Whether you watch “Game of Thrones” or you merely observe with bemusement as your Twitter timeline gets overrun on Sunday nights, there’s no arguing the impact the drama’s had on pop culture.
“Thrones” has become an era-defining show, like “Sopranos,” “Dallas” or “I Love Lucy.” With the series finale airing this weekend, we’ve had our share of debates over what’s going to happen in the end.
These discussions also got us thinking. There are a surprising number of parallels between “GoT” and outdoor advertising. Sounds odd, but hear us out—here are five lessons that apply to both “Thrones” and billboards.
1. Slow Builds Reap Long-Term Rewards
“Thrones” isn’t just the all-time most-watched program on HBO, it’s also one of the most popular shows in the world, outdrawing most broadcast and cable TV shows.
“Thrones” didn’t start as a smash. Only 2.2 million people tuned in to the series premiere in 2011. Yet HBO didn’t make a rash decision to cancel. It allowed the show to gain organically, through word of mouth. This year, the show’s season premiere was watched by 17.4 million across platforms.
Out-of-home can have a similarly long tail when it comes to branding. Big companies use billboards to create brand awareness, not necessarily to get people to use a product right away. McDonald’s, for instance, often buys space for six months or a year to keep that long-term presence. Cracker Barrel has a near-permanent presence on billboards near exits where its restaurants are located. That’s a testament to billboards’ ability to deliver long-term results.
2. Fate Favors the Bold, As Long As There’s Proper Execution
The best episodes of “Game of Thrones” deal with bold themes. Patricide, wedding day slaughters — those take-hold plotlines easily could have backfired had the show’s writers not brought their considerable skill to bear.
Outdoor advertising relies on the same intricate planning to make the boldest ideas blossom. Figuring out how to make them work involves so many different things beyond just a great creative concept. Execution is critical, which includes:
Finding the time and space for the billboard from the vendor
Pioneering new technologies and dealing with fallout when things don’t go as planned
Taking creative from concept to reality, within the parameters of the billboard space
Getting clients and agencies on the same page, which is a lot like the back-and-forth dance between writers and actors on a TV show
3. Sometimes You Have to Cause a Little Controversy
While “GoT” isn’t just about incest or over-the-top violence, those are calculated plotlines designed to draw attention, and it works.
Well, controversy can work for out of home, too. Contentious billboards have been making headlines since the format was introduced in the 1800s. Sometimes it’s a risqué image or naughty joke. Other times it’s a taboo subject matter or a really strong religious stance (or an anti-religious stance). They generate buzz, so people keep doing them.
4. A Weird Obsession With Winter and Other Temperatures
“Winter is coming” has been a signature “GoT” line since the HBO show’s very first episode, which carried that title. It, of course, refers to Winterfell, the center of so much action during this final season of “Thrones.”
While “Thrones” may obsess on cold weather, out of home has a more seasonal focus. The recent advances in digital technology have allowed outdoor advertising to become responsive to situational stimuli. That is, a billboard can react to the weather and adjust its advertisements accordingly. Here are a few fun examples:
Dove’s April Showers campaign in Times Square
Baywatch billboards whose pictures changed with the chilly temperatures
Bank ads asking passersby if they have money saved for a “day like this” — ads that only appear on rainy days
5. Bridging the Divide Between Old and New
The power struggles in “Game of Thrones” often pit one generation against the next. Ceding power to the next generation is never an easy dance. But there’s also a recognition that new and different can deliver many dividends.
This has been a lesson out of home has grappled with for years. New technology has meant new problems and new frustrations for the industry, but it also brings fantastic opportunities.
Whenever you marry young to old, there will be a rocky adjustment period, but for out of home it’s really leading to an era of better things — better ability to target, better relevance of advertising, better longevity of a campaign via social media.
Alas, “GoT” will be gone in just a few days, and that’s where the similarities end. While outdoor has been around quite a while, it’s like a dragon — still strong and still breathing fire.