What If the ‘Game of Thrones’ Houses Were Brands?
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” That’s Cersei Lannister speaking to Ned Stark in Season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. She’s not exaggerating, by the way. Ned dies soon after he hears this, effectively losing the game.
What exactly is the game of thrones? Well, it’s just a fanciful way of describing the struggle for political power over the show’s fictional landmass, Westeros. The person who ends up ruling the whole area literally sits on a throne made of iron swords, aka the Iron Throne.
For our purposes, the “game of thrones” is also a pretty good analogy for content marketing. As we know, if a team creates content, they either need to be the best at engaging their target audience, or they’re eventually going to watch their company fall apart. Many have learned by watching seven seasons of Game of Thrones that building trust and loyalty is everything. I mean, look what happened to Littlefinger.
That’s why we’re comparing each of the great (surviving) houses in Westeros to existing brands. If you’re willing to suspend some disbelief, come with us as we assess all the Westerosi families still standing for the final season. The comparison works out pretty well—every house in Westeros has a logo, signature personality, and content by way of a motto. At the end of the show, the house to win the game of thrones will likely be the one that demonstrates the best branding… and also sword-fighting.
House Baratheon: Nordstrom
House motto: “Ours is the fury”
House sigil: A black stag on a golden banner
Personality traits: Militaristic hunters, men’s men
Remaining heirs: Gendry Waters
Most likely to sell you: Whiskey, beef jerky
The memory of the once-great House of Baratheon was sullied slightly by the last member of the house to sit on the Iron Throne. Robert was a drunkard, but considering his wife Cersei was cheating on him with her brother Jamie, it’s hard to blame him. After Robert died, his younger brothers Renly and Stannis fought for power, but neither survived. Unbeknownst to most characters on Game of Thrones, Robert’s son Gendry has realized that the throne is sort of his birthright, so let’s start there.
As far as brands go, the Baratheons are like Nordstrom. A lot of people have fond memories of admiring their work, but their voice now feels a bit out of touch. “Ours is the fury?” Seriously? We’re all angry in Westeros. You don’t have to be angry for us.
Enter Gendry, the Westerosi equivalent of Nordstrom Rack. He has the brand’s core DNA and his father’s strong jaw, but he also recognizes that his family’s way of life is becoming obsolete. Better to remerge with new concepts (savings on designer clothing, supporting the King in the North) and hopefully attract a young audience (millennials, Arya).
House Greyjoy: Uber
House motto: “We do not sow”
Personality traits: Ruthless, independent, resilient
Remaining heirs: Yara Greyjoy, Theon Greyjoy, Euron Greyjoy
Most likely to sell you: B2B leadership training seminars, saltwater protection spray for your boat
Ah, a classic brand split between objectives. Right now, chaotic evil Euron leads most of the Greyjoy navy, and he’s holding his niece Yara prisoner. In the eleventh hour, disgraced Theon was able to rally a few rebel Greyjoys to go and save her, but we’re assuming that’s a suicide mission.
The Greyjoy brand is comparative to a company like Uber. Once upon a time, the man in charge did a bunch of off-putting, unethical stuff and kept flying off the handle during board meetings. He was eventually ousted, but the brand hasn’t quite regained the benefit of the doubt among target consumers, many of whom already switched their loyalty to a competitor—in this case, the Starks or Lannisters. In a swiftly changing world, every ridesharing company needs to come up with features that improve its service’s safety, usability, and impact on the economy. Unfortunately for Uber, they can rollout as many system updates as they want, but it takes more than efficiency to cement positive public opinion.
House Targaryen: Gawker
House motto: “Fire and blood”
Personality traits: Beyond a natural inclination for dragon-rearing, it really depends on the person. As Cersei tells Tyrion, “Half the Targaryens went mad, didn’t they? What’s the saying? ‘Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.'”
Remaining heirs: Daenerys Targaryen and her nephew/boyfriend Aegon Targaryen, aka Jon Snow
Most likely to sell you: Opal or moonstone jewelry, graphic design software
Targaryen brand awareness was once so widespread that people still talk about the house, decades after the last living Targaryen was in Westeros. As far as media brands go, the Targaryens are Gawker—not the Gawker subsidiary brands like Jezebel and Gizmodo. Long ago, the actions of the Targaryens were pretty polarizing, though their supporters demonstrated a near cult-following. Their reign ended in a flash of glory, and now, many years later, the House is back under new leadership.
Now, no one’s saying that Bryan Goldberg is the Daenerys of Gawker, but he would certainly love to be. The truth is, like the new version of Gawker that’s allegedly coming soon under new management (and with an all new staff), news of a Targaryen return has most of Westeros feeling pretty anxious. Your loyalty to the brand has a lot to do with what you remember from its last days in the sun. Either you’re a Westerosi citizen who fondly remembers gentle Rhaegar, or you’re immediately thinking about the Mad King Aerys II, in which case you’re not exactly buying what the newest Targaryen is selling.
House Lannister: Tesla
House motto: “Hear me roar!” and “A Lannister always pays his debts”
Personality traits: Proud, Machiavellian, cut-throat intellectuals
Remaining heirs: Cersei Lannister, Jamie Lannister, Tyrion Lannister
Most likely to sell you: Luxury clothing, stock in their company
Their leader has appeared in the news, positively and negatively, every week for years. The brand’s ideas were revolutionary and kickstarted a new era in technology. There’s been some rumors of unstable emotions, unethical business practices, and a weird romantic relationship in the company’s C-suite, and bottom tier employees are starting to leak stories and express their unhappiness. All of this is the Lannister legacy, but it’s also Tesla. That’s right—Cersei is the Elon Musk of Westeros.
If Cersei and Elon had their druthers, they’d be able to conduct business for their brand without having to answer to council at all. Both figures make rash decisions that threaten to affect the longevity of their brands, often ignoring their council and mocking them in public. They see professional dissent as personally insulting, and they keep churning out crazy answers to life’s problems that seem increasingly inaccessible to the average Joe: self-driving cars, wildfire bombs, flamethrowers, it’s all the same.
Though the Lannisters have high brand awareness—perhaps even the highest in Westeros—they’ve had a monopoly over the economy for so long that most loyal customers are ready to hear sales pitches from other brands.
House Stark: Patagonia
House motto: “Winter is coming”
Personality traits: Grim, pessimistic, hard-working
Remaining heirs: Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Bran Stark, Aegon Targaryen, aka Jon Snow, and arguably Theon Greyjoy
Most likely to sell you: A sensible winter coat
As far as branded messaging goes, the Starks are ideal. Though they lost their CEO Ned Stark after he made some iffy decisions merging with other brands, Ned had so thoroughly immersed his core team in brand messaging that they’re all out here spreading the Stark gospel years later. Talk about a clean recovery! You could ask almost anyone on Westeros to describe the Stark brand, and they’ll likely be able to name a few characteristics, even if they’re not loyal to the brand itself.
Depending on who you ask, the Starks are either prescient or preachy, which means in the content marketing world, they’re Patagonia. Originally known for winter-wear, an outdoorsy aesthetic, and a love of nature, Patagonia has taken a political stance against the Trump administration in recent years. Like the Starks, Patagonia’s leaders feel they’ve been pushed too far, and they want to protect national parks, clean air, and the environment before it’s too late.