How FOX brought The Walking Dead back to life – again
- 19 August 2019
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Not many TV shows get to season eight. When The Walking Dead got there, FOX found a new way to make it a ratings winner in the UK
When season one of zombie horror TV series The Walking Dead debuted in late 2010, Instagram had only just launched, Twitter was tentatively introducing Promoted Tweets and the Facebook like button was a year old. The global social media conversation was not what it is today.
Building on the early-Noughties success of The Walking Dead comic book series, the show rapidly established a fanbase of predominantly male 25-44-year-olds. It did this, in part, by moving its worldwide release dates much closer together. The Walking Dead was among the first shows to air in the US and only a day or so later in Europe, Africa and beyond, a method now widely used to appease fans.
“Already we were learning that social media means being instantaneous,” says Antoine Chapuy, senior marketing and PR manager for FOX Networks Group Europe and Africa. “With the new release dates, viewers in Europe and Africa could almost immediately join in the conversation started in the US.”
Eight years later, however, ratings started to stagnate, and social media mentions had dropped 35% on the past season. So, in early 2018, FOX launched the campaign that would eventually win it the Best Use of Social Media category at the CIM Marketing Excellence Awards 2019.
“We knew it was unlikely that, in our eighth season, we could attract many new viewers, so we needed to re-engage prior viewers and retain existing fans,” says Chapuy. Social media, and how people used it, had come a long way since the early days of The Walking Dead and Chapuy knew it would be an integral part of any campaign. “As social media has evolved, our fanbase has evolved. The global conversation about The Walking Dead is now an essential touchpoint for brand comms. It’s where the reaction and the buzz is, so it’s a natural place for us to be.”
To hit its initial social activation targets of 500,000 reach, 100,000 video views and 5,000 interactions, it needed to create some buzz of its own. “Because of social media, each year we have to think bigger, better and bolder with our comms strategy,” says Chapuy, “but we always have to deliver a genuine, authentic message.”
Knowledge is key
In the years since The Walking Dead’s debut, social media has also become an important source of knowledge for marketers. “It was a key input for the data-driven analysis that helped us pinpoint our target demographic and what they responded to,” says Chapuy. “We learnt that fans of the show loved interactivity and loved the cast. We also realised we had lots of user-generated content to leverage.”
As it turned out, Facebook had a new Live API video tool with the potential to deliver the kind of premium-feel fan interaction that Fox was looking for. “There are lots of live Q&As with cast members on Facebook,” says Chapuy, “but the Live API could help us reach a level of interactivity that was rare.” Fox could live-stream a Q&A with some of the show’s stars, but it could also incorporate social memes and fan-generated content for the talent to respond to – unedited and in real time. Christina Theodoropoulou from Facebook’s Entertainment Partnerships division explains that Facebook Live videos generate an average of six times as many interactions as regular videos, largely due to these elements.
FOX’s other innovation in its execution was its use of an unofficial fan group. The Live video connection opened early in the 70,000-strong Walking Dead Fans Facebook group. This helped drive views to the main Live event that followed on FOX TV UK’s official page. “An hour before the Q&A, we advertised it to this unaffiliated group,” says Chapuy. “That hadn’t really been done before, but it gave us access to our hardcore fans in the UK – our strongest advocates!” Facebook’s Theodoropoulou adds, “Putting talent front and centre and engaging with fans in their own environments definitely brought a different level of excitement and a depth of engagement to the activation.”
Broadcasting from the studio within Facebook’s Rathbone Square office in London meant Fox had the best possible support, but were there any worries about the execution on the day? “Doing anything live, there’s always extra potential to go wrong,” admits Chapuy. “There are more tech and timekeeping challenges, but we had a team of 10 in-house experts behind us for any troubleshooting. Facebook’s presence reassured our internal and external stakeholders, and helped us get the buy-in we needed from them.”
Careful planning and execution resulted in a Facebook Live Q&A that performed 7.4 times better than the average piece of similar content posted by FOX in the UK. It delivered on a foundational purpose of social media – leveraging user-generated content to engage a community – and easily surpassed the quantifiable engagement targets it had been set (see below).
Indeed, season eight became FOX’s best performing show of its UK 2017/18 season. “Among our main markets, the UK performed best, outperforming the channel benchmark by 12 times,” says Chapuy, “and we are confident that the Facebook Live Q&A with the cast gave the UK the impulse it needed to achieve its great ratings results.”
As well as the short-term surge, the season eight campaign reinvigorated the franchise and secured the long-term future of the show. “Season 10 comes out in October,” confirms Chapuy. “It’s filming now and as soon as we have the footage we will start thinking creatively about the marketing. If season 8 was special, then season 10 needs to be very special.”
Impact in numbers
- 8 million impressions
- 1 million users reached
- 522,000 video views
- 11,600 interactions
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- 434 views