Ace Hardware ratchets up business with zombie campaign

Westlake Ace Hardware challenged digital AOR Bozell to create a unique way to engage consumers and drive website traffic. Bozell answered with a zombie campaign.

Client: Westlake Ace Hardware (Lenexa, KS)
Agency: Bozell (Omaha, NE)
Campaign: Zombie Preparedness Initiative
Duration: October 4 - 31, 2011
Budget: $30,000

Westlake Ace Hardware operates 88 stores in seven Midwestern states. VP of marketing Jonathan Swiskow challenged digital AOR Bozell to create a unique way to engage consumers and drive website traffic last fall. Bozell answered with a zombie campaign.

“We're a pretty conservative company,” Swiskow explains. “I felt Halloween gave us a bit of cover. Baby Boomers are our core customers. We need to get Westlake on the radar of younger consumers. Our brand personality is pretty bland, but it doesn't need to be. We can have some fun, and that's what really excited me.”

Strategy
Bozell managing principal Kim Mickelsen says agency research revealed more than 12 million zombie term searches monthly.

“The concept aligned well with the Gen X category and there was higher than average incidence in states where Westlake operates,” she adds. “It also tied to the brand—Westlake helps customers prepare, so we prepared for zombies.”

A three-phase story involving Westlake helping both humans and zombies unfolded online.

Media outreach also drove awareness.

Tactics
The story began October 4 when zombie mentions appeared on Westlake's Facebook and Twitter pages. A zombie preparedness microsite launched and a zombie tab appeared on Facebook.

Follow-up with two local reporters who liked the posts led to an Omaha World-Herald front-page story and an AP pick-up.

The zombie perspective was voiced beginning October 7 through ZombiesUnite.org and videos of mock TV news stations (human and zombie) reporting a zombie protest at an Omaha Westlake store as if it were in progress. The videos, which had been filmed September 28 at an Omaha store, were posted to the microsite and YouTube (with links on Facebook).

In response to the protest, a Zombie Advice Center, addressing issues such as limb reattachment, was added to the microsite on October 10.

ZombiesUnite.org gave Westlake a Zombie-Friendly certificate on October 15 at the 4th Annual Omaha Zombie Walk (attended by about 2,000 people). Video was posted October 17.

Media and blogger relations occurred throughout the campaign. Targets included local outlets, trades, and national general consumer media. Top-tier outlets and blogs got Zombie Preparedness Kits with Westlake products, including disinfectant.

A campaign compilation video was posted to the website homepage on Halloween.

Results
Unique visitors to Westlakehardware.com increased 235% over September (from 55,792 to 185,717). More than 9,000 new links were established in October. The zombie microsite got 200,000 views. Zombiesunite.org got about 45,000 visits.

Facebook likes increased 145% over September. According to Facebook Insights, engagement with 25- to 44-year-olds increased 450% compared to September. Twitter followers increased 33% to 1,147. YouTube views topped 41,000.

More than 4,000 media and blog stories ran in outlets including The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Future
The team is promoting a “Grill Match” campaign that plays on profile dating, matching men and grills.

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