Content Marketing — Five Lessons From HBO’s Westworld
Content Marketing — Five Tips from HBO’s Westworld assumes you didn’t miss the strange, beautiful and confusing show. Westworld is a must watch new Game of Thrones. The “golden age of television” seems accurate and insufficient to describe the genius of Homeland, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad.
Episodic television shares a lot with web development and marketing. Web sites and TV episodes tend to break down over time and scrutiny. HBO’s success and Westworld’s spooky intrigue made us think of five content marketing tips we can learn from TV’s multi-million dollars shared fantasies such as:
- Show don’t tell
- Tease don’t bore
- Arresting and beautiful images solve half the problem
- Keep moving and BELIEVE
- When in doubt create another loop
Westworld’s Marketing Tips #1 — Show Don’t Tell
Marketers talk too much. Marketers just keep telling consumers the same story over and over hoping to create love. Love and advocacy don’t work that way. We join and advocate things we love. We love things that make us better. Have you EVER shared, advocated or supported anything that made you feel small insignificant? Not so much we’re betting. In an age of DVRs, the web and streaming talking too much and collaborating too little is a cardinal sin.
If a “Sell, SELL, SELL” commercial interrupted HBO’s Westworld, the spell would be broken. Extend that logic. Why are many marketing teams shouting when HBO’s Westworld proves the power of showing and not telling? If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, there are many insane marketing teams.
Westworld’s Marketing Tips #2 — Tease Never Bore
Westworld is NOT explaining everything. How could I begin to describe the Westworld’s Utah landscape? Can anyone explain Ed Harris’ sudden switch from evil to greedy? Sometimes the art of NOT KNOWING is joyful and what your content needs to create. HBO doesn’t fall into the impossible content marketing trap. HBO leaves many open ends, hanging threads and infinite loops so the show should have a very long run.
Anyone with a website knows the balance beam HBO’s Westworld dances upon. On one side is too little information. Too little information creates confusion and confused customers rarely buy or advocate. On the other hand is too much information. Too much information doesn’t leave room to join, participate and engage. Too much information shoves the viewers or customers out of the room.
HBO’s Westworld is twisting, flipping and turning. They will NOT close every door, window or pick up every stick. They tease, taunt and give only to take back. This share then takes back process creates tension, excitement, and joy. Do your web pages do the same? HBO’s Westworld demonstrates how high the bar is these days. We left dull and stupid not long after Gilligan’s Island. Today we must create entire WORLDS and then feed them carefully ever so closely. Tease or fall off the beam.
Westworld’s Marketing Tips #3 — Beauty is Half the Battle
No one could afford to create two worlds, so HBO doesn’t try. They take full advantage of the warmth, beauty and arresting amazement of God’s sculpture garden — Utah. Utah’s much-filmed butte’s mesas and plateaus have never looked better. Content marketers and web developers must use a two-sided coin too. On the one hand, our designs and images must warm a COLD environment.
Websites must flatten and contort images into their smallest ball or risk slow loading pages. After two seconds of page load, time says bye-bye to half your site’s traffic. Finding flat, vector primary color images is as important to web design as the spooky yet seedy high-tech environments on Westworld. When the water washed over Geoffrey Wright before he walks into a Xi’an, China-like archive of broken toys viewers we know a hard rain is going to fall.
HBO is using what comes naturally. They can’t afford to CGI everything Santa’s workshop nor should they. The run-down, abandoned and creepy feel is on purpose and a brilliant use of NOT spending money. When in doubt let your freak flag fly and don’t try to make everything on your site or in your content perfect. Sistine Chapeling is the term we’ve developed for seeing perfection’s tyranny. Time is an absolute monster online marketing pros must fight in the only way we can — go early and ugly and ask for help.
Westworld’s Marketing Tips #4 — Keep Moving & BELIEVE
If you don’t believe in your marketing why will anyone else? Such a simple sentence carries complicated meaning. HBO committed tremendous resources, talent, and MONEY to Westworld. They also understood a critical marketing truth many still miss — web content must ROCK to make any product a success.
WW’s website is stunning, beautiful, fun and informative. Use of video by the show’s website is fantastic. The title sequence must have cost millions. The show’s opening sets the stage and tips a cowboy hat to David Milch’s great Deadwood series. Belief continues with HBO’s cast.
You hire Sir Anthony Hopkins because you want gravitas and can stroke a check. Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris bring similar acting chops and will be on screen more (we bet). Ed Harris’ role exemplifies WW’s intriguing confusion. Dressing Harris in black nods back to Yul Bryner’s gunfighter in Michael Crichton’s 1973 Westworld. But little is at it appears in HBO’s Westworld.
Harris is no robot, but black is an appropriate color. Harris’ character is the show’s villain. Even that statement may be too confident. Harris may become a white hat before all is said and done. As of the end of episode one, Harris is a robot terror. He is searching for the “real game” or the game behind the game.
The show’s complex web points to another content marketing truth — KEEP MOVING. There is no “one and done” online. The internet’s heart never stops beating. And the web only has one speed — faster. Westworld’s creators have mapped, architected and built a unique and engaging world. And while the series will end one day five or more years from now with a saddlebag full of Emmys and thrilled audiences around the world, the building never stops.
Westworld’s Marketing Tips #5 — Create Another Loop & Be Open To Accident
Westworld’s “infinite storylines” are only really available for the hapless buyers of a WW vacation. The show’s backend shows engineers struggling to keep the illusion real. When a rogue robot goes “off script” and kills other robots the foreshadow is easy to see. Digital marketing is like Westworld.
We create frontend experiences as our backend engineers struggle to keep up. Everything in a website is planned, a stage set by a “Web Master” and a marketing team. Unlike most plays, websites can go in an infinite number of directions. Once other people are involved and engaged any website design may to go in unplanned directions.
The web is a conversation albeit a somewhat stilted and slow one. Smart online marketing leaves room for input, accident and an unknowable future. We may set the stage, but the play is written in collaboration with our customers, visitors, and partners. HBO’s world would seem to be more determined.
What determines a second or third year? If you answered viewers, you are half right. No BUCKS no BUCK RODGERS. Viewers are proxies for MONEY. If Westworld taps the magical 19 to 30 male demographic it seems to want then subscriptions will go up, social media will explode, and blogs will blog.
Memes are funny things. They can’t be overtly created or fed. Memes must depend on the kindness of strangers. That is not to say “meme bait” can’t be chummed into the water as HBO has done so well with:
- An amazing multi-generational and highly diverse cast
- Taking advantage of America’s fixation and fascination with the Wild West
- Shooting in God’s Sculpture Garden (Utah)
- Adding high-tech on top of the old west (surely a winning combination)
- A great website with lots of video and eye candy and enough “READER” content legitimacy is increased