And another thing: Game of Thrones and the FIFA World Cup — separated at birth

While the rest of the advertising world concentrates on the tawdry lolly scramble that is Cannes, I find myself in Dubrovnik, Croatia, writing Effies entries. Sad, I know. Although you’re unlikely to have been to Dubrovnik, you might well recognise it as King’s Landing, the major city in Game of Thrones, which is upsetting the local tourist guides. They want to lecture us about the centuries of Croat, Roman, Venetian and Hapsburg history while we just want to know where Ned Stark had his head cut off and King Joffrey got turned into a gargoyle.

Croatia is currently going mildly potty about the football, which has pointed up some interesting parallels between the current two most popular forms of entertainment on the planet: Game of Thrones and the FIFA World Cup. Both feature titanic clashes between numerous combatants with the ever-present element of sudden death either by penalties, extra time, or having your eyes gouged out. You win or you die.

The mighty family of Lannister is ahead at halftime in GOT while Brazil are currently atop the Iron Throne in the World Cup. Both Ned Stark and England have suffered from surprisingly early exits and, as I watch the imp-faced psychopath mincing around, I wish somebody would do to Luis Suarez what they did to his alter ego, King Joffrey.

My favourites are subject to shifting allegiances. I used to really dislike Holland for all their thuggery over recent tournaments, but Edam is my new favourite cheese after their glorious 5-1 thumping of Spain. Likewise Jamie Lannister transformed himself from being an evil, sister-shagging, king-killer to poor little Tyrian’s best friend.

I reckon the key reason for the huge interest in both tournaments is that we generally watch them live. Therefore:

  • Nobody knows what is going to happen, so we have a real sense of watching history being made.
  • We are all watching them together, as a planet, sitting on a global sofa with a beer and our social media open itching to share the experiences with our co-watchers. The water cooler conversation is no longer the next day: it’s now.

The move away from TV and motion pictures towards long format, high quality, episodic drama is very expensive, not easily replicable and difficult for advertisers to hijack. Game of Thrones for example is ad free with little place for product placement unless you are flogging armour, Valerian steel or false limbs.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, the inconvenient truth is that knowing what consumers want and being able to take commercial advantage of it is not the same thing. Like the Dubrovnik tour guides, advertisers want to talk about what interests them, which rarely coincides with what the poor consumers want to hear. If you really want to start a conversation among consumers, you need to give them something to talk about. As an industry we’ve already moved away from running ads during the news. Our new goal is to be the news.

  • Paul Catmur is creative managing partner at Barnes, Catmur & Friends. [email protected].

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