When A Game of Thrones—the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—was published in 1996, names like Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, the Red Keep and The Wall were confined to those first 694 pages. More than 20 years later, those stories have erupted beyond any number of pages, through eight seasons of appointment-viewing television into a cultural phenomenon which may not ever be matched.
So, it comes as no surprise that in today’s digital world where conversations are happening online, brands have not been shy about entering into the #GameofThrones conversation during the final six-episode race to the Iron Throne.
Bud Light got the ball rolling with its crossover Super Bowl ad in which Bud Light’s Bud Knight was unhorsed by Game of Thrones’ the Mountain and subsequently killed in an extremely “Game of Thrones” fashion. Shake Shack for the past month has offered special menu items, the Dracarys Burger and Dragonglass Shake, paying homage to #FortheThrone. Johnnie Walker released a special White Walker Scotch. And in the lead up to the premiere, the Minnesota Timberwolves became the Direwolves on social media, creating cross-branding content and merchandise.
But what happens when the cultural phenomenon surrounding a work of art becomes bigger than the art itself? On the same weekend that Avengers: Endgame broke domestic and international box office records, nearly 18 million viewers tuned into the climactic third episode of Thrones’ final season and show-related hashtags trended up and down Twitter and round and round again. When so many brands enter the fold, trying to grab a slice of the pie, is the overall effect diminished? Or does it allow creatives the opportunity to use the cultural event to produce something unique for their brand?
We may never see another television show like Game of Thrones again, but our culture craves transcendent events—an opportunity to be a part of something that extends far beyond our couches, online communities or hashtag. As millions sit down to watch on Sunday night, brands will be looking for a way to say goodbye and take one last bite of pie. They’ll also be looking for the next one—and that’s a good thing. Brands would be wise to let creatives be creative. Game of Thrones has shown us that culture drives the conversation and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a small part of it.