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Game of Thrones – An Unlikely Lesson in Vacation Rental Branding

What One TV Program Taught Us About Effective Marketing

Here at the Kigo office, when we’re not talking about vacation rentals there has been one topic that has managed to dominate the office - that is the return of Game of Thrones.

And we’re not alone. The program is immensely popular all over the world. The new season premier has gripped the news as well as everyday conversations, so we couldn’t resist getting into the debate. When something like this happens, there is always something to be learned. The travel industry is woven into popular culture that there are parallels to be drawn from how this television program managed to break out of its niche genre appeal and into a global phenomenon. Today we’re talking about how Game of Thrones taught us a lesson in branding a niche product.


Swords, dragons, spells. These were the bedfellows of the awkward teenager. Game of Thrones occupies a genre that, to non-believers, acted like a beacon to stay away regardless of the content. People hear ‘fantasy’ and withdraw, in the same way some people hear ‘vacation rental’ and imagine decrepit sofas in the corner of a stranger’s house. The genre was ostracised by the mainstream and unfairly left to subsist in the outskirt scrub land. Fantasy was seen as an infection, that once caught would breed and spread, filling up your life and removing the capacity to enjoy any other form of culture that didn’t involve complicated boots, 12 sided dice or 3-D chess boards.

But the popularity of Game of Thrones managed to rebrand the genre, it is not just accepted, it’s now cool. It stands amongst the easy charm and enthralling menace of the Sopranos or the cool guys in bespoke suits and whiskey decanters of Madmen. We want vacation rentals do the same. To sit alongside a suite at the Four Seasons, to be considered in same light as popular and mainstream hotel and accommodation brands.

So how did Game of Thrones manage this shift? How did a TV program manage to change the cultural structure of what just a few years ago would see you sitting alone at lunchtime in the school canteen? So here is the lesson we can apply to vacation rentals; how consistency and quality can manage to overhaul initial image and perception problems.

And it comes down to 3 main things:

1. Product Quality

Whether to your taste or not, it has production values and scenery that are amongst the most impressive ever seen on television. The series has received 42 Emmy nominations so far. It focused on this quality. It aimed to make every element relatable. It’s glorious escapism that didn’t try to fit the mass appeal of popular culture, it continued to aim to be the highest quality and let popular culture bend to it.

2. Branding and Marketing

One of the secrets of the marketing of the program has been promoting people to ask questions about the program instead of focusing on their ideas of what the program is going to be. It used intriguing campaigns that managed to get people talking about it, using brand advocates to spread their message for them.

3. Word of Mouth

As the program took off, the focus was shifted from the unpalatable genre to the tension and drama of the relationships and wars between the characters. Politicking, back biting and conflict allowed people to empathise and relate to eunuchs, dragons and giants. Having recommendations from trusted friends reduces the possible risk of spending time on money on an unsuitable product. Word of mouth spread the popularity like wildfire.

In the world of vacation rentals, reviews and word of mouth allow people to forget about that lack of a financial safety net that global brands offer and take a risk on a smaller company such as a vacation rental businesses.People whose opinions you trust and respect are the best way to overcome prejudice and perceived notions. In the same way that Game of Thrones manages to emerge from a publicly marginalised genre, vacation rental businesses can apply the same logic an approach to branding to become major names in the mainstream travel markets.

Hotels, B&Bs, holiday resorts are normal. They are tried, tested and safe. They are an episode of Friends. Vacation rentals are new, different, they are a gamble. They are the new fantasy program that you have heard about but are unsure about trying. Whether it’s just an hour of your time or your entire holiday accommodation, trying something new is always a risk.

The popularity of Game of Thrones has been seen as a victory for substance over style. For any professional property manager that takes pride in their product but loses out on bookings to inferior, big name accommodation companies, this must come as an encouraging sign. It is an example of how a product managed to overturn popular perception. Whilst it can be argued that vacation rentals don’t have such an image problem, it is undeniable that they are still a niche service, only making up a small percentage of the travel industry.

What Game of Thrones shows us is that persistence with a quality product can rinse away even the thickest social stigma or image problem. Could it be that for the vacation rental industry winter is coming to an end?


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