A couple of months ago, the final episode of a little show called Game of Thrones aired on HBO. As the buildup to the final season reached its peak, our team developed a two-stage campaign that would release a Game of Thrones Sorting Quiz as stage 1 and the results as stage 2. The quiz went live and went viral, receiving nearly 50,000 results in less than 2 weeks.
As the season aired, we continued to collect results and within the tight timeline of 6 weeks, we created interactive results graphics and managed to get them out before the finale. We were ready to launch the second stage of our campaign. Then the final episode aired. And nothing happened.
So What Went Wrong?
When you’re creating content for a very specific news cycle, things can be extremely hit or miss. This campaign was a smash hit when we first sent out the survey, but by the time the results were ready to go out, people were unhappy with the episodes. They were angry about character arcs. They were furiously taking to the internet to express their displeasure and, unfortunately, not clicking on fandom-focused articles or links.
Our strategy was solid and our campaign concept was fantastic. But the Game of Thrones news cycle came to an abrupt end after episode 4, when people got angry with the characters and ratings plummeted. This was an unfortunate twist that our team could not have taken into account when we were preparing the second stage of our campaign. We were banking on Game of Thrones content being a golden ticket for a month and a half, but instead, with 1 week to go before our results went live, people were more interested in talking about all of the ways that the writers had let them down.
This is one of the trickiest points of creating content that will be extremely relevant for a very specific amount of time. Any variable shift or change in the news cycle, and suddenly your content is obsolete or doesn’t relate to the topic in the same way.
So What Went Right?
Regardless of the negative feedback towards the last three episodes, stage one of our campaign was some of our top-performing content ever, even with only half of the news cycle we anticipated. It played off of fans’ excitement for the final season perfectly and, had the final season been well received, we might have seen a similar performance for the second stage that included the quiz results.
Ultimately, we saw fantastic engagement rates for this content and we certainly wouldn’t discount similar campaigns in the future. While being at the mercy of the news cycle means a different approach, we’ve seen the incredible results that are possible when things go right.
What Are Our Takeaways
Ultimately, Game of Thrones taught us the following points about digital marketing:
- Go in with your eyes open – Content tied to the news cycle has an expiration date and can be risky. It’s a higher risk, higher reward kind of deal.
- Stick to a timeline – If one person on your team misses a due date or a deadline, you can miss valuable time for the promotion of your content. Make sure everyone is prepared to get their assignments done to stay on track and be ready for the news cycle.
- Experiment with it – Content tied to the news cycle opens up doors for different formats and platforms. If there’s a type of content you want to create or some kind of strategy you want to test, a campaign with a shorter promotional period but an almost guaranteed larger audience is a good time to see how a new type of content does.
- Bring in the geeks – To impress the superfans, you need a superfan. Don’t be under the impression that you can read a quick synopsis of a show or movie and create something amazing. The best content for fans is created by fans, so if you have one in your midst, bring them in to help!
Overall, we were absolutely thrilled with the performance for this content and the engagement we saw from it. And this type of news cycle is an opportunity we will be watching out for in the future. Just don’t ask us what we thought about season eight of Game of Thrones.
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