Would you open a vein for your favorite show?
To promote the latest season of Game of Thrones at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas this weekend, HBO has transformed a space into a living ode to the franchise—complete with an area where visitors, asked if they will "bleed for the throne," can donate blood to the American Red Cross. This year's installation for the show's eighth and final season is open at Fair Market, an events venue on the city's east side, through Saturday.
Visitors have the option to donate blood onsite, then are asked to walk "in the shoes of those who have bled in seasons past" through a set with an audio guide. Visitors then can sit in on a pinning ceremony, which calls visitors up by name and asks for them to kneel before a throne. Finally, visitors are led outside to a "war camp," with actors portraying soldiers, a band playing and burgers from Shake Shack.
HBO worked with Giant Spoon on the installation. The two also put on the buzzworthy "Westworld" activation at South by Southwest last year, which took visitors (including Elon Musk) to a ghost town in the outskirts of town.
"For us, the strategy was exactly the same," says Steven Cardwell, director of program marketing at HBO. "To mine the authenticity of the show, and bring something to fans that they're going to experience and feel a personal connection to."
The "Bleed for the Throne" activation is also part of the broader "For the Throne" campaign HBO has been working on with Droga5.
Giant Spoon co-founder Trevor Guthrie said their role for an activation like this is "building worlds" that bring fans of a show inside. To do that, the agency drills down on the details—like writing a 27-minute original score for the choir to sing, bringing in a dialect coach to help actors learn Dothraki and shipping in costumes from Belfast.
The question remains: Will people bleed?
For Clifford Ira Numark, senior VP of donor recruitment and field marketing at the American Red Cross Blood Services, it's looking pretty good—saying there are already dozens of stories of first-time donors who were compelled to sign up. The Red Cross partnership extends beyond the South by Southwest activation, with "Game of Thrones"-themed blood drives in 43 states.
Numark says this is the largest entertainment partnership Blood Services has had.
"It's totally unique," he says. And it comes at the right time. "Winter really is here. We've had hundreds of blood drives canceled as a consequence of the winter weather."
He says 35,000 units of blood went uncollected because of weather-related issues. HBO said Thursday night the campaign was on track to collect more than 15,000 pints of blood donations on its first day of nationwide drives.