Two zombies walk into a bar. Then 100 more. No, this isn’t a joke, it’s pretty much every episode of The Walking Dead ever.
You can only create a certain number of harrowing zombie scenarios before the genre becomes derivative. Even a show like TWD often fills whole sections with shambling corpses and heroes trapped in tight spaces.
But The Walking Dead is mid-way through Season 8 and ratings are slowly dropping. And yet, I am yet to find a fan who is willing to let go.
Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the show or not, it’s hard to deny that The Walking Dead is one of the most successful TV phenomena of this century so far. And as we stumble and groan our way into 2018, let’s pause to reflect on how AMC brought life to a tired genre through marketing.
1. Gorilla Marketing At Its Best
To keep marketing fresh, you essentially have to subvert everyone’s expectations. Breaking people out of their everyday reality takes creativity and work. Often that work falls flat.
But AMC was extremely successful in their marketing tactics with The Walking Dead. And often, they used what we call Gorilla Marketing.
Like gorilla warfare, gorilla marketing is an unconventional marketing style. It’s imaginative and in your face. And often the goal is to keep it low cost.
A man by the name of Jay Conrad Levinson coined the term in 1984. He wanted a way to create a memorable impression on people and at the same time create extreme social buzz. The man is known for extremely successful projects such as the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Marlboro Man.
Gorilla marketing isn’t just about the outward appeal of the design, but the concepts and ideas present. Essentially, the ideas must be clearly ironic. A gorilla message is one that punches the audience in the gut immediately.
Gorilla Marketing Examples
For example, a hunger awareness campaign might paste a lifesize photo of a starving child begging for food at the bottom of a grocery shopping cart. Whenever someone places food in their cart, they are placing it in the hands of the starving child.
This actually happened. And the Feed South Africa Campaign placed a simple placard near the shopping cart handle with the campaign’s logo and website.
You can bet that people felt the ironic guilt every time they placed a can tub of ice cream in that cart.
Gorilla Marketing Shouldn’t Be Complicated
It’s the simplest execution that’s the most effective. The dentist who creates a construction paper mouth around a telephone pole could be the simplest example of them all. Tear off a tooth with the dentist’s info and it looks like someone lost a tooth.
The more people tear off teeth, the more interesting the display becomes. And you can bet the dentist paid next to nothing for that advertisement.
Simple advertising is effective because people don’t have time to sit down and wrestle with an ad. You have mere seconds if not split seconds to capture someone’s attention before they walk on or scroll on by.
The idea behind Guerilla Marketing is immediate impact. Without that one-two punch, your message is meaningless.
2. How The Walking Dead Employed Guerrilla Marketing
One of the main tenants of Guerilla Marketing is social buzz. If you’re not able to great a buzz about your campaign or your product, then you’re not doing it right.
AMC is obviously doing it right. When your show attracts more than 16 million people each season, you’re on the ball.
Add that to the millions of re-tweets, facebook posts, fan-created podcasts and you have a phenomenon like few others.
And then there are the online reviews. The show has been well rated by every online metric you can find. And this makes sense, as this website points out, 88% of people trust reviews.
AMC admittedly didn’t need to do any other marketing after season 1. Word of mouth gave them plenty to work with. But their marketing team refused to lay down and die.
They’ve created numerous over-the-top displays. This includes a countdown display in Toronto’s Union Station. Fans could tweet a photo of themselves in front of the massive counting zombie hands to win one of the fingers (the fingers drop off as each day passes).
Virtual worlds often invade our meatspace. And that’s exactly what AMC did to bring The Walking Dead directly in front of audiences.
In many cities, AMC employed an oft-used technique in marketing: mobile car advertising. They pasted large displayed on trucks and mashed fake zombie limbs in the doors. It looks as if the truck is carrying around zombies and the zombies are attempting to escape.
Guerilla marketing should invade your audience’s space. It should make your audience feel your presence even when they’re not enjoying one of your ads. They should feel like writing about it or tweeting about it.
It should, in essence, go viral.
AMC’s zombie marketing has been so effective that people aren’t going to do a thing when the zombie apocalypse actually happens. If you watch this AMC walking dead prank in New York City, you’ll see what I mean.
People merely laugh when the zombies reach for their ankles. They know it’s a prank (fortunately for the actors, nobody carries guns in NYC). And AMC was brilliant in their execution.
The video went viral. Over 5 million views. But zombies are now a comfortable part of our world.
Thanks, AMC. Now it’s totally plausible that zombies will over-run our world. People are just going to write it off as one of your pranks…until they get eaten, that is.
If you enjoyed this article, check out other TV-related Shoemoney posts.