HBO’s Zach Enterlin On How Game of Thrones Set New Experiential Benchmarks in Miles, Sacrifices and Blood

Headshot of Heide Palermo

How do you properly send off the most watched (and talked about) show in HBO history? The answer is you don’t. You give it to the fans. And that’s exactly what HBO’s EVP of Program Marketing Zach Enterlin did. Here, Zach shares his view on the data revolution, priceless career advice and a look at how his team used the power of fandom to pull off a first-of-its-kind campaign for the final season of Game of Thrones.

Tell us a little bit about your background and why you chose to join HBO. 

I’ve spent the majority of my career working in entertainment marketing. Most of my career choices were guided by my passion for entertainment and culture. In the early 2000s, I was fascinated by The Sopranos and the new idea of premium programming on television.  I can remember Sunday nights being an HBO event, much like they were this year with Game of Thrones. As I learned more about the company, it was very exciting to see how the DNA of the programming – unique, high quality and designed to stand out amidst the clutter – directly informed the company’s culture overall and in particular, the approach to marketing its shows.

On the heels of the Game of Thrones series finale, how did your team approach the send-off campaign?

As we thought about the final season, we felt an enormous amount of responsibility. How do you send off arguably the best and biggest show in the history of television? We sought to build a singular campaign platform that properly celebrated our fans and the series as a whole, and based it on a very simple insight – for seven seasons, our characters had sacrificed and battled for the throne, so what would fans do for the throne? What would brands do for the throne?

The campaign was a first of its kind for HBO. We essentially minimized traditional paid media tune-in tactics and focused on a promotional campaign that prioritized partnership activity and earned media: it was an open source brief to fans, brands and celebrities.

What were some of the notable brand partnerships?

We convinced Bud Light to shock audiences by letting The Mountain execute their Bud Knight during the Super Bowl. Oreo changed the face of their cookies for the first time ever – to our house sigils. We collaborated with Shake Shack to create a secret menu only available if ordered in Valyrian. We worked with Mountain Dew to strip all branding from their product to create “A Can with No Name.” The Minnesota Timberwolves became the Minnesota Direwolves. (See more on the best brand collaboration stunts for Game of Thrones final season.)

And with some of the most loyal fans in television, how did you engage them in this campaign?

On the fan side, over 30,000 people from 93 countries used 360-degree videos and cryptic clues to travel nearly 3 million miles on quests to sit on six thrones hidden in six remote locations. And more than 300,000 fans gave blood, potentially saving over one million lives. As we approached the season premiere, the For The Throne campaign generated 26% of all Game of Thrones social conversation and garnered 19 billion earned media impressions for the marketing alone. Beyond the KPIs we established at the outset, it became clear we ultimately created some new benchmarks around fan celebration and devotion — miles traveled, alliances forged, blood donated, sacrifices made and weddings proposed (3 at our events!).

@heidefaith Heide is the senior director of brand community at Adweek and Editor of the Inside the Brand series, including the CMO Moves and Gen ZEOs podcasts, Innovators, Challengers, and Women Trailblazers. She also leads Adweek's Innovators Council.