Music’s Biggest Night Overshadowed By “The Walking Dead”

Sunday, February 10, was the biggest night of the year for the music industry, with the live broadcast of the Grammy Awards on CBS. Every year, millions of viewers huddle around their televisions to take in the many performances (and the few awards) that make up the 3.5 hour event. After host LL Cool J prompted viewers to engage with the show via Twitter hashtag #Grammys, it seemed like the awards show's social presence would be one of the evening's highlights.  

The big surprise for followers of television ratings came the next morning, when it was reported that AMC's cable program "The Walking Dead" tallied viewership of 12.26 million. While the Grammys racked up viewership of 28.37 million, it also has a larger pool to pull from because it appears on broadcast television rather than cable. Adding in the encore airing of "The Walking Dead" brings total viewership for the night to an amazing 16.6 million—unheard of for cable programs nowadays. But the key difference between a broadcast awards show and a cable drama, in this case, is the interactive marketing campaign run by each.

The Grammys boasts a well-organized collection of social outlets to publish content, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and Foursquare. Blogs, polls, and photo streams keep viewers engaged in realtime, but outside of these generic offerings the Grammys seemed to be a bit bland in the domain of interactive marketing.

Compare this list to the plethora of innovative social activities that "The Walking Dead" uses to engage their fans. Setting aside "Talking Dead," an online forum that opens after each new episode, "The Walking Dead" offers a "Dead Yourself" mobile app, a Facebook social video game, a Dr. Pepper fan contest, and "Story Sync." This last offering is an interactive second-screen experience synchronized to the premiere broadcast of each episode, that includes polls, trivia, and exclusive video. Clearly, this interactive marketing campaign goes well beyond the established norm.

Fans of "The Walking Dead" seem to be reacting positively to the show's unique approach to connecting with its viewers. As the show has progressed, its fan presence has strengthened. As AMC president Charlie Collier said in an Entertainment Weekly article, "When you look at numbers like this, the first thing that comes to mind is how grateful we are to the fans of this show. They embrace The Walking Dead in a way that we wanted to believe was possible but we never take for granted."

The Grammys successfully pulled over 19 million social media interactions, according to Trendrr reports, while "The Walking Dead" was able to generate almost 3 million on its own. In the classic showdown of David vs Goliath, interactive marketers should make note that in this case David is armed with fun and unique apps, games, and contests. The typical lineup of social channels may no longer be enough to keep audiences engaged.

Looking for ideas to help your brand get the most out of your cross-channel campaigns? Check out the Field Guide to Cross-Channel Marketing.

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