Video game adaptations have often struggled to impress, but HBO's "The Last of Us" has defied the odds. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%, 18 million US viewers for the first episode, and its biggest-ever second-week audience growth, the series is poised to become one of the biggest shows of the year.
How did HBO's marketing team, led by Emily Giannusa, vice-president of marketing, captivate both existing fans and new audiences? Let's explore their innovative strategies and tactics that have turned "The Last of Us" into a global sensation.
"Breadcrumb" Marketing of The Last of Us
Given the loyal fan base of the original game, it was crucial for HBO to establish authenticity and respect the source material. This led to a "breadcrumb" marketing strategy, starting with the release of a glimpse of the show in 2021 on The Last of Us Day, followed by another screengrab at PlayStation's Summer Game Fest in 2022. These breadcrumbs reassured fans that HBO's adaptation would remain faithful to the beloved game.
The first teaser, which integrated HBO's iconic ident with themes from the game, generated over 57 million organic views in 72 hours, becoming HBO's most-watched teaser ever. The trailer, released at Brazil Comic Con in December 2022, helped the campaign gain momentum and capture the attention of a broader audience beyond video game fans.
By slowly revealing glimpses of the show, HBO effectively built anticipation while showcasing their commitment to accurately representing the source material. This strategy of breadcrumb marketing kept fans engaged and eager for the series' release, while gradually drawing in a wider audience.
Cast-Centric Marketing and Influencer Engagement
After the trailer's release, Giannusa's team observed that non-fans were drawn to the cast playing unexpected characters. This led to a shift in focus to marketing the cast, including Nick Offerman and Pedro Pascal. The team remained nimble and flexible, adapting their strategy based on insights gathered.
The use of well-known and beloved actors in unexpected roles piqued the interest of those unfamiliar with the game. This strategy allowed the marketing team to appeal to a wider audience, turning "The Last of Us" from a niche adaptation into a broader cultural sensation.
Influencers played a pivotal role in the campaign, and social listening from as early as 2020 helped identify potential influencers who were not limited to gaming content creators but also spanned lifestyle, music, and entertainment spheres. This diverse portfolio of influencers, including musicians like Logic and actress Felicia Day, was leveraged for support around the show's launch.
By engaging influencers beyond the gaming realm, HBO managed to reach a wider audience and generate buzz around the series. This approach allowed them to tap into new fan bases and create excitement beyond the gaming community, further contributing to the show's success.
Immersive Activations and Global Outreach
Experiential marketing through immersive activations became an essential part of the campaign. Starting with Brazil Comicon, where a replica of an iconic building from the game was created, these activations offered fans touchpoints to immerse themselves in the world of the show. At the New York premiere, guests interacted with actors and props from the series, further enhancing the experience.
These immersive screenings were held in over 20 markets and 200 territories, making "The Last of Us" a truly global campaign. This approach aligns with the industry trend of providing engaging experiences beyond traditional press junkets, targeting Gen Z audiences and capturing their attention.
HBO's immersive activations not only generated buzz around the series but also created memorable experiences for fans. By allowing them to explore the world of the show and interact with elements from the game, HBO fostered a deeper connection between viewers and the series. This innovative approach to marketing helped solidify "The Last of Us" as a must-watch show and created lasting impressions on audiences worldwide.
Social Media Presence and Fan Interaction
The Last of Us TV series has been highly anticipated by fans of the original game since its announcement. One of the key aspects of the show's marketing campaign was its strong social media presence and fan interaction, which played a significant role in building excitement and generating interest.
HBO, the network producing the show, made sure to maintain an active presence on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They used these platforms to share regular updates and behind-the-scenes content, giving fans an exclusive look at the making of the show. This not only created a sense of anticipation but also fostered a connection between the fans and the production team.
But HBO's social media strategy wasn't just about pushing content out to the public. The marketing team was also attentive to the feedback and engagement from fans on social media. They listened to what people were saying about the show, both positive and negative, and used that feedback to adapt their marketing strategies accordingly.
For example, when the first teaser trailer was released, some fans were disappointed by the lack of footage from the actual show. The marketing team responded by releasing additional behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. This not only gave fans more content to enjoy but also addressed their concerns and showed that HBO was listening to their feedback.
Another way that HBO engaged with fans was through interactive experiences on social media. For instance, they created an augmented reality filter that allowed fans to turn themselves into infected zombies from the show. This not only generated excitement but also gave fans a way to participate in the campaign in a fun and creative way.
Overall, HBO's social media strategy for The Last of Us TV series was highly effective in generating buzz and building a dedicated fan base. By maintaining a strong presence on social media and actively engaging with fans, they were able to create a sense of connection and loyalty among viewers, which bodes well for the show's success.
Collaboration with Original Game Developers
Another key factor in the marketing campaign's success was the close collaboration between HBO and the original game developers, Naughty Dog. This partnership ensured that the adaptation was true to the source material and that the marketing campaign accurately represented the game's essence.
By involving Naughty Dog in the development and promotion of the series, HBO built trust with the existing fan base and demonstrated their dedication to preserving the essence of the beloved game.
HBO's marketing campaign for "The Last of Us" has successfully shattered the stigma surrounding video game adaptations. By establishing authenticity, using breadcrumb marketing, focusing on the cast, engaging influencers, creating immersive activations, maintaining a strong social media presence, and collaborating with the original game developers, they have turned "The Last of Us" into a global hit. The strategies implemented by Giannusa and her team serve as a template for future video game adaptations, demonstrating that success is achievable with careful planning, dedication, and attention to detail.
As "The Last of Us" continues to enthrall viewers worldwide, it is clear that HBO's marketing efforts have played a crucial role in the series' triumph. The challenge now lies in sustaining this level of engagement and excitement. If HBO's past performance is any indication, they are well-equipped to face this challenge and continue delivering a series that captivates audiences, solidifying "The Last of Us" as a groundbreaking adaptation and a testament to the power of innovative marketing strategies.