16 April 2019

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” - How HBO’s branding strategy is the biggest winner

The climax of the battle for the Iron Throne is now upon us and we all have our theories regarding who will conquer Westeros but one thing for sure is that HBO Global Licensing have won the branding crown!

The cost of the breath-taking special effects, and ever-increasing pay packets of the show’s stars, have needed to be funded somehow and so HBO has had to ensure it has lucrative brand partnerships in place.

Since season 1, HBO have entered into numerous arrangements where the intellectual property (IP) of the hit show is licensed to businesses to allow them to create products that bring in revenue (for both parties) but also promote the show.

Game of Thrones does not lend itself to product placement so brands have had to be more creative in the way they have integrated themselves into the franchise. As the season 8 premiere date drew nearer brands prepared, launched and aired impressive homages to the show, examples include:

  • During the Super Bowl, Bud Light aired its advertisement featuring Game of Thrones’ Character The Mountain defeating the Bud Knight in a jousting match.
  • Mondelēz painstakingly recreated the opening sequence from Game of Thrones using Oreos to launch their limited-edition cookies, with the insignia of the Targaryens, Starks, Lannisters, and the White Walkers, and consumers can pledge their loyalty to House Stark, House Targaryen, House Lannister or The Night King by using the hashtags #GameofCookies and #ForTheThrone on Twitter.
  • Mountain Dew launched a limited edition can with Arya’s kill list displayed (with those that she’s already dispatched crossed out).
  • Shake Shack, a franchise of restaurants, has a “secret” Game of Thrones menu that includes a burger and shake that can only be purchased if the customer orders them in Valyrian.
  • The American Red Cross campaign asked potential blood donors “Will you bleed for the throne?” The event challenged fans to donate blood and in return they were entered into a competition for the chance to win one of five trips to the season 8 world premiere of the show. They also had the opportunity to get a T-shirt (with a blood throne motif), sticker and a unique Snapchat filter.
  • Johnnie Walker released a “White Walker” whiskey as well as eight different scotches, each named for the houses of Westeros.
  • Adidas launched six limited-edition Ultra Boost 4.0 trainers based on Houses Targaryen, Stark and Lannister, the White Walkers, the Night’s Watch and Daenerys.
  • Urban Decay created a makeup line inspired by the female characters in the show.
  • An online strategy game designed by Gtarcade, entitled “Winter is Coming”, is available to download

HBO are also converting several filming locations into tourist attractions. Anticipated to open in 2019/2020, fans will have the opportunity to visit iconic sets from the show and immerse themselves in the world of Westeros. This, the demand for merchandise and continued interaction with the Game of Thrones brand means it is likely that HBO will be able to profit from the franchise long after the current series ends, in the same way other brands, such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, have.

In season 3 Ramsay Bolton said: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention” – whilst we wait for (what will likely be) the nail-biting climax to the Song of Ice and Fire, HBO will be raising a glass of Dornish wine to toast its success and the profitable future ahead.

If you would like advice about the licensing of IP, or any other IP matters, please contact Emma Kirkpatrick at ekirkpatrick@hcrlaw.com or on 01905 744992.

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About the Author
Emma Kirkpatrick, CITMA Paralegal & Trainee Trade Mark Attorney
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