Spring has officially arrived, and while that means warmer days are ahead, it also means something far more monumental is on its way. Every day, there is a palpable air of excitement. Anxieties run higher and patience runs thinner—until the day many of us have been waiting over a year for arrives.
Yes, spring is here. But more importantly, winter is coming.
Even if you don’t watch Game of Thrones, you’ve no doubt heard that the highly anticipated final season of the iconic HBO series will finally begin on April 14th. And because I cannot get my mind off the upcoming season (and whether or not every character I love will die a gruesome death), I’ve decided to revisit the past eight years of Game of Thrones advertising—all the wildly elaborate, incredibly creative and extremely expensive advertising tactics (for the eighth season alone, the show spent over $20 million on marketing) that make the greatest show of all time even greater.
In anticipation of the show’s third season, a 40-foot long, 8-foot wide and 9-foot tall dragon skull “washed up” on the shore of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast in the UK. The promo was planned by Brinkbox after GoT’s arrival on the streaming service and took over three months to create—just the level of attention to detail we’ve come to expect from the series.
Once season three had ended, fans in Sweden were prepped for the DVD release with ominous “In Case of White Walkers, Break Glass” warning signs in various locations that felt native to the world of GoT. Each was paired with a glass box containing a dagger made of dragonglass, the only substance besides fire that can kill a White Walker (duh).
If you happened to be lucky enough to snag a dragonglass dagger in Sweden, you could have put it to use before the premiere of season seven, when a team of actors clad in full White Walker makeup and costumes terrorized some of Britain’s most iconic landmarks, including the Buckingham Palace Throne Room.
Remember in the season five finale (spoiler!) when Cersei was berated, abused and humiliated as she was forced to walk through the streets of King’s Landing in shame? SodaStream thought that same method would be a compelling way to stop people from buying bottled water—and start buying SodaStream. And sure, the ad got pulled for being 1) graphic and 2) misleading, but as far as creativity goes, it takes the throne.
With this promotion, Johnnie Walker proved you need little more than clever wordplay to make serious money. While there’s no shortage of Thrones-themed alcoholic beverages, White Walker by Johnnie Walker capitalized on the similarity between its brand name and the name of the show’s undead army to sell scotch ahead of season eight’s release—and because GoT fans are a bit obsessive, it worked!
The brand also gets bonus points for crafting on-theme cocktail recipes like The Night King’s Sour (clever) and Hold the Door (painful, rude and way too soon).
To bring a Game of Thrones flair to the hotel chain’s seasonal SnowVillage, Lapland Hotels in Finland has twice now transformed its palace of ice and snow into one of ice and fire. Themed rooms, sculptures and restaurants are highly Instagrammable, which is quickly becoming a must for today’s travelers. In addition, the frigid temperatures both in and around the hotel (the inside hovers around 32 degrees) give visitors a taste of life north of the Wall. Spoiler: it’s cold.
In anticipation of the show’s final season, six Iron Thrones have been hidden around the world in locations native to GoT. To add a layer of urgency to the quest (as if there wasn’t already), a countdown on the activation’s website is set with the time remaining to claim the thrones, which could literally be anywhere in the world. Participants’ only hint: a 360-degree photo of each throne, in its designated location, waiting for its eventual king or queen—whose prize is still unknown to the public.
You might say the true test of a show’s success is its fans. In Game of Thrones’ case, that’s probably true. It would be tough to find another fanbase with 100,000 people willing to watch ice melt for over an hour just to learn the release date of the show’s seventh season. Yes, that really happened, and yes, people were kind of peeved about it. The technical difficulties of this stunt (the ice melting too slowly, the Facebook Live stream continually crashing, etc.) are mostly to blame for participants’ frustrations and producers’ embarrassment. Great concept, bad execution. It still makes the list because it proves that marketers knew just how far people would be willing to go for something as trivial as the show’s release date—and they were right.
Even when selling a product as successful as Game of Thrones, a little star power never hurts. In preparation for the last season, HBO encouraged current fans to rewatch the series and new fans to watch for the first time with the launch of Binge for the Throne. A series featuring stars like Jimmy Kimmel, Aaron Rodgers and Kristin Chenoweth, it chronicled celebrities as they revisited their favorite moments from the show. Not only did this build hype for existing fans, but the diverse range of celebrities chosen to participate allowed for new fans to emerge just in time for the show’s send off.
Fit for a Lannister: The Best of the Best GoT Ads
South by Southwest is known for bringing together some of the best in entertainment and advertising each year, and 2019 was no exception. In anticipation of the show’s eighth season, Game of Thrones created an immersive world within SXSW: scenes and spaces straight from the show’s set, free to roam for participants willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for the experience: their blood.
“Bleed For The Throne” at SXSW prompted attendees to donate blood to the American Red Cross in exchange for an immersive Game of Thrones experience. A tall ask, but an incredible one at that. Not only did it benefit those in need of life-saving blood transfusions, it’s also perfectly on brand: every character on Game of Throne has shed blood at one point or another throughout the series—and now, fans have done the same. Because of this, in its own weirdly poetic way, “Bleed For The Throne” was the perfect end cap to eight years of GoT advertisements.
The true brilliance of this ad is in its simplicity: released just before season three, the shadow of a dragon adorned an entire two-page spread of the New York Times. While this list is proof that no expense or method has been spared when it comes to the show’s marketing, there’s something to be said of the satisfaction an incredibly original print piece can bring. Amid various tactics that required elaborate planning and extravagant executions, what is probably one of the least expensive and involved advertisements is, in my opinion, one of the most effective.
Last but not least, perhaps no one is happier about the show’s existence than Northern Ireland, where Game of Thrones-based tourism is estimated to bring in about $38 million per year. The country has participated in several promotions for the show, from designing a tapestry depicting the entirety of the show’s storyline to creating 10 intricately carved wooden doors, placed near the show’s frequent filming locations. These doors are made of wood from fallen trees located where Kingsroad is portrayed and depict scenes and events from the show’s sixth season. And of course, there’s always the guided Game of Thrones tours that frequent the real-life Winterfell, King’s Landing, Iron Islands and more.
This list barely scratches the surface of all the products, collaborations, stunts and commercials that pull their creative from the realm of Westeros, but to me, they’re the best that the Seven Kingdoms has to offer. If any GoT ads have stuck out to you over the years, let us know in the comments (and if you have any insider knowledge on season eight, we’d like to hear that, too).