Advertising Lessons From Westeros

Okay, so. It’s been a month give or take, (at the time of writing, anyway) since the finale. The credits have rolled, the dust has settled and people have navigated the 5 stages of grief to come to acceptance. So let’s reopen those wounds and talk Game of Thrones. Yes, yes, spoilers, duh.

You right now.

Yeah, Jon comes back from the dead in case you didn’t know.

Anyway, they say, “learn from your mistakes” but it’s waaaay more convenient to learn from other people’s mistakes. And fun. So just how did the big-budget series that began so brilliantly end up on fire in a dumpster? And what lessons can we take from that? LET’S GOOOOO!

1. DON’T OVERPROMISE
Number one offender right here.

Fun fact time! Did you know both HBO and Georgie R (blessed be his name) wanted 10 seasons of Game of Thrones at least? However, the guys in charge of the show, David Benioff and Daniel Brett Weiss (henceforth referred to as D&D), were like, “Nah guys, we got this in 7. Just watch.”

Well, that was an oopsie.

So then they had to add an eighth. Yes, that’s right, the 8th season was not part of the original GoT pitch. Tsk tsk.

Your Creatives when you overpromise things.

Likewise for us agency folk. I get it, you want to impress your client and make them happy. But when you promise them that you’ll have those 10 new EDMs developed by EOD tomorrow, you’re only going to disappoint them when you come back the next day at 5:30pm asking for more time. Also, all your Creatives will probably kill you.

2. DON’T GET COMPLACENT
Last words of complacent man.

After putting out 4 solid seasons, D&D seem to have figured that Game of Thrones’ momentum would carry it through to the end. Which it did. Mostly. Hardcore fans will tell you the writing started to smell fishy around Season 5, but most people weren’t too fussed. At least not till the wheels fell off in Season 8. Momentum and goodwill will (ha) only get you so far.

Agency-wise: Winning a new account is great, and you should take the time to celebrate it, but don’t think that was the hard part. Now the real work begins, and if you want a chance at extending the contract you’re going to have to push for it.

3. GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT
R.I.P. Tywin. Maybe you should have, a little.

There’s a fun trend of subverting expectations in film and TV now (See also: The Last Jedi [It’s not fun anymore, please stop]). With the two-year gap between Season 7 and 8, GoT ending theories were flying in migratory numbers:

Will the Night King come and kill everyone a la GoT’s ‘everyone you love must die’ law?

Will Jon and Dany get married and rule the 7 kingdoms, incest be damned?

Surely Cersei won’t somehow pull out a win and stay Queen?

What we got instead, was the Night King smashed (literally) in a single episode, Dany’s ‘For the people‘ attitude free fall into ‘Burn the people‘ in two, and BRAN THE WHEELY LEGS NO FEELY ON THE IRON THRONE AT THE END OF SIX.

 Talk about unexpected. And unsatisfying.

You shut your smug face, Captain Cripple.

Agency life is a balancing act between satisfying the client, satisfying the audience, and satisfying your own creativity. Sadly, your creativity doesn’t pay in cash, but the client does – on the condition you satisfy their audience.

So, you’ve got to know what the audience wants to see. If you know what they want to see, you can give them what they want to see, then they’ll watch it and not riot in the streets (or on the internet) and then everyone will be happy and you’ll get paid. Easy-peasy.

4. GET SOME FEEDBACK
Not for long, Your Grace

Hey D&D, maybe you guys shouldn’t burn bridges with Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie. Since y’know, he’s the author and everything. Also, don’t take sole control of the writing for the last four episodes and kick all the other writers off the show. That would be plain silly.

Welp.

Are you seeing the trend yet?

We’re in the business of ideas. Sometimes we need to be in the business of killing ideas too. Yeah, it hurts to smother your own creative baby, but if you don’t cut down the bad ideas, you’ll never end up with a gold one. Getting good feedback builds great things, and great things make people happy.

This doesn’t mean you get to be nasty to your colleagues by the way, be constructive.

5. REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE ALREADY DONE
Nothing personal.

So in Season 8, Jamie and Brienne have a heart-to-heart talk in the snow where he tells her he’s a terrible person because he strangled his cousin. Not only is he a terrible person, he’s forgetful too, because in Season 3 Jamie caves his cousin’s face in before strangling a guard.

Also Gendry’s bastard name is Waters, not Rivers but I guess he forgot that too.

Just like the writers did.

Anyway, the takeaway is if you don’t remember an idea you’ve done already, and the client does, somebody is going to be having a reaaall awkward conversation when you bring it up again (Hint: it’s you).

6. DON’T HALF-ASS THINGS
Unless you're Team Wheelchair, in which case you just win.

If you need to add a 10-minute segment to the end of your 70-minute TV episode to explain what happened, chances are you’re probably half-assing. Once D&D got busy looking for the next big paycheck, the quality of GoT started to nosedive.

There’s a lot of money thrown into, at and around advertising. You’ve got to make sure you’re worth that money and are always adding value to your client. If you only see them as a fat paycheck, one day they’re going to cotton on to your half-assing and drop you like a hot potato. Unless you work for HBO. Why la HBO.

7. HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Thank you, Lord of Highgarden.

Oh God, Disney please don’t let D&D have Star Wars, I’m so scared.

For real though, advertising is a team sport. Hire cool people who are nice and who will do nice, cool things for you and your clients. Don’t hire people like D&D who will do uncool, not-nice things for your clients. Because then your clients will be upset and you’ll have to fire them.

Wow look at that, 7 lessons for 7 kingdoms, not contrived at all. Join us next time, when we look at how Castle Black could be building and renting out billboards on the Wall. It’s prime advertising space and no one has figured this out yet?? Come on Lord Commander Snow, try to know a moneymaking opportunity when you see one.

The views expressed by the authors on this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of C27, our CEO, the management, the fish in our fish tank, and/or all the awesome people within the agency. The content and opinions shared are the personal views of the author so please don’t sue us.

…or the author.