The Walking Dead
One of the print ads for the launch of The Walking Dead on South African subscription channel Top TV.

Andy Stead

Johannesburg-based advertising and communication agency Ireland/Davenport have pulled off a major coup in being the only South African agency to be invited to pitch for, and be awarded, the account for the global launch of The Walking Dead, a new TV series from US-based Fox International Channels and the AMC network.

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, The Walking Dead premiered on the AMC network in the US in October 2010 to an audience of 5.3-million viewers – AMC's largest audience for an original series ever. A post-apocalyptic zombie tale, the series made its South African debut early in November 2010 on subscription channel Top TV.

“We had an existing relationship with Fox Channels,” says Philip Ireland, founder and executive creative director of Ireland/Davenport. “We were thrilled to be invited to pitch on the global launch against other agencies including the agency of record in London and other agencies in the US and Europe.

“The pitch was to prepare the launch campaign internationally. The series has flighted, as has the campaign. We are doing post publicity as the campaign had a teaser phase and a launch phase and it was difficult to do the publicity while the campaign was flighting.”

The Walking Dead tells the story of the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, following a small group of survivors who travel across the desolate US in search of a new home away from the shuffling hordes of the un-dead. The group is led by Rick Grimes, who was a sheriff's deputy in a small Georgia town before the zombie outbreak. As their situation grows more hazardous, the group's desperation to survive pushes them to the brink of insanity. At every turn they are faced with the unbearable horrors that come from having the dead walk again, as well as facing hostility from the scattered remains of a struggling human populace who are focused on their own survival, now that the structures of society have collapsed.

Watch the trailer for The Walking Dead:

Two of Ireland/Davenport’s concepts for this series were bought by Fox International and have been rolled out around the world. The launch campaign in South Africa included a series of TV commercials, TV street interview commercials, a viral video which challenged right from wrong, a safe zone party in downtown Johannesburg as well as various other advertising mediums.

“The promos were shot by Jason Fielkov of Egg films in Cape Town,” says Ireland, “on location in Johannesburg and Cape Town. There were vox pop teaser campaigns where people in the street were candidly asked what they would be prepared to do to survive. Questions like ‘Would you shoot someone?’ were asked and the answers were all quite civilised and expected – except for one individual who would have been happy to shoot someone!”

Watch a Walking Dead vox pop teaser campaign:

“On-air promos were shot to look like interviews being conducted with real people from around the world living through the beginning of the zombie plague, set before the action that we see in the series begins," says Ireland. "When the series flighted on Top TV it was one of the highlights of the year.

“A viral ad was seeded with a father teaching his young son, not just to shoot, but to shoot people,” says Ireland. “He looks like a crazy right wing gun-nut back forest man, until we reveal why he's doing it. The main thought driver being, what would you do to survive?”

Sue Napier, managing director of Ireland/Davenport, is pleased with the campaign’s success. “The creative team at Ireland/Davenport did a fantastic job in executing this campaign and it was a great success,” she says. “The campaign included traditional media with ambient and experiential executions.”

AMC is the only network to win a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series, Mad Men, as well as the only basic cable network to win back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Some of the channel’s original stories include non-scripted programming like the AMC News. AMC has movie franchises such as AMC Hollywood Icon and AMC Complete Collection, highlighting their commitment to the art of storytelling.

“Who would’ve thought that a little agency in Johannesburg would be keeping company with the likes of Fox International and AMC?” says Napier.