This blog contains marketing insight; you’ve been warned.

As the dust settles on one of the most nail-biting and talked about weekends in recent pop culture, it’s safe to say that there are many still out there, stumbling through the hectic battleground of social media and water-cooler chit chat, avoiding spoilers as they hurtle desperate cries of “Shut up, I haven’t seen it yet!”

Two eagerly anticipated behemoths conquered screens this weekend – Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, and HBO’s first feature-length episode of Game of Thrones – The Long Night. With both long-running franchises upholding the titles of pop culture icons, it was inevitable that the two instalments would be laden with tear-inducing, breath-baiting moments, easily spoilt by overzealous social media users, or loud-mouth friends, family and colleagues.

Images property of HBO and Marvel Studios

As an agency rooted in the entertainment industry, its fair to say our offices have a high percentage of ravenous fans – it’s why we love what we do. So, as we would religiously observe the etiquette of avoiding spoilers in our own Slack chats, we promise that this blog will also be a safe space for The Un-Caught-Up.

This Is Spoiler Culture

There once was a time when the word ‘spoiler’ was reserved for speed-reduction, and its only TV show connection was likely to be Top Gear. But now, it’s engrained in our society. The tide of social media has allowed superfans, casual viewers and the blessedly unaware all to be subjected to pivotal plot points at any moment.

A quick search for ‘avoiding spoilers’ brings up an equal balance of guides for avoiding, and articles arguing that it’s nigh impossible. There also lies conflict in whether spoilers actually ‘ruin’ things – with many studies showing stories can be enjoyed more when viewers are privy to the plot. By contrast, a survey by Vox concluded that 50% of US viewers claimed it was ‘very important’ that twists and turns aren’t given away before viewing.

Regardless of the psychological affects or personal preferences, spoilers have not only become a talking point for audiences, but it’s also a huge consideration within the industry. Studios, marketing departments and agencies like ours are all aware of the importance of giving just the right amount away.

But both Marvel and HBO showed an innate awareness of their own cultural power, and put their own marketing spins on broaching spoilers – of course, Avengers’ campaign was heroic and just, while Game of Thrones played cruel tricks – we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Game of Thrones
The Old Switcheroo

This sneaky method has been played throughout all 8 seasons of the Game of Thrones playbook, and it sure takes time and planning – making its way through the early stages of production, all the way up to release week PR.

While HBO’s hit show may have stemmed from George RR Martin’s fantasy novels, the seasons have long strayed from the source material, leaving audiences with nothing but prophecies and predictions to guide them through The Long Night, (don’t worry, we won’t say a word.)

Renowned for its brutal twists and turns, HBO have taken it upon themselves to lead their viewers in a merry dance of fake spoilers. The showrunners have gone to the extent of filming fake scenes to put avid fans off the scent, but it was a viral talent piece featuring Maisie Williams that clinched the Season 8 “fake spoiler” award – no wonder she is a girl of Many Faces.

Avengers: Endgame
The Knowing Nod

With 21 films leading up to this very moment, Avengers: Endgame was always going to be a big deal. Its 3 hour run time certainly didn’t put fans off, as they flocked to see the epic conclusion – aiding Marvel in smashing box office records by raking in a $1.22bn global debut.

While the hype for Endgame has been palpable since the jaw-dropping cliff-hanger in Avengers: Infinity War, it was the final phase of the theatrical campaign that caught our attention – #DontSpoilTheEndgame. A public letter from directors, the Russo brothers, promoted trending hashtags and a talent-fronted plea was an open acknowledgment of spoiler culture. The campaign sought to show that something so long in the making shouldn’t be ruined at the last moment. Heroes and villains alike stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fans, eager for a surprise-filled experience.

Strategise Before You Spoil

But how do campaigns differ from theatrical to home entertainment? Do spoilers ever become acceptable in film and TV marketing? At Zero Degrees West, we’ve swung our swords and donned our super suits in pursuit of both theatrical, and home ent. campaign greatness, and there’s one thing for certain; take everything into consideration – it will alter how you approach each aspect of your campaign, through first look trailers and posters, to fully realised social campaigns.

1. Is it home ent. or theatrical?

“The key difference between the theatrical and home ent run is that its accepted that many fans will have seen the title it in the cinema. The home ent campaign is to remind them what they loved about the film, and why they need to own it, whereas theatrical seeks to excite audiences by showing off the best elements, without giving anything away.”

Joe Donaghy, Assistant Head of AV
2. What genre are we talking?

“With theatrical key art, it’s all about communicating the genre and tone of the movie without giving away plot points or storyline. You want to entice the right audience without telling them what’s going to happen – be it through colour, fonts or layout. Each genre has its own visual language, so use it to attract fans. Talent can also be a great hook in key art. When designing for ‘The Public’, there were so many recognisable faces with comedy drama credentials, so we used this as a core selling point.”

Lucy Pryor, Senior Designer
3. Is it a new story, or part of something bigger?

“With franchises, or titles with well-known source material, you can expect a certain level of knowledge from your audience – if they already know the world, the characters, the theories and predictions, it’s ideal for immersing them even further; especially at home ent. Easter eggs and in-universe content thrive here – like our Kong: Skull Island campaign –  but with unknown titles your content has to work harder to build intrigue. Introducing characters and themes in an engaging way is a great way of doing this, and it’s something we put to work with our Game Night campaign.”

Holly Graham, Junior Creative

Spoiler culture is undoubtedly a product of the digital age; in centuries gone by, stories would open with spoiler-ridden prologues, without marring the reader’s enjoyment… “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”

But it’s the age we find ourselves in, and it has moulded the entertainment landscape. As marketers, its our job to ensure that no matter what stage of the film or show’s life cycle, context and careful consideration is given to how much we give away. But as fellow fans of all things pop culture, it’s our responsibility to excite and delight without giving away anything we wouldn’t want to hear ourselves.

So, about that ending…

Think your theatrical or home ent. release could do with a tantalising, spoiler-free campaign? Get in touch with our brilliant account directors, Emma (UK) at emma@zerodegreeswest.com or Noelle (US) noelle@zerodegreeswest.com to see how we can tease your latest release.

And, if you never want to be the one who’s not caught up on the latest industry knowledge, be sure to subscribe to our insight-packed newsletter.