The Grand Relationship Between Content And Commercials On AMC's 'The Walking Dead'
“The Walking Dead” returned for the start of its fourth season Sunday night and wasted no time claiming its place as the mightiest television program in the land. Nobody expected it to start showing any kind of significant erosion. Many of us assumed its audience might even grow a bit. But who could have guessed that 16.1 million viewers would tune in -- 10.4 million of them in the 18-49 demographic? Those numbers don't simply constitute a record for “Dead,” or for AMC. They make it the No. 1 program this season with the 18-49 demographic cherished by advertisers, over and above everything on broadcast and cable television including NFL games. One can only wonder what “Dead’s” Live +7 numbers will look like when they come in.
Sunday wasn’t just a great night for AMC and “The Walking Dead.” It was pretty stellar for the advertisers who populated the hour, as well. And it had to be especially satisfying for Microsoft, Blue Moon Brewing Company, TNT and Hyundai Motor Company.
Early in the hour there was a spot for Microsoft’s Windows that featured a “Walking Dead” fan-man packing up his home in anticipation of a move. A giant poster for “The Walking Dead” was prominent in his living room, and when he later stumbled at the bottom of his cellar stairs, dropping the box he was carrying and crashing to the floor, he was horrified to find a zombie on top of him, then humiliated when he learned that he was screaming and thrashing under a life-size cardboard zombie standee while his delighted girlfriend was recording it all, undoubtedly for a swift and embarrassing upload. A “Walking Dead” promotional image was shown to be the wallpaper on his laptop, and his girlfriend’s Twitter handle was ZombieBabe34. (This spot was followed by another that illustrated improvements that have already been made to the puzzlingly ill-designed Windows 8, without actually saying so.)
Later in the hour came a spot that also served as a co-promotion for the show and a sponsor. It was called “The Art of Directing” and it was “presented by” Blue Moon Brewing Co. It featured behind the scenes footage from the making of “Dead” along with a brief interview with series co-producer and special effects makeup designer Greg Nicotero (arguably the real star of this show). A full-bodied spot for Blue Moon beers followed.
Wisely, TNT bought a spot for its upcoming event series “Mob City,” which was created by former “Dead” executive producer Frank Darabont and stars former cast member Jon Bernthal. Talk about speaking to the converted.
Toward the end of the show came another winning “Dead”-inspired spot, this one for Hyundai. It opened on a suburban street laid waste by, we would soon learn, a zombie apocalypse. A group of rag-tag survivors came together as their apparent Rick Grimes-like leader offered words of advice. “If you want to survive, listen up,” he said. “I’ve killed over 300 zombies. The only reason I’ve lasted is I live off the land and I know how to fight.”
“And you have one of those,” added another survivor, gesturing to his right. The camera panned over to reveal a Hyundai vehicle (a Veloster Turbo, I believe) tricked out with multiple assault weapons for killer zombie action.
Then came a helpful voice-over: “Build your own Hyundai zombie survival machine now at hyundaiUSA.com/chopshop.” (The site takes the “Walking Dead” theme even farther.)
Like I said up top, sitting through commercial breaks doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As AMC and “The Walking Dead” are showing us, with a little thought and a lot of planning it can be engaging and rewarding. I’m interested to see what advertisers have to offer during future episodes. When was the last time you heard anyone say that about anything on television outside of the Super Bowl?