They say that when you make movies or television, you aren’t able to watch them like everyone else. You’re too tuned in to the craft and the technicalities that only a film or TV creator would notice.
As brand integrations find their way deeper and deeper into the content we consume so passionately, I’m beginning to find the same holds true for those whose job it is to promote brands.
Never was this more apparent to me then this past Sunday night, during the highly anticipated Battle of Winterfell episode of Game of Thrones (GoT). I couldn’t help but notice the abundant brand integration opportunities that went untapped throughout. We may have lost many beloved series characters during 'The Long Night,' but the blatant disregard for branded promotion and product placement is, in my opinion, the true tragedy of episode.
Let’s begin with the first jaw drop moment of the night, the unexpected return of Melisandre, who summons her red priestess powers to set the arakhs of the Dothraki army aflame. I’m not saying this would have been a make or break moment for the scene, but it seems somewhere within the ranks of the Dothraki a few of them could have been huddled around a hibachi grill filled with fast-lighting Kingsford brand charcoal. It isn’t entirely implausible that certain Dothraki may have wanted a last-minute horse burger before a long night of battling the dead, and it would have been a minimally invasive brand integration to see the Kingsford combust at the start of Melisandre’s spellbinding incantation, maybe just a few seconds before the Dothraki weaponry ignited. Feels like a miss.
Of course, the Dothraki’s night was over before it started, as Daenerys, Jon Snow, and friends watched in horror as each of the Dothraki arakhs were extinguished by the Night King’s legions, in essence extinguishing the Dothraki as a people. It was an eerie and devastating visual, a distant constellation of match lights on the horizon smothered one by one until all was dark and silent. It made me think of the fragility of life.
It also made me think of the classic campaign for Tucks medicated hemorrhoid pads, wherein the flame of a lit match is extinguished within the crease of a folded pad. What an opportunity this was to reboot that campaign, perhaps through a tastefully placed banner running along the bottom of the screen during the post-massacre stillness. “When hemorrhoids come on like a charging horde of Dothraki warriors, extinguish that flame with the cooling power of Tucks medicated pads.” So many possibilities.
There were opportunities big and small hiding in nearly every turn of the plot. Recall the brief interaction between Ser Davos and Melisandre following his granting her entry into Winterfell, during which she tells him there’s no need to execute her for she’ll be dead before the dawn. I have to believe that given the proper time to work out nuances of the script, an elegant solution could have been reached wherein that conversation happens over a couple of Swanson’s heat-n-serve dinners, the perfect pop-it-in-the-oven meal for when unexpected company arrives. And I personally wouldn’t have been offended if, following Lyanna Mormont’s heroic eye gauging of the dead army’s giant, a quick battlefield cameo was made by Jennifer Aniston to remind us just how important it is to take care of those peepers. Maybe she just walks through frame, very casually, and delivers a single line directly to camera… “It is all about Eye Love, my friends.”
I really think GoT’s creators underestimate their audience’s tolerance level for in-program advertising and product plugs.
Take Dany’s attempt to incinerate the Night King in a blaze of dragon fire. Would it have been so unforgivable for the lord of the dead to emerge from Drogon’s conflagration wearing a ball cap bearing the logo of Smoothie King, the perfect refreshment for when temperatures start to heat up? Or when Arya was deftly evading a handful of wights in the stacks of the Winterfell library… would it have ruined your night if she took a second to pull Oprah Winfrey’s The Path Made Clear from one of the shelves and read aloud an inspirational passage?
With the further penetration of brands into our favorite content an inevitability, I’m curious to see which franchises will make the bold choice to innovate and invite marketers to seamlessly and gracefully make their presence known in the style of the few examples I’ve noted here. I had high hopes that the Battle of Winterfell would be a coming out party for the world of brands and advertising, but like Jorah, Beric, Lyanna, Theon, and so many of the tragic characters hoping to make it to that new dawn, those hopes were dashed.
'The Long Night' was an historic episode of television and its importance is not to be downplayed, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in our professional community waking up Monday morning feeling certain pangs of regret. The Battle of Winterfell was epic, yes, a major leap forward in cinematic storytelling created for the small screen. And though it may have been a bloodbath in many ways, for marketers it could have been a field day.
Al Patton is chief creative officer of Dagger and an avid Game of Thrones fan