The automaker’s tie-in to “The Walking Dead” exceeds expectation, marketing chief Steve Shannon says.
Fan suggestions inspired zombie-fighter Hyundai Santa Fe.
LOS ANGELES – What would life be without zombies?
Not as lively, at least not forMotor America, which is walking tall from the success of its business relationship with “The Walking Dead,” a TV show about a band of survivors battling it out following a zombie apocalypse.
“The Andy Griffith Show” it’s not.
provides the official getaway vehicle for AMC’s sci-fi series that’s entering its fifth season and boasting the highest ratings of all time for a basic-cable TV show in the U.S.
In pop-culture longevity, zombies have legs even though they walk funny.
“We thought people wouldn’t stay interested in zombies, but that hasn’t happened,” Steve Shannon, vice president-marketing of Hyundai’s U.S. unit, says at the 2014 Automotive Customer Centricity Summit here.
He fondly recalls how Hyundai entered the netherworld. “I got a call saying there’s this zombie-apocalypse show and we can get a car in it. I said, ‘Go for it.’
“We were attracted to the potential social-media reach,” he says. “I’m not sure we could say it was a Millennial play, but it’s worked out that way.”
As Hyundai marketers breathed life into their zombie project, the tie-in exceeded expectations. “It is overperforming in all measurements,” Shannon says.
The automaker has aired TV spots promoting its Tucson CUV’s role as a zombie fighter. “The Walking Dead” special-edition Tucson debuted at the LA auto show in November. It features decals on the outside and a survivalist backpack inside.
Hyundai has cranked out various social-media contests and promotions. “We couldn’t come up with enough of them,” Shannon says.
Those include asking followers for suggestions on designing anti-zombie Hyundais. The customized finished products make the rounds at comic-book conventions and other public events. “The Walking Dead” originated as a Robert Kirkman comic book 10 years ago.
The latest road-warrior creation is a Sante Fe midsize CUV featuring jutting knife blades, a crossbow, mounted machine guns and a flame thrower.
Galpin Auto Sports, part of a California dealerships group, built it. About 82,000 people came up with accessory ideas including spinning blades for quick decapitations.
More than 500,000 people have downloaded a zombie-related app. “It has driven a lot of people to the Hyundai website, because that’s where you have to go to get the app,” says Shannon, a two-time Ivy Leaguer who graduated with a B.A. from Harvard and a MBA from Columbia.
Marketing can do two things, he says: It can interrupt people or become part of what they’re doing. “The Walking Dead” campaign tries to do the latter.
But nothing lasts forever, not even in the never-say-die world of the living dead.
In the final episode of last season, the humans bolt from a prison where they ironically had taken refuge. They leave behind their trusty Hyundai.
“We were kind of written out of the show,” Shannon says, adding, “We’re looking for the next great idea.”
Contractually, the automaker places product-placement restrictions on “The Walking Dead.”
For example, scenes of sheer mayhem can’t beset the cars. Nor can carnal behavior occur inside them, although Shannon recalls “a quasi-intimate event” in a Santa Fe. “We don’t have script approval, but we do see the scripts,” he says.
It wasn’t particularly hard to sell “The Walking Dead” relationship to Hyundai’s home office in South Korea.
“There’s an element of risk-taking with Hyundai,” Shannon tells WardsAuto. “So my colleagues in Korea were receptive when I talked to them, even though the conversation started out with me saying, ‘There’s this show about zombies…’”