for the Iron Throne don’t seem to share anything with a pitch for Coca Cola’s advertising budget, both narratives deliver universal topics which most people can identify with: the struggle for power and social status; the underdog prevailing against all odds; gender roles and their shifts. Characters who can believably channel these issues, touch us deeply and keep us at the edge of our seats while we root for them.
That’s why you should always harness your marketing strategy along the following questions: Where is the potential for identification in your product or company narrative? Where can your target group „latch on“ emotionally?

2. Stay relevant
Mad Men and Game of Thrones are pure fiction. However, both shows’ marketing managed to brilliantly bridge the gap between fiction and the reality of viewers’ everyday lives, thus becoming relevant. While Mad Men achieved its relevance by referencing events still alive in audiences’ memories (Cuba crisis, moon landing), HBO created a fictional campaign for some Game of Thrones protagonists to give viewers a break from the real presidential campaign in 2016. People could support their favourite character’s „election video“ by sharing or making a purchase at the amazon online store. Media portals picked up on the promotion, resulting in 1.5 million votes being cast.
Questions to ask yourself about your own marketing strategy: How can you incorporate current or relevant topics into your campaign in a meaningful way?

3. Create suspense *Careful, Spoilers!*
Don Draper is a false identity! Incest among siblings! A morally sound and sympathetic character literally loses his head before the end of season one! Both Game of Thrones and Mad Men are willfully at odds with usual conventions of their genre. Heros and their dogs fall, villains prevail, beloved characters display their unusually dark side or take morally shocking decisions. Anything can happen at any time. That’s what keeps audiences captivated and at the edge of their seats, while also providing plenty to talk about during that next lunch break.
For your own communication strategy, keep in mind: Provide suspense to your target group, with unexpected promotions, surprising content and conscious twists which will lead them to view your brand in (positively) new ways.

4. Make them laugh
No matter how cynical (Mad Men) or savage (Game of Thrones) the world is in which the serial characters live: There’s always enough time for some comic relief between all the drama, provided by an ironic scene, a quirky side character or one of Tyrion Lannister’s sarcastic lines. While humor is a an ingredient better added sparsely and selectively, taking oneself and life not too seriously makes you sympathetic and memorable – there’s space for a smile in nearly every communication strategy.

Bottom Line
Game of Thrones and Mad Men, two of the most successful contemporary shows on TV/streaming channels are at the forefront of a storytelling boom. This is what marketers can take away for their own strategies:

  • Pinpoint the potential for identification and communicate in a targeted way
  • Establish an emotional connection between product and target group via references towards current or timelessly relevant topics
  • Stay unpredictable in a positive way, with surprising content and conscious breaks
  • Always keep a little room for levity and humor

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