Social TV – When Zombies Take Over Twitter

Last November’s first free-to-air broadcast of hit TV series “The Walking Dead” in France gave the Darewin ad agency and French digital cable (TNT) network channel NT1 the perfect opportunity to successfully combine two of today’s hottest trends: zombies and social TV.

Though television has always been a “social” medium by nature, sparking discussions about content around the water cooler or on the bus the day after airing, what we now call “social TV” takes this trend up a notch by relying on the sharing and conversation tools we know as social networks.

Enter the discreet yet ever-present community manager whose job it is to build, grow and retain an audience by commenting on a show and encouraging viewers to do the same in order to create loyalty to the program brand.

Zombie Attack: A clever plan

The stakes were high for NT1 when it came to broadcasting “The Walking Dead” because they had to generate excitement for a show that viewers already knew about. Not only did the broadcast come two years after the US series was released, the show had previously aired in France on Pay-TV channel OCS (which had some 500,000 subscribers at the time) about 18 months before. And then again about a year later on TF6.

So how do you hook a young audience who can’t get enough of TV series – or zombies, for that matter – and who most probably has already seen one of the most downloaded shows in the world? Keep on reading and find out.

Two weeks before the first two episodes were aired the Darewin ad agency developed a very simple yet highly effective (and relevant) publicity stunt. They staged a virtual zombie attack on selected social networks (Twitter and Facebook, on a smaller scale) using the official “#WalkingDeadNT1” hashtag.

Channel NT1 has been attacked by zombies. On their website they beg visitors NOT to use the “#WalkingDeadNT1” hashtag, which releases a virus. Just as expected, curious visitors ignore the warning and quickly type in the fatal combination on their social network of choice. The consequences were extreme and immediate. As soon as users mention the hashtag on Twitter they’re quickly followed by a dozen new fiends with “zombified” avatars whose profiles show they work at NT1 and who tweet nothing more than “Arrrrgh” and “Crrrrrunch.” The epidemic quickly spreads from one account to the next and from tweet to tweet.

The device was adapted to suit Facebook’s functionalities by posting “infected” comments on user pages instead of tweets.

Tweets from the Walking Dead campaign on NT1
[Health Services] Zombie outbreak detected: Don’t be a hero. Do NOT tweet #WalkingDeadNT1


@nt1tv Why can’t I retweet #WalkingDeadNT1? Hey…What the? Where’s my ax? Ouch! Stop that! My leg is not a drumstick!

The strength of this device lies in its nature that is both commonplace and short-lived: the “attack” is launched on tools people use every day and Twitter engines quickly spot zombie bots which are deleted within a few hours (or a few days, tops). It’s a very clever way of using a tool’s rules and regulations (in this case, Twitter’s policy regarding spam and other bots) to not only play the game, but also to avoid having to “clean up” the monsters unleashed.

Darewin made sure the digital device stayed in line with the mythology behind the series and was adapted to today’s virtual world. The zombie attack does in fact happen (although only in cyberspace) and it indeed goes viral (pun intended).

An effective marketing campaign on Twitter

After 10 days the Darewin team counted 3,222 tweets mentioning the “#WalkingDeadNT1” hashtag and spotted over 30,000 zombie attacks. Some 3,000 comments and 1,000 “shares” were generated by the campaign on Facebook which translated into an extra 12,000 “likes” on the NT1 page.

More importantly, the event was mentioned in a wide variety of media and delighted the users who took part in the game. “Seeing new content being created around a few ideas you planted is what community managers live for. In this case people played the game, posted attack tweets, changed their profile pictures and did other zombie-related stuff,” said Sarah Izbornicki, project manager at Darewin.

I should also mention the device was nominated for a Shorty Award in the “Best Use of a Hashtag on Twitter” category.

Tweets from the Walking Dead campaign on NT1
Oh crap, I’ve just been infected. #WalkingDeadNT1 Grrrrrrrr. Aaaargh. Brrraaaaaaains.

Last, but not least, the most interesting thing about this campaign seems to be the impact it had on the audience when the show was finally aired on NT1. More than 350,000 viewers tuned in on November 2, 2012 to watch the first two episodes of the series. That’s a 5.6% audience share, and that’s a big number for the small TNT channel. They’ve had similar ratings before, but it was for programming presented at peak times. Because “The Walking Dead” is prohibited to those 16 and under in France, the show aired at 11:20 pm. The network also broadcast a marathon of all season 1 episodes throughout the night of November 23/24, 2012 which got very good ratingsas well.

“Because the show airs so late at night it would have gone practically unnoticed without the buzz generated by our device,” said Sarah Izbornicki. French law prohibits the on-air promotion of shows not intended for those 16 and under so no trailers could be shown before 8:30 pm. And since “traditional” advertising opportunities were limited, the bulk of the promotion for the series was done online through the Darewin campaign.

So we can safely assume there’s a direct correlation between this type of “social” operation and TV ratings or, at the very least, the excitement and keen interest of the 15-to-25-year-old audience that was targeted in this case.

NT1 chose to go the social-media-and-community-management route to stand out from the 20 or so new French digital channels available. And to ensure success, they enlisted the help of Darewin, an agency that had previously worked on other series shown on the channel and that presented similar challenges to the ones encountered with “The Walking Dead.” When season 2 of “The Vampire Diaries” was being broadcast, the agency created TV commercials that included fan tweets chosen every week. And just before “True Blood” premiered, the team launched “Vampire Weather” to notify users when the sun was too hot or when it was going to be a full moon. In every case these original communications strategies were able to make (and leave) their mark in the minds of viewers.

Oriane Hurard
Oriane Hurard is a producer with Les Produits Frais as well as a festival programmer for new storytelling formats (transmedia, webseries, VR) and a new media and community management instructor.
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