What zombies can teach marketers

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 23 June 2015

From Boost Mobile's zombie series to Ashley Madison's recent ad, there's no shortage of zombies in ad land.

The current fascination with zombies in the collective cultural zeitgeist can be partially explained by a fear of unchecked consumerism, but MediaCom has used popular zombie drama The Walking Dead to more effectively sell things.

Presenting at Cannes Lions, MediaCom said it had teamed up with AMC to come up with a set of guidelines which can define each market.

“Civilizations throughout time have always created these apocalypse myths, whether it's the flood or a battle between men and gods,” MediaCom global business development strategy officer Jon Gittings said.

“These are the stories humanity collectively turns to prepare emotionally for the threat of our extinction.”

So how does the fear of extinction fit into being able to sell more stuff?

Gittings said that in conjunction with AMC, it had come up with six characteristics that various markets displayed in their response to The Walking Dead.

The six characteristics are hierarchy, individuality, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty, pragmatism, and indulgence.

Putting the US, UK, and Canada into one cluster, its research found that the markets had high proportional scores for individuality and indulgence.

That means when they're watching The Walking Dead, they're responding to 'what would I do?' moments, and more salacious or sensational moments in the series.

“It can help us determine what part of a brand's story we can focus on and how we can target it. So should we be sensationalist? It can help us see how brands should act within channels,” Gittings said.

“Should we ask questions or be more authoritative, or should we target individually or collectively?”

Meanwhile, representatives from the show discussed in a wide-ranging interview how it had managed to create an engaged fan base and how it managed to remain authentic.

I think we have one of the most engaged fanbases in the world and it's great – they let us know when they love something and the really let us know when they don't like something,” executive producer Dave Alpert said.

“We engage with them and talk to them and that means we have conversations with them in person at conventions but also online.”

Meanwhile CEO of AMC Networks, Josh Sapan, said that show runner Dave Erickson and creator Robert Kirkman “came deeply from the world”, meaning that the show's interactions with fans rung true.

“They weren't just 'let's go do a show about this',” Sapan said. “They were deep in it.”

Sapan said the duo were already somewhat integrated in the community they were trying to reach, so when it came time to do social media it felt less like marketing and more like genuine engagement.

“So what they do, it doesn't look pre-meditated marketing but looks organic.”

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