How a 3-person team built a worldwide Game of Thrones viral hit
We all know that Game of Thrones is coming to its bloody end this April with its final season. If you’ve followed the show during its previous seasons, you may have discovered Theories Are Coming, the crazy theory generator website that became a worldwide viral hit in 2017.
But did you know that the site, which received over 50,000 organic visitors and was covered by Mashable, The Verge, The Huffington Post and the media in 22 countries, was designed, written and coded by just a 3-person team? That too, with zero paid media investment?
Copywriter and creative director Vasanth Seshadri (whose agency The Sunny Side is a member of BriteBirch Collective) was crazy enough about Game of Thrones that he brought together two of his friends, designer Nigel Tang and developer Wanni Goh, built Theories Are Coming over just two months and launched it to great response in April 2017.
The intention was simple and clear: give fans a fun way to generate weird and wonderful theories (or predictions) about the remaining seasons of the show.
In a world of ever-decreasing attention spans, the team decided that the user shouldn’t have too many steps to take in order to partake in the user experience. As such, they decided to tap into mental models users are already familiar with.
A simple interface with two drop-down menus did the trick. The first drop-down menu had 10 Game of Thrones characters. The second drop-down menu had 10 scenarios. Users could combine any character with any scenario to generate 100 unique theories. They could then share those theories on their social platforms.
All 100 theories were written to achieve a delicate blend of humor and believability, resulting in the theories becoming shared widely.
Several creative decisions were made to facilitate the user experience and the “virality” of the site. Visually, the theories were featured on scrolls similar to letters sent by ravens in Game of Thrones. Keeping in mind the need to be mobile first, the scrolls were designed in portrait.
The 10 characters had 10 different scroll designs. Each character’s scroll had a distinctive visual element that represented this character succinctly. Daenerys is known as the Mother of Dragons and has burnt a fair few of her enemies, so her scroll had tongues of fire. Euron Greyjoy is a well-known pirate, so his scroll had stormy waves. This created a unique flavor for each scroll without requiring elaborate design effort.
The background image was selected to be scenic and yet foreboding, with clouds hovering in the sky to herald a sense of impending doom. That was ideal for a show that has beautiful landscapes but veers towards dark and depressing plot developments.
Once the site was ready, further decisions had to be made regarding launch. Season 7 of Game of Thrones was to launch in July 2017, so the team decided to launch the site in April 2017, giving the fans 3 months to play around with their own theories and predictions before the actual show could debunk some of them.
The site was launched on April 12th 2017 to take advantage of the Easter long weekend. The Game of Thrones subreddits on Reddit picked it up instantly. The fans started sharing it with great enthusiasm. Within hours, the global media picked it up.
A number of learnings that can be gleaned from the success of Theories Are Coming.
Firstly, finding a passion point is the only way to create engaging and shareable content. In this case, the passion point was the biggest phenomenon in global television today. But for another piece of work, the passion point could be a cause, or a relatable human truth.
Secondly, cutting out the fat (the multiple layers) and keeping a team lean can be a winning strategy. In many organizations, an idea that looks great can be watered down by committee to the point where it loses its edge. Here, keeping it to 3 people (a writer who was also the project manager, a designer who was also the illustrator, and a developer who was also the site administrator) delivered a piece of work that preserved the original creative vision.
Thirdly, it was an end-to-end harmony of art, copy and code that brought this to fruition. There was constant communication among the 3 members of the team even though they were not physically in the same office. This meant that nothing was lost in translation between the different functions in the team. It has been argued that the old art-copy dichotomy is evolving into a troika of art-copy-code. This piece of work is a good example of that.
In conclusion, Theories Are Coming can be seen as an antidote to so much content out there that’s getting millions of likes, shares and comments as a result of paid media. Often, that engagement is from click farms, which means the content is not even reaching real people. In contrast, Theories Are Coming demonstrates that tapping into a passion point and appealing to it through thoughtfully crafted content is the best way to engage an audience.
BriteBirch Collective is a global network of independent marketing consultants and agencies that together provide clients with bespoke business and marketing solutions. Reach out if you would like help solving one of your business challenges or if you would like to join the Collective.