Sumitra Sarkar
Guest Article

Advertising in the Game of Thrones era

Our guest author gleans some advertising insights from the most successful show in recent times.

As a Game of Thrones fan, the show's 'bitter-sweet ending' seemed more bitter than sweet, but it also gave me some food for thought. And since you can take a girl out of advertising, but not advertising out of a girl, you can't blame me for drawing parallels with what now feels like a bad hangover.

Advertising in the Game of Thrones era

Sumitra Sarkar

Without further ado, let me present my GoT-meets-advertising thoughts for my fellow advertising and brand enthusiasts:-

1. Tease, but please deliver

Nine years, eight seasons. Each season dispelled fan theories and left us wanting and demanding more. As Game of Thrones grew on us, we had expectations: what Jon should do, what Dany should be like, how dramatic the war for the throne should be. And when the expectations didn't match, we nursed a heartbreak.

Unfortunately, it's just the opposite in advertising. Teasers are a vanity 'must-have' in most campaign plans. I call it vanity because it either gets politely forgotten at the execution stage or gets exposed to the world of 'organic social media' (which means the only people who knew this happened are the agency and the client). But in many cases, we are so focused on the 'tease' that we forget to figure if the reveal truly delivers the hype we intended.

Sure, teasing is healthy. Movies and shows are a great example of how good teasers influence initial viewership and dating is another. There's a reason why flirting or courtship periods are the most exciting parts of a relationship.

At a time when brand loyalty is practically non-existent, consumers need a good tease and equally good delivery experience for us to be remembered. Otherwise, don't bother.

2. Find the right purpose; profits and people will follow

Humbly borrowing from Humankind - the Leo Burnett way of approaching all communication - a brand with the right purpose successfully travels a long way.

For instance, we didn't want Dany to rule the Seven Kingdoms because she was the rightful heir to the throne. We wanted her to win because she wanted a world free of atrocities. While Sansa also evolved from a naive child to an intelligent regent, we never really rooted for her. Why? Because she didn't have a believable purpose.

In an age of start-ups, it is extremely difficult to get people to choose you over others and forgive you for any shortcomings. Media investments will give you momentary visibility, but may not help in a lasting association with your consumer. Consumer groups easily prove that people remember ads, but not always the brand behind it. However, it is never too late for any brand to find its purpose and stay true to it.

3. The magic of a great idea lies in its simplicity

'Long long ago, there was a battle for the Seven Kingdoms, but there was a greater enemy beyond the walls. Men had to choose between the quest for the throne and the survival of mankind. Mankind won.' Here's a story straight out of a fable with an expected ending. Nine years later and we still don't know why the greatest enemy decided to come back after 1000 years. And no one actually won the 'Game of Thrones'.

We get so excited with the idea of 'making an idea big' that we forget to ensure that the authenticity of the idea isn't tarnished. Nike still runs with 'Just Do It' because they have managed to not complicate the message over the years, finding more relevant ways to associate their message in current times.

Most of us have stopped fighting for our ideas and opinions. We have submitted to the standard response - mazaa nahi aaya. And in the effort to make it mazedaar, we lose the magic. Is the 'big idea' really worth it, then?

4. Mistakes happen, but don't ignore them

We have all shared a joke about the infamous Starbucks cup or how Jamie's golden hand turned real in his last moments with Cersei. However, someone has surely lost their job over these mistakes.

Unfortunately, such gaffes happen in our business too. Being a part of the digital age means that WhatsApp approvals, low levels of quality checks and hasty releases are commonplace. This acceptance of low-quality standards is becoming a way of life.

In my early days of advertising, I heard stories of how every team member was meticulous about artwork bromides since the process was so time-consuming and tedious. While digitisation has opened up a new world for us, it also makes us lazy.

Even more worrisome is that incorrect digital releases are increasingly becoming an acceptable mistake. For any brand, showcasing incorrect content is detrimental. A 'sorry' cannot undo the negative reactions the brand garners. Let's take that extra 10 minutes and make sure we don't contribute to the so-called 'small mistakes'.

Till then, I'm going to go ask myself 'Where's the next big show?' over and over till I find a suitable enough answer.

(The author is VP-Client Services & Strategy, Indigo Consulting)

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