What Makes Us Become Brand Loyalists?

A “Game of Thrones” cult follower looks at how passion translates to purchase

Sunday, July 16. Do you attach any importance to this date?

It’s been on my calendar for months, but that’s because I’m a disturbingly devoted fan of “Game of Thrones,” the epic medieval fantasy HBO series, counting down to the start of the new season.

Watching anything but reruns in July used to be unthinkable. But the cultural phenomenon of “Game of Thrones” — and HBO’s brand as a boundary breaker — has set all the old programming rules aflame. Back in the 70s when I was sitting in front of my parents’ TV, shows like “All In The Family” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” started in September and ran 24 episodes a season. Now, I’m happy to pay extra for HBO in order to enjoy just seven precious episodes — mini-movie morsels, really — of “Game of Thrones.”

As a small creative agency, PPO&S is not generally working with a production budget that enables us to fly ginormous dragons in and out of commercials. But the success of “Game of Thrones” has 3 lessons to teach about what sells.

Fan-made poster artwork for “Game of Thrones” Season 7

First, viewers will pay a premium for what they perceive as quality content.

“Game of Thrones” makes a billion a year for HBO — without advertising revenue. Instead, their lifeblood is the loyalty of their viewers — subscribers like me who cannot live without HBO because they apparently cannot live without “Game of Thrones.” Thrones also brings in tons of additional revenue from DVD sales and merchandise like my ever-expanding Funko Pop figurine collection. To make my Turnpike travels feel more like I’m a warlord galloping through Dothraki grasslands, I listen to the audio novels.

Second, “Game of Thrones” demonstrates the potent appeal of good storytelling.

I’ve come to care about the characters, I’m vested in seeing what happens next. While some of my favorite swordfighters have ended up with their heads on spikes, I relate to this medieval fantasy’s broader themes of ambition, survival, loyalty. I read the viewer’s guides, the genealogies, the maps. SPOILER ALERTS: I’m still enraged about what happened to young Queen Margaery (incinerated by flaming pig feces). I’m still thrilled at what happened to bratty King Joffrey (poisoned at his own wedding).

Third, the show is a good example of the cumulative effect of multiple channels of engagement.

Our media team at PPO&S preaches it this way: Surround your audiences with a variety of branded messages and give them ways to explore and engage. Our media team believes because they can prove to clients that it works.

Indeed, like many other show loyalists, passively watching episodes won’t satisfy my needs. So I’ve been prepping for the new season by consuming other forms of media — expanding the length and depth of not only my viewing experience, but my user experience during and between seasons. I follow several blogs and listen to podcasts that speculate on the next moves of the bastard-turned-King of the North Jon Snow and Daenerys and her dragons. I operate my own fan page on Facebook and chat with followers from Italy, Denmark and Los Angeles.

Like a true cult follower, I also employ an old-school technology prized by marketers — word-of-mouth proselytizing. Over the past few years of blabbing about the show, I’ve gotten many of my friends hooked.

Truth be told though, “Game of Thrones” isn’t for everyone.

“Game of Thrones” has seized a truth we’ve been marching toward for a while:  Success is no longer defined by attracting the masses, but by building a loyal following eager to serve themselves extra helpings of the experience you provide.

While it’s hailed as a blockbuster hit, the viewership — which grew to 8.89 million for last season’s finale — is still a smidgen of the audience for the MASH finale, which drew 125 million viewers in 1983.

In this commitment-phobic era, not everyone lunges at the chance to involve themselves in the multi-season minutia of hundreds of characters dying and vying for a throne made of swords (which is said to be not very comfortable seating). But I somehow am.

So… when HBO announced the magic July 16 date, I made it a priority. Why? Quality content, storytelling, multiple avenues for engagement — key ingredients we strive to employ at PPO&S to turn our clients’ audiences into loyal followers and passionate purchasers.

By Karen Gray Associate Creative Director