The Zombie Marketing Invasion

It’s Halloween week. Italian soccer fans got a gruesome reminder of this last Saturday when, during a match in Rome, a group of zombies invaded Stadio Olimpico. Thanks to AMC network and Fox International Channels (FIC), 26 cities worldwide will be experiencing similar undead outbreaks through October 31 as part of a viral effort to promote the new original TV drama “The Walking Dead.”

AMC is documenting the events on the show’s blog, but if that isn’t enough for zombie lovers, a Facebook page currently features photos and videos of the whole bloody thing.

spread-the-dead

Indeed, zombies seem to be the theme for this year’s Halloween marketing efforts. And why not? Consumers are still enthralled by the 2009 hit mashup novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” and a Nintendo DS version of the popular PopCap Games video game “Plants vs. Zombies” is slated for release in a few months. A year ago nearly 14,000 people in Mexico attempted to break the Guinness World Record for creating the biggest flash mob to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”…and everyone knows about those Zombie Walks, right? But the trend toward incorporating zombies into brand and product marketing has nothing to do with reviving dead brands. In the contrary, it’s all about giving them renewed life.

Marketing Dollars Well Spent

Just ask Sears. The company did something very unexpected to celebrate Halloween: it redesigned the home page of its online department store to appeal to a target audience of the undead (OK, technically its an audience of human consumers who happen to appreciate zombie humor).

The zombie site – which is being used as an alternative entry point to the Sears.com online marketplace and features the cleverly revised brand slogan “Afterlife. Well spent” – uses zombies as models to hawk its usual wares. The site is available for viewing in Zombian (which just looks like gibberish to us humans), and there’s an online personal shopping tool that recommends styles just right for any zombie’s needs, whether you’re a “dirty, boiled female” or a “cranky, chilled male.” Even the notorious Sears Blue Crew has received a ghastly makeover, and an interactive Zombie Friend Makeover tool allows users to create a custom zombie and share it with friends.

sears-zombies

You can tell site developers had fun with this one.

Sears has been promoting the change with a YouTube video in the style of a fitness commercial, and, for the past month, a Twitter feed with links to other zombie-related sites and witty posts like “Having a pulse is overrated.” If the goal was to remind consumers that Sears isn’t a tired old department store once popular with your grandparents – that it hasn’t lapsed into a coma – mission accomplished. Comments about the effort seen on blogs are overwhelmingly positive (“My God! Sears has a sense of humor!”), and reports are calling the site “hilarious.”

Transmitting the Terror

Publishers are equally enthralled with the zombies – at least those that celebrate all things undead. In anticipation of the premiere of “The Walking Dead,” horror site FEARnet has been celebrating Zombie Week and promoting AMC’s online game Spread the Dead. Users are given a unique URL and tasked to employ Facebook and Twitter to tell as many friends as possible about the show in the hopes that they’ll click. Each click translates into points, and the user with the most points has a chance to win a cash prize.

There’s something about Halloween that compels brand marketers to break out of their comfort zone and do something really strange. Countless major labels have done it, in spite of potential repercussions to a hard-earned positive image. This kind of attempt does show a degree of playfulness, and as Sears has demonstrated, it can be pulled off if you follow a few simple rules.

  • Remember your bread and butter. A scary effort will likely appeal to a younger demographic, but shouldn’t simultaneously repulse the rest of your customer base. Target Halloween-themed microsites and digital ads carefully.
  • Gross is not a must. The holiday offers the opportunity to do any number of themed online contests, games, and promotions that don’t disgust. Gauge your audience’s fear factor and respond as appropriate.
  • Time is of the essence, and social media can help. Use it to spread the word about your effort quickly and capitalize on the demand; interest in Halloween campaigns is strong among consumers and the media in the weeks leading up to the holiday, but wane nearly immediately once it has passed.

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