Game of Thrones’ spectacle of sacrifice transfuses relevance to the Red Cross at SXSW

HBO's partnership with the Red Cross lands in Austin, TX

The American Red Cross is on track to collect 500 units of donated blood from its SXSW partnership with HBO’s Game of Thrones, an event that’s turned the clinical donation process into a beguiling, entertaining ritual, and helped the non-profit prove its relevance to younger Americans today.

The three-day ‘Bleed for the Throne’ activation will close its doors tonight (9 March), having reaped “400-500 units of blood” for the American Red Cross. A usual blood drive collects an average of 30 donations, according to the organization’s communications director, April Phillips, who has been witnessing blood donation rates fall across the country since she joined almost 12 years ago.

“One of the biggest reasons donation rates are dropping is people don’t realize that the need for blood is as great as it is,” she said.

Partnering with a colossal entertainment brand such as Game of Thrones, which is currently embarking on a big-budget marketing push ahead of its final season premiere, has allowed the American Red Cross to get in front of a national audience of millions – an audience that may previously have associated the charity as one only relevant to its parents, grandparents or great grandparents' generation.

The partnership isn’t just aimed at the tech bros currently hitting up Austin: Game of Thrones branded blood drives have been taking place across 43 states throughout February and March, and Phillips expects the end result to be “10,000s of donations”, a much larger figure than expected.

But at SXSW, the partnership has also managed to transform the clinical, often cumbersome process of blood donation into an entertaining spectacle of sacrifice – a theme key to Game of Thrones throughout its eight series run.

“There's not an awareness challenge for Game of Thrones,” said Trevor Guthrie, co-founder of event producer Giant Spoon. “Instead, HBO asked how we could use the final season as a force for good. We spent three days optimizing user flow [through the space] and have been hypercritical about the details of the experience.”

Donors who enter the lot on East 5th Street in Austin sign waivers on iPads, handed to them by actors in Game of Thrones character. As they wait in line for the immersive experience they're asked to fill out the donor health questionnaire on their smartphones, so by the time they enter the confidential meeting area for consultation with a health professional, their information has already been stored in the system.

The waiting and recovery rooms are branded like a chamber in the opulent King’s Landing castle. Once donation is complete, participants are then invited to roam the interactive event, which includes a special ceremony at the center of the experience.

Here, a local Austin choir sings original songs composed for the event as the Red Priestess personally honors donors by name and hands them a Hand of the King pin.

“This is the most immersive, interactive blood drive I have ever been a part of,” said Phillips. “I think this has really helped us take a look at breaking the norm of what a regular blood drive experience might be and will open us up to more creative ideas in the future.”

With Game of Thrones finally coming to an end in the summer, it’s unlikely this particular brand partnership will be extended any further. However, given the success of the ‘Bleed for the Throne’ campaign, there’s every chance the American Red Cross could tap up another hugely popular HBO show in order to get more Americans donating.

“I think we can still honor our history while instilling a sense of giving in the next generation, to get them to realize we're still relevant and important to their communities, and a partnership with something like Game of Thrones helps them to see that all the better.”

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