Rick Grimes, Michonne and Daryl Dixon have killed dozens of flesh-eating zombies over the course of nearly 100 episodes of AMC’s apocalyptic drama “The Walking Dead.” Now PepsiCo hopes the trio and other characters from the hit drama can help do something else: Slay the thirst of millions of fans of the company’s citrus-y soda Mountain Dew.
Under the terms of a new marketing partnership, “Walking Dead” characters will appear on limited-edition Mountain Dew packaging this fall, while supplies last. Mountain Dew and AMC will also launch a new augmented-reality app that lets fans interact with some of the show’s best-known zombie “walkers” and then share those interactions via social media. The eighth season of “The Walking Dead” will start October 22.
“We are really rewarding people for engaging in our commercials,” says Kate Brady, director of media strategy and investment for PepsiCo’s North American beverages unit. “This gets them to use their smartphones, which we know they are likely already using, to actively seek out our commercial and rewards them for doing so.”
AMC will run a short-form video during the series’ eighth-season premiere alerting viewers to the new partnership and how they can play along with the app. Consumers who download the augmented reality app can “unlock” walkers by following Mountain Dew commercials that air during the series or by scanning limited edition “The Walking Dead” Mountain Dew packaging. Twenty different walkers – many of them from popular “Dead” storylines – will turn up as part of the game.
The partnership adds a new twist to what has become a regular challenge for marketers who want a closer-than-normal link with “Dead.” Simply put, weaving product into the show is difficult. In a world where humans have ceased creating new products and flashy contraptions, viewers likely would be distracted by the sight of the latest smartphone or car model, said Scott Collins, president of advertising sales for AMC Networks, in an interview.
Hyundai for several cycles placed a kiwi-green Hyundai Tucson in the show, but had to leave Rick Grimes and his band of survivors behind when the plot of the show called for them to start traveling on foot. Placing a new model from the company into the show would not make sense. “We don’t have zombies building automobiles in the factory or out on the showroom floor,” said Collins. “It forces us to be creative.” In recent seasons, that has meant doing things like running ads from Microsoft and Hyundai that have zombie themes – and only make sense during an episode of “Dead” as opposed to running on multiple networks during an assortment of primetime programs.
More beverage companies are testing ways to use their packaging to link to pop-culture phenomena. As part of its advertising in the 2016 Super Bowl, Coca-Cola distributed “mini cans” festooned with characters from Marvel’s “Avengers” movies. Sometimes, bottles and cans are used to spark conversation, as Anheuser-Busch did when it renamed its flagship brew “America” for a period of time via its packaging.
But the deal between Mountain Dew and AMC burnishes the notion that advertisers continue to seek new ways to associate themselves with popular TV series that move beyond the traditional TV commercial. Pepsi’s Brady said the company is eager to find programming that generates a lot of social buzz, which can then be harnessed to get viewers to seek out commercials via mobile devices for more information. The key, she said, is finding ways to get customers “to actively engage with commercials.”