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With the new season of Game of Thrones right around the corner, ads for the show have been “popping out of the snow like daisies.” There are bus ads, commercial spots, and even newspaper inserts. However, instead of the customary full page print of a promotional photo or official poster, the advertisers at HBO, behind Game of Thrones, decided to do something a little bit different. They decided to create an ad that would pop. The advertisers created a double-page spread with mock news articles and a seemingly normal ad at the bottom of the page for the season premiere of the show, along with a shadowed image of a soaring dragon.

The ad stands out because it doesn’t rely on having the show title occupy a huge amount of space, or an easily recognizable character’s face as a full-page photo. It is black and white and is, in a way, and ad within an ad. The usual advertisement space at the bottom acts as the normal ad within the mock-news page. Then the dragon shadow makes the viewer think — hold on, did they just print over real news stories? Can they do that? The aha! moment when the reader realizes that the entire spread is an advertisement makes the reader feel somewhat accomplished because they cracked the ad and realized the ad in its entirety.

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This advertisement plays on two specific details: the ad assumes that the reader is at least somewhat familiar with Game of Thrones, and will therefore understand that the shadowed dragon is a reference to Daenerys Targaryen, one of the most popular characters of the series; and the ad hopes the reader will, regardless of their familiarity with the show/books, appreciate the humor and creativity of the ad. In doing so the ad assures interest from pre-existing fans, as well as potential ones. Those who already watch the show and anticipate the new season will interpret the ad as somewhat of an insider nod, something that was created specifically for the fanbase. Those who do not watch the show, however, will see the ad and be interested in either trying to see if the shadow is covering real news stories or if the shadow is real (I found that many people attempted to do both).

In Social Communication in Advertising, William Leiss states that as an advertiser’s target audience is “fragmented into smaller and smaller market segments, the operative codes…become more specialized” (165). While Leiss may have been referring particularly to groups based on age, social status, and so forth, I believe the same could be said for the target audience of this ad: fantasy fans/likely viewers of Game of Thrones. The ad is attempting to pique the interest of those who would potentially be interested in the show based off of one image of a dragon’s shadow, as dragons are considered a staple in all fantasy stories. Again, the ad reaches out to fans and potential fans alike. The dragon, in a sense, is acting like a typical fantasy fan’s bat signal.

The ad pops out from the rest and created buzz across the Internet, from avid Game of Thrones viewers, the less informed, and everyone in between. It reached not only its target audience, but found a way to include every viewer in some sort of dialogue with or about the advertisement by breaking from the mold.

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