When the motley crew of zombie-fighters from “The Walking Dead” gear up for battle in a new season that commences October 12, they will do so without an important piece of their arsenal.
For several runs of the AMC drama, Rick Grimes and his desperate band of apocalypse survivors have relied on a kiwi-green Hyundai Tucson to help them forage for supplies or wheel past wandering packs of undead. Now, with a turn in the plot that has the cast moving about on foot, producers’ ability to make use of the vehicle has been reduced to naught.
“While we had a great run with ‘The Walking Dead,’ the plot of the show changed and moved in such a way that the car ceased to have a role,” said David Matathia, director of marketing communications at Hyundai. The automaker will continue to run traditional commercials during the show, and a person familiar with the network said the series will feature car advertisements “in every break” when it starts its run.
Hyundai’s exit from the programming segments that take place between the ad breaks, however, points to the continuing difficulty for marketers of creating long-term affiliations with specific programs. Simply put, keeping the advertiser in the picture season after season can be difficult due to new creative directions or business factors.
Ford Motor Co. made a splash when it allowed its F-150 trucks to be used as part of the proceedings in early seasons of Fox’s “24,” for example. After winning significant on-screen placement in the series’ 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons, however, Ford found producers resistant to having Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer continue to make regular errands in a pick-up truck. Showrunners felt a government agent would more likely drive something else.
Ford soon was found taking an increased presence in shows like ABC’s “Alias” and NBC’s “American Dreams,” as well as “24.” By 2009, Agent Bauer was spotted driving a Hyundai Genesis. In the series’ most recent cycle, which debuted this summer, Chrysler vehicles ruled the road.
Hyundai made the most of its “Walking Dead” presence, which began during the show’s second season. By getting involved with the series at an earlier point in its history, Hyundai likely was able to secure a presence for a much cheaper price than it would have gotten if it was starting now. The average cost of a 30-second spot in “The Walking Dead” has increased nearly 27% for the 2014-2015 season, according to Variety’s annual survey of primetime ad prices. A package of traditional advertising in the show is going for an average of $413,695, compared with an average of $326,000 last season.
The Tucson – kept unusually clean in a grimy world due to contractual obligations with Hyundai about how the car can be displayed – has functioned as what Matathia, the auto executive, described in a previous interview as “a trusted partner” or “a getway vehicle” designed to help the characters “get out of difficult situations.” As part of an agreement with the advertiser, the car could never be used as a weapon to mow down the undead or shown breaking down.
Automakers are known for their desire to associate their vehicles with popular cultural fare, as they did when Jimmy Fallon started his tenure on NBC’s “Tonight”and publicly mulled buying a new truck. Should Rick, Carl and the rest of the “Dead” gang have need of vehicular transport in the not-too-distant future, a bevy of advertisers are likely to show interest.