A Song of Clicks and Follows: Game of Thrones and the Art of Great Corporate Videos
Now entering its eighth and final season, Game of Thrones is full of valuable life lessons. If you’ve watched the whole series, you now know not to accept a wedding invitation from anyone who you’ve recently betrayed; not to enter a romantic relationship unless you’re 100% sure your partner isn’t also your nephew; and finally, not to run in a straight line if you’re trying to evade arrow fire.
And while Game of Thrones isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind if you’re commissioning a corporate video production company, HBO’s series can give you some vital guidance on what to look for if you need new live-action or animated content. We commissioned a survey of over 400 UK adults to find out what people think of the series in advance of its highly-anticipated finale. Here are just a few lessons to take from it.
Capitalise on difference
Some 48% of respondents cited ‘casting’ as a reason to watch Game of Thrones, and we heartily agree. The actors represent a range of people from a range of backgrounds, and the show is better for it.
One of the central messages of Game of Thrones is that diversity is an asset to any ruler. Daenerys Targaryen – arguably the most worthy ruler of any of the show’s many potential monarchs – is a woman supported by an array of multicultural warriors, advisors with disabilities, and people from different classes (‘bastards’, freedmen, and more). Her reign depends on and is legitimised by their support.
Compare and contrast with Stannis, Joffrey, Renly, Robert, and others; all unfit to rule to some extent or another – and all having relatively homogenous retainers. The choice is between Daenerys and the diverse, inclusive future of Westeros (to the extent that you can have such a thing in a hereditary monarchy, of course), or more of the same.
Your corporate video, too, should highlight what makes you different. The people in your video shouldn’t all look the same: they should highlight what makes you distinctive and interesting. In a world where many companies look the same, focus on what makes your company stand out. Better a Daenerys than a Stannis!
Focus on your narrative
So many – and when we say, ‘so many’, we mean ‘almost all’ – corporate videos are commissioned without a clear idea about their story. Now, if we were being ungenerous, we could say the same thing about Game of Thrones. Three seasons in Meereen? Did we really need to spend TWO YEARS with Arya in Braavos? A girl is unimpressed.
But if you take the series as a whole, and particularly in the early stages, the plotting is relatively tight and builds up to events that seem surprising in the moment and inevitable in retrospect. It’s a simple, timeless, story – one that starts strong and packs several interesting surprises along the way. This is reflected in our survey: 58% said they watch the show for the plot, 49% said they watch it for the scriptwriting, and 45% said they watch it for the character development.
Getting the narrative right, knowing when to highlight which people, and how to build to an exciting conclusion from a strong beginning, are all reasons to watch Game of Thrones – and reasons to watch your corporate video. While more and more corporate video production companies are mimicking the fantasy epic’s episodic structure, you don’t necessarily need to imitate it. Just know what your story is, know how to tell it, and for the love of god, don’t let Ed Sheeran cameo.
Don’t sacrifice production values
There’s no getting around it: Game of Thrones looks better than just about everything else. Some 45% of viewers cited production quality as a reason to tune in, and 19% cited its use of CGI (which may seem like a fairly low number, but consider how much is spent on special effects in cinema vs. television – and the considerably lower budgets of TV productions – and it’s actually quite impressive).
To some extent, it has to look better than everything else. Dragons don’t exist, so creating convincing dragons is a tall order. But there’s more to the show’s production values than a fancy green screen. The cinematography in episodes such as “The Battle of Bastards” is breathtaking. There isn’t a flying lizard in sight, but the claustrophobic, chaotic effect is undeniable: the camerawork makes the viewer feel like they’re suffocating – which is designed to reflect Jon Snow’s feelings as the tide of the conflict turns against his forces. Where CGI was used, it was generally too subtle to notice: for example, while Game of Thrones might have a high budget, the show’s producers didn’t want to spend money on two entire armies of extras – so they duplicated the crowd with special effects trickery. The resulting bloodbath was more or less entirely convincing.
Your corporate video should similarly be designed to convince and engage the viewer. Anything that takes them out of the moment or draws attention to the artificial nature of the process is a huge no-no. But similarly, be mindful of the need to spend your budget in an intelligent way. In Season 1, for example, instead of a long, pointless battle on the periphery of the show that wouldn’t serve any narrative purpose, the show simply knocked Tyrion Lannister out and cut to the aftermath. Production value is important, but the key word there is ‘value’ – if you’re going to mount a big, expensive set piece, it damn well better be worth it.
Unlike its scores of imitators, Game of Thrones endures in the popular consciousness because it has a keen understanding of what viewers do and don’t care about. Focus on what makes you different and interesting; maintain a keen sense of what your story is about, and don’t sacrifice production values (or spend more than you have to). The show succeeds because it draws viewers into a world – your corporate video should do the same.