It is not enough that we can watch hundreds of hours of Game of Thrones whenever we want with a simple HBO login, nor is it enough that there are essentially an infinite number of recaps of these episodes available on the internet. It isn’t enough that we can travel to Game of Thrones shooting locations, where we take tours that show precisely where each scene was shot and afterward purchase souvenir beer steins that say “I drink and know things” or other snarky quotes from one of Game of Thrones’s roughly 12 zillion characters.
No, now even our sodas and cookies and makeup and sneakers are emblazoned with the imagery of the HBO television show. Since its ascension from television show to cultural cottage industry, Game of Thrones has been one of the most merchandisable phenomenons of the 2010s. And as it prepares to air the first installment of its eighth and final season on April 14, a last-gasp breath of Thrones-branded products has pervaded both internet ads and grocery store aisles.
Though Amazon, Etsy, and other online shops have been overflowing with merch — jewelry, coloring books, and collectibles like Funko Pop Dolls — since its premiere in 2011, brands have been preparing for the end of Game of Thrones for years, hoping to squeeze every last ounce of viewers’ dollars spent on the show.
The planning process for marketing partnerships for the series’ final season began all the way back in the summer of 2017, after the end of season seven, and are just one piece of an estimated $20 million marketing blitz, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Collaborations range from Bud Light, whose Super Bowl ad this year featured the “Bud Knight” paying the ultimate sacrifice to infamous strongman The Mountain, to Shake Shack, which at one New York City location has a “secret” Game of Thrones menu that includes a burger and shake that can only be purchased if the customer orders them in Valyrian. There are also limited-run Mountain Dew cans that, when cold, reveal the names on Arya Stark’s kill list.
They’re part of HBO and creative agency Droga5’s “For the Throne” campaign, which also included a SXSW event, a partnership with the American Red Cross (asking potential blood donors “Will you bleed for the throne?”), and a worldwide hunt for six actual Iron Thrones hidden in various international locales.
This is all in addition to HBO’s Game of Thrones licensing business, which has existed almost as long as the show itself. Jeff Peters, the VP of licensing and retail at HBO, tells Vox that Game of Thrones is the company’s biggest and most exciting portfolio. “We started working on [partnerships for the final season] when season seven ended. We were thinking about how to create the most impactful collection of products that will absolutely thrill our fans in the year and a half that we had to work with.”
Though the company wouldn’t share sales data, Peters said some of the deals that were making the biggest impact were with alcohol brands like Johnnie Walker, which released a “White Walker” whiskey for the final season, as well as eight different scotches each named for the houses of Westeros. Ommegang’s Game of Thrones-branded beers have also been grocery store staples since 2015, and the brewery has just released a new golden ale titled, of course, “For the Throne.” Part of that success, surely, has to do with the popularity of GoT watch parties, and what’s a better host gift than an officially branded beer bottle?
“Our alcohol products have been a great halo thing,” he says. “It’s partly because Game of Thrones is a grown-up show with a grown-up audience.”
The series also has a new partnership with Oreo, which released limited-edition cookies with the insignia of the Targaryens, Starks, Lannisters, and the White Walkers. “The Oreos came about out of a series of discussions about what different brands would do to show their love for Game of Thrones,” Peters explains. “Oreo used the Game of Thrones font on the packaging, not the regular Oreo logo, so it’s the first time they’ve ever done something like that. They specifically sacrificed their logo for their love of the throne.”
Game of Thrones merch has since expanded into fashion and beauty, too. The show has recently partnered with Adidas to create six limited-edition sneakers inspired by different warring factions, as well as an 11-piece collection with the luxury menswear brand John Varvatos. This, in addition to a new makeup line with Urban Decay, whose colors are inspired by the women of Westeros.
“Varvatos always felt really cool to us because John has such a rock ’n’ roll approach to fashion, and we feel like Game of Thrones is a little rock ’n’ roll,” says Peters. “It’s wild, it’s exciting, it’s irreverent, it pushes the envelope. There’s a lot of leather in both [John Varvatos and Game of Thrones].”
It’s hard to say how much money HBO is making off such partnerships (although the John Varvatos t-shirts retail for nearly $100 each), but it’s certain that at least a few brands will suffer once Game of Thrones ends — for one, media companies profiting from heavily trafficked Game of Thrones news and recaps.
But Peters says the actual merchandise will continue to live on even when Game of Thrones ends. Most of the licensing contracts HBO has extend beyond May, and official merch will be available for years beyond that. “Fans are still going to want to interact with this brand, and we’re going to be there creating new things for them to purchase.”
Though there might never be a market more saturated with Game of Thrones merch than right now — its prequel spinoffs notwithstanding — it’s a franchise whose marketability will likely make it a permanent fixture of the pop culture economy, like Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean. London’s Heathrow airport, for instance, doubled the size of its Harry Potter store last summer despite the fact that the final film was released seven years prior. And the Game of Thrones studio tour, located in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, isn’t set to open until a year after the show ends, in the spring of 2020.
So no, Targaryen Oreos and Arya Stark Mountain Dew won’t last until winter is coming, but Game of Thrones merch? That’s forever.
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