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HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Kills Bud Knight in Super Bowl Ad Surprise

HBO Kills Bud Knight in Super
Courtesy of HBO

It was two — two! — two ads in one. But one of the commercials was decidedly stronger than the other.

HBO and Anheuser-Busch shattered many Super Bowl commercial conventions Sunday night by running a 60-second promo in which the brewer’s famous Bud Knight was killed in violent fashion in a spot that morphed from beer ad to pitch for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

The AT&T-backed HBO, which is slated to figure prominently in a new streaming-video service slated to launch later this year, teamed up with Anheuser-Busch InBev for the daring execution. In the spot, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” interrupts what has become a typical Bud Light commercial, in which residents of a happy kingdom protected by the famous Bud Knight cavort about in humorous escapades. But the fun quickly dissipates after the Knight was vanquished, his skull crushed by an enemy, and a dragon flies over the kingdom and burns its residents with fire.

So dire is the spot that on YouTube, users who wish to stream it are given a warning that the spot might contain objectionable content.

HBO declined to make executives available Sunday evening to discuss the commercial and its strategy.

The maneuver is an unorthodox one. CBS has been seeking between $5.1 million and $5.3 million for a 30 seconds of ad time in the Super Bowl spot this year, and every second of is valuable – some might argue too dear to devote to a marketing goal that is not one’s own.

Anheuser has its own challenges to contend with – big mainstream beers have declined in popularity in recent years as consumers show more favor to craft brews and spirits. But HBO also faces heady competition from streaming-video players like Netflix and Amazon, not to mention rival pay-cable services like Showtime and Starz. Hijacking the Bud Light ad allowed the media company to reel in hundreds of millions of viewers who expect bawdy humor from Anheuser every year, and then stun them with the “Game of Thrones” twist.

“I didn’t see it coming,” says Conner Huber, chief strategic officer at McGarryBowen New York. She suggested the execution was done with no small amount of risk, but also appreciated both brands’ willingness to break with tradition.