Hardware store manager Mike Dowling wants to be clear: His shovels might slow an attacking zombie, but you'll to need something else to put the final nail in the creature's coffin.
"I wouldn't say it's for killing zombies," the veteran Omaha store manager said. "But it's helpful for cleaning up if you ever have to."
In a pop-culture world of zombie marches, video games and television shows, one regional hardware chain has taken the novel approach of actively marketing power tools and garden implements as protection against the undead.
And not to leave out the walking dead, Westlake Ace Hardware's online "Zombie Preparedness Center" has a "Me zombie" section touting bolts and fasteners for broken bones, glue and caulk for peeling skin, and deodorizers to freshen up decaying flesh. Lose a limb? Try duct tape!
Marketing experts say such out-of-the-box campaigns can give smaller companies a competitive foothold.
"It's a great way to create brand awareness," said University of Nebraska Lincoln marketing professor Rob Simon. "But there is a risk. Say you have a jewelry store that was going to do something like that. In that case, it would really diminish what you're selling."
Westlake executives say they initially were reluctant to associate products with horror film imagery, and the campaign shies away from serious blood-and-gore. One blurb in the pre-Halloween campaign advertises chain saws "for clearing away hedges blocking your view of oncoming zombies." Nail guns are for "zombie intimidation."
"I was a little worried that we might be a little too out there, that people might take offense," said Liz Benditt, Westlake's director of customer relationship development. "But if anything, (the effect) has been the opposite."
The campaign launched last week originated with Bozell, an Omaha public relations and advertising firm. Scott Bishop, the company's director of social influence, said members of the firm's creative staff wandered the hardware store aisles and jotted notes on how items could help or halt the undead.
"We found that zombies have a very, very huge following," Bishop said. "It's very much a part of our pop culture right now."
Benditt said the risk has paid off well so far for Lenexa, Kan.-based chain, which has 88 stores scattered through Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. She said web traffic has increased, and store managers said they've seen more potential customers coming into stores. It's not yet clear if that's led to increased sales.
The campaign is so popular that some stores that haven't yet received the zombie displays are clamoring to get them.
Alan Kulhanek, general manager for a Lincoln, Neb., store, said he's waiting for his zombie display, but several customers have already come in asking to see it.
"It's off the wall. It's odd," he said. "But it's fun. You never know how well something's going to work until you try it."
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