'Walking Dead' Will Invade the World

To Circumvent Net Spoilers, Distributor of Zombie TV Series Rolls Out in 120 Countries, 33 Languages at Once

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LONDON -- Zombies are about to swarm the globe -- literally.

It's common practice for international distributors of TV series to start in one country, often the U.S., and then expand to additional markets. But Fox International Channels, which owns the international TV and home-video rights to "The Walking Dead," is launching the series in as many as 120 countries at once in a near-simultaneous international rollout.

The move is an acknowledgement of a digital world in which more and more TV fans refuse to wait for their local broadcasters to air the latest U.S. hit series, which they often hear about online via social networks and forums.

Local TV networks are increasingly trying to keep more up to date with U.S. TV schedules, heeding viewers' demand for new shows and fears that they will inadvertently come across "spoilers" online. For example, many channels showed the finale of ABC's hit "Lost" in simulcast with the U.S. broadcast in May, because there was great fear among fans they would find out what happened by mistake. In the U.K., the BBC has brought forward the latest season of AMC's "Mad Men" in response to the show's growing number of fans. Now the U.K. is only six episodes behind, rather than six months as before.

"'The Walking Dead' is the first time a series has launched to audiences internationally so close to its premiere in the U.S., and the first time FIC is launching an entertainment show across all of our channels at almost the same time," said Alexandra Marinescu, FIC senior director-marketing and communications. "Considering the global scale, we wanted to make sure that viewers from Buenos Aires to Moscow are targeted with the same core campaign, so that we have consistency in the messaging."

Starting later this month, the campaign will run in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa in on-air, outdoor and print advertising, as well as guerrilla marketing, PR stunts and trade marketing. The exception will be the U.S., where AMC, which is airing the show, is doing its own campaign.

Fittingly, the series will premiere in the U.S. on Halloween, Oct. 31. This marks the first time AMC has signed with a single distributor for international rights. FIC estimates the show will reach an audience speaking 33 languages over those 120 countries. The graphic novel of "The Walking Dead," written by Robert Kirkman and published in 2003, tells the story of a group of people who have survived a zombie disaster and are trying to find a safe, secure place to live.

The actual subject matter of the show won't be apparent at first in the campaign. "What we did was turn [FIC's] brief [to target fans of the supernatural] upside down," said Michael Moszynski, CEO of London Advertising, which was selected from a field including internal FIC creative teams and nine agencies from around the world for the global push. "We said the core audience was people who didn't like zombies, so we should focus on promoting 'The Walking Dead' as a global television event."

The theory was that narrowing the field to lovers of reanimated corpses could alienate people who would enjoy the emotional side of the storytelling but be put off by flesh-eating protagonists. Not only that, the graphic novel upon which "The Walking Dead" is based already had a cult following, plus AMC is riding high on a wave of critical acclaim for "Mad Men," so the agency felt that buzz among the hardcore audience needed little extra encouragement from Fox. To get as many viewers as possible watching the crucial first episode, the campaign needed to reach a broader audience.

The result is a teaser campaign, advertising the launch date and the words "Stay In," or a variation thereof. Future elements of the push will take the tone of government health warnings, and slowly build the sense of human drama. Mr. Moszynski said that it won't be until closer to the date of the first episode that the nature of the threat will be revealed.

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