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HBO’s Secret to Experiential Marketing Success

Quartz Editorial Team

Quartz Editorial Team

The Evolution of Experiential Marketing

Inspiration is vital for any creative project. Though it can be elusive, the creative spark it provides often leads to an amazing final product.

For the HBO marketing team, inspiration comes from the high-quality, critically-acclaimed shows the network creates. Steven Cardwell, Vice President of Program Marketing at HBO, channels that inspiration to create unique marketing initiatives. These campaigns have helped HBO garner unparalleled success in the field of experiential marketing. 

Cardwell discussed the cause and effect of that creative inspiration with Quartz Network in a recent presentation. 

“Working in TV is a dream because the worlds that we experience in these shows that we love are built by such talented producers and writers,” Cardwell explains. “The worlds are there and we’re there really to build on those worlds and to find ways to introduce fans to them.”

Experiential Marketing Insights

Cardwell’s goals are two-fold when devising a marketing initiative: Create a memorable experience for the fans, while ensuring that the event stays true to the spirit of the show. 

“They don’t need to be massive events, like concerts or activations; they can be micro experiences,” Cardwell said. “And in these more personalized one-to-one experiences, we can actually drive deeper connections with fans of our shows.”

The 2019 Game of Thrones and American Red Cross blood drive experiential marketing event was a great example of this thinking in action. At the time of the event, it was the largest blood donation promotional effort by an entertainment company in American Red Cross history.

In these more personalized one-to-one experiences, we can actually drive deeper connections with fans of our shows.

Steven Cardwell

“That was called ‘Bleed for the Throne’ and you literally had to bleed to gain entry by donating blood,” he recalled. “We were seeing fans come together to save lives and do something good, because they are so entrenched in these worlds.”

Advantages of Experiential Marketing

That experiential marketing promotion brought 350,000 donations of blood to the Red Cross. However, traditional KPIs aren’t always the best way to measure the success of a marketing campaign. In fact, some of HBO’s most successful marketing initiatives aren’t necessarily measured by traditional KPIs. 

“When we talk about ‘Bleed for the Throne’ our KPIs weren’t social impressions. It was ‘how many lives did we save?’” Cardwell said. 

Watch the presentation, The Evolution of Experiential Marketing, for more insights from Steven Cardwell and the HBO marketing team.