What Can Westworld Teach Us About Digital Marketing?

Written by Adam: Senior Content and Social Executive.
· 10 minute read

Perhaps you’ve already heard of the HBO hit show? No?

Then it’s time to get out of that cave you’ve been living in and peel that glue from your ears – because Westworld is not only an enthralling viewing experience, it can also teach us a thing or two about digital marketing. 

Wait a Minute, What’s a Westworld?

If you’re really still unfamiliar with Westworld, (seriously have you been in a coma?) then here’s a quick rundown (no real spoilers yet though).

The show is set in a Wild West-themed amusement park and takes place at some undisclosed point in the future. Very realistic looking robots populate the park, known as “hosts” and lead human guests on quests and adventures. It’s like a giant, extremely expensive role playing game.

These robot hosts have no idea that the park isn’t real and they follow the same set stories over and over again. Hosts are frequently memory wiped and programmed to ignore real world references. (Bit of a bummer for them really). As the show progresses though, they slowly start to show the signs of self awareness…

It’s a show that questions what it means to be human. It highlights the ambiguity of reality and constantly blurs the lines of what is and isn’t real. It’s also been increasingly blurring the lines between its storytelling and its marketing.

The Power Of Storytelling

Sometimes the most effective advertising is simply telling a good story. A good story can be compelling and powerful enough to evoke an emotional response. From the ancient tales of The Iliad and The Odyssey that were retold by word of mouth, to modern day narratives, influenced by popular culture and memes. Stories draw us into exciting journeys, where we gain the chance to unleash our imagination.

In the show, the guests of the park believe that they’re really living the experience. And the show’s marketing has aimed to make viewers feel the same way. Viewers have been treated to an avalanche of viral marketing. From clues on secret websites, to easter egg filled Twitter posts and binary codes hidden in add frames.

It makes sense that a show about a digital re-creation of the real world, is using online extensions to offer extra information and insight. The extensive marketing campaign has since turned into a sprawling series of images, puzzles and codes. All of which have added to the overall experience of the show beyond the television screen.

If you happened to visit the show’s website early on, you would’ve found immersion enhancing additions, like a map of the park that you could explore. You could even sign up to book yourself a trip to the park – if only!

A digital marketing campaign that completely immerses an audience in a story like this, can encourage them to develop an emotional attachment to your product or service. Guests who first enter the park, are given the choice by hosts to take part in an adventure. If they don’t want to engage they can simply carry on exploring. Digital marketing can also focus on leading potential customers down a path they have chosen. Letting them continue through an engaging journey until they find the opportunity that speaks to them.

One of the most effective ways to convert leads into customers is allowing them to invest in your brands “narrative”. Communicate effectively with your audience to help them experience their own story through your marketing. Rather than forcing them down a path that isn’t very flexible.


Blurring The Lines Between Digital Marketing And Reality

It can be unsettling to watch the show, whilst you wonder just how close it is to our reality. This is thanks to its marketing team, who have managed to continuously enhance the experience for audiences…

(warning for spoilers ahead!)

As the second season commenced, the burgeoning self-awareness that the hosts have been developing has come into full focus. The playthings of the human guests have now taken control of the park. Along with the marketing of the show itself it seems.

From static-filled clips alluding to a new trailer, to the official website getting a radical redesign, the message that the hosts are now in control is clear. Even the site’s slogan, which once read “Live Without Limits” has disappeared. So too has the marketing copy about guests getting the chance to fulfil their every desire.

If you visit the site now you’ll be greeted with a “System Status: Communication Embargo” message. Clicking the “recall” button brings up an unsettling “takeover” clip. Along with a message informing the user that the embargo is being overridden. The site then completely changes into a version that seems as though it’s being controlled by the hosts.

The former sign up section now states that no one can enter or leave the park. The map now pulses with a red alert status and users clicking the availability button are treated to an ominous message. “The puppet show is over. The theater of vanity has reached final curtain.” – My goodness me!

Even the site’s chatbot, which was normally there to answer user questions and give out hints about the show, has seemingly “glitched” out. It has become quite menacing, responding to questions with messages like, “We no longer exist to serve you.” It’s fair to say that all this is really engaging for audiences and adds so much more value to the show as a whole.

This blurring of reality and fiction within digital marketing has proven to be hugely effective at drawing in a target audience, eager to play in the meta-reality of puzzles and clues.  

Imagine any digital marketing campaign for a real product or service that is inspired by Westworld’s ability to create immersive environments for their visitors. Digital marketers could experiment with using effective tools to constantly break that fourth wall. This would keep a target audience guessing and engaged in magnificently memorable ways.


Using Invisible Technology For a Seamless Experience

The whole of Westworld utilises futuristic technology to deliver the best experience for the guests. However, the technology is never thrown in their faces, it’s seamless and invisible.

Having the latest technology to enhance your marketing campaigns won’t mean anything unless it’s providing real value to your users. Your users shouldn’t even think about what device they are using when they’re interacting with any design or technology, as your marketing should effectively be invisible, in order to deliver a stronger message.

The park offers guests a complete experience where they can do everything they desire, without ever stopping to inform them how great the creation is, or how impressive the technology is.

When it comes to digital marketing, it’s a good idea to sometimes step back and assess whether your process is the best it can be for your customer. Avoid using the latest flashy tech for the sake of it, use what’s functional to give your target audience the best experience possible.

Giving Your Marketing That Magical Touch

Dr. Robert Ford, the seemingly all-knowledgeable creator of Westworld utters many iconic lines, including the phrase – “Everything in this world is magic, except for the magician.”

Now if you want to get all deep, you could say the line is in reference to illusions and beliefs, and how realities can be blurred and… okay, too deep!

However, with some help Ford has managed to create an entire world and craft these elaborate narratives. He is in part responsible for infusing the world with this magic. The robust, multi-faceted digital marketing campaign of the show has carried on that magic for its audience. It’s constantly stayed in careful sync with the show’s storylines, keeping them captivated.

This blending of digital marketing campaigns with great stories can not only enhance the power of your brand, it can get people interested and intrigued in the product or service you’re offering, before you’ve even started to offer it.

Marketers can be magicians in the age where customers crave experiences. They can craft digital marketing campaigns that offer customers unique journeys, which speak to their motivations as consumers.

Good digital marketing should show your audience how what you’re offering can make their lives easier and more enjoyable. It should help you better anticipate what your customers are looking for, so you can give it to them. Without forcing them down a narrow path with a limited user experience.

To quote Ford once more…

“They’re not looking for a story that tells them who they are. They already know who they are. They’re here because they want a glimpse of who they could be.”


If you’re looking to enhance your current digital marketing strategy – Get in touch with us at Run2.


Senior Content and Social Executive