What can marketers learn from Game of Thrones

In this guest post, which promises to be spoiler-free, Atomic 212's Aline Eloy says winter is coming for some of the country's biggest agencies, and the lessons contained in HBO's television blockbuster Game of Thrones could hold all the answers.

Firstly, let’s be absolutely crystal about this: this piece will contain absolutely zero spoilers.

Whatever point you are up to in your Game of Thrones experience – and seriously, if you haven’t sat down to either flick through a book or watch a few episodes, you’re just doing leisure wrong – this is a solemn promise that you won’t have anything ruined here. But even speaking in the broadest of terms, there’s some great lessons to be learnt from the machinations occurring in George RR Martin’s fictional world of Westeros.

In fact, there’s even been a book published about the broader knowledge to be gleaned from the show and the books which inspired it, Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords.

So what logic can marketers learn from Game of Thrones? Four obvious lessons come to mind.

“Winter is coming” – House Stark
This one may seem a tad bleak, but it’s a strong reminder to always be prepared and never sink into complacency.

We’re seeing it actively happening at the moment – for a lot of the biggest agencies in the world, winter hit in the past few years, and they were so busy enjoying what they perceived to be an endless summer that they were left reeling.

Where once upon a time, a multinational agency with huge office space and a massive workforce could wow a client with style, the world we live in now demands substance. And – thanks to the massive cost cutting that’s occurred across the board with regards to the software and hardware required to both make amazing content and quantify it in real-time, relevant data – a handful of mates working out of a shared workspace can land international business if they can get results.

And that’s just one of the more recent examples. Look back at the history of advertising and it’s been in a constant state of flux: social media turned things upside down, but wouldn’t have come about were it not for the infinite change brought about by the internet. Where would either be without the television, which itself was unfathomable before radio.

AI, VR and AR loom as the next major challenges, and they’re just the ones we know will play a factor in the next year or so. Who knows what we’ll be dealing with in the next five years, let alone 10?

The only certainty is uncertainty – so remember, even at the peak of summer, when things are their brightest, winter is still coming.

“A naked man has few secrets; a flayed man, none” – House Bolton
This may be a particularly violent set of words, favoured by the House you probably hate the most, but it applies very directly to the modern consumer.

Whether we like it or not, between phones, social media, search histories and metadata, the modern consumer leaves a digital photograph of exactly who they are, what they like, what they hate and everything in between.

The path to purchase has never been clearer, we’ve never been shown so clearly what motivates someone to make a purchase.

And you had best be across it, because serving consumers bad ads has helped seen the rise of ad blockers.

According to PageFair’s 2017 adblock report, 11% of internet users are using ad blockers, which equates to 615 million people, which was 30% growth for 2016.

As to why people are turning to this software, PageFair concluded that consumers use adblockers because of “specific problems with the delivery of online advertising”, not because they have a fundamental problem with online ads.

Which brings us back to the modern consumer as the flayed man. They have no secrets, so listen to what they are telling you.

“Hear me roar!” – House Lannister
“A Lannister always pays his debts” are the words that probably most commonly come to mind, and sure, paying people what they are owed is always good advice.

But for our purposes, let’s stick to the leonine family’s actual words.

While digital and mobile have facilitated the rise of seriously targeted ads and content, they aren’t the only way to preach a message.

In fact, when it comes to getting reach and pushing brand awareness, traditional channels are still hugely effective, and in fact significantly amplify the effectiveness of digital platforms.

A study by Accenture, commissioned by ABC (USA), released last May found that the “halo” effect of TV is often overlooked when analyising “search, display, and short-form video advertising within integrated campaigns”.

“On average, 18% of the return on investment (ROI) that’s typically attributed to these three channels actually should be credited to multi-platform TV.”

That’s not to suggest you ditch the new technologies – they absolutely provide huge benefits.

But equally, don’t be shy to occasionally stand on the mountain and roar!

“Growing strong” – House Tyrell
This is perhaps the aspect that’s most often overlooked when delivering ‘good news’ to clients. It’s fine to show that you have hit x impressions and received y conversions, but ultimately, clients hire agencies to grow their bottom line.

As David Ogilvy put it: “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

You may be providing the best-looking, most creative ads on any platform, but if since coming on, you’re just a drain on the bottom line, why would any client keep you on board?

But the great thing about growing strong is that we can do it together. If your clients are growing strong, there’s every reason to suggest your business will be too.

And by growing both your bottom dollars, your respective firms’ relationship should be growing strong too. As Darren Woolley wrote in the SoDA report 2014: “You see, marketing, especially marketing communications, tends to attract professionals who are people-oriented. This means that relationships are important to them. So when a client claims to have outgrown an agency, it’s usually code for having fallen out of love.”

Make sure you’re growing strong – both financially and in your business relationships.

“Ours is the Fury” – House Baratheon
Okay, yes, now I’m really stretching it. I won’t try to convince you there’s a message in this one.

I’m just mad, and maybe going a bit mad, because we’re about to hit May and there’s no new Game of Thrones for at least another two months!

Aline Eloy is programmatic & AD ops director at Atomic 212


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