Zombies, huh?

Open Letter to Ace Hardware Corporation RE: Sundance Zombie Flick

Dear Ace Hardware,

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

When my facebook news feed updated itself on Saturday to include a new post with your reaction to a “deplorable” film filled with “violence” that featured the Ace brand, my curiosity was naturally piqued.  So I investigated. It was hard to find the film in question with the narrow search criteria you’d provided me: Ace Hardware, violence, video. With a little bit of digging, I was able to find it, ironically because Google picked up your statement on the film’s youtube page…

Anyway, the film in question, I learned, was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. And it was about zombies. Specifically, it said that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, Ace was indeed “the place.”

I stuck with the film – all 9 minutes – to the end, which is where I believe the content can be found which prompted your ire.  After having done so, I found myself going back to read your statement. I was at a complete and utter loss for understanding. Could the film I’d just watched really be the one you were so passionately condemning? The one where the employee being filmed knows every product that can be found in his store, and all its myriad uses? His worst transgression is voicing that part of him would have a little fun if some of the zombies (i.e., already-dead people who eat the brains of the living) he had to kill off were the customers who once pestered him with stupid questions.

Time out. I get it, Ace. There are no such thing as stupid questions. No excuse for wishing your customers would become zombies so that you could take your retail aggression out on them. Except…we sort of all know there actually are stupid questions, and customers who are assholes. But still, I get it. But I only get it enough for a statement that reads something along the lines of:

Ace is aware of the recent film, “When the Zombies Come,” and though we don’t condone impatience with customer questions or violent behavior of any kind, we will always be the helpful place — even in a zombie apocalypse.

But Ace, that’s not what you wrote. This is:

Ace Hardware was not aware that a deplorable video encouraging violent behavior was produced and we did not approve the use of our brand or store in the filming of that video. We are aghast and outraged that these individuals used our nationally recognized brand in this film. This video does not in any way represent Ace Hardware and the thousands of hardworking Ace employees that are knowledgeable, friendly and dedicated to serving Ace customers. We are making every effort to remove this video from all online sources. We greatly value our customers as well as our “helpful” brand image and are deeply offended by the content of this video.

Now, I know this was an executive decision. It probably was the result of many meetings and careful wordsmithing. But, for the record, you used the words deplorable, aghast, outraged and offended to describe this video. The one about zombies.

And then the plot thickened.  You didn’t just post the statement; you followed through. You forced the young filmmaker to take down a film that was winning Sundance’s competition for most views – when I saw it, it had something like 150,000.  For a while, the zombie film disappeared. Then it returned, and began gaining traction again. So you reposted your notice. (Remember that thing about how your statement on the film’s page makes it easier for people to find the film? More on that in a moment.)

Next, you had the student employee in the film fired. He was fired? As in, no longer able to earn an income? Because of his zombie obsession? Jeez, Ace.

What’s next? Pulling the film from Sundance? Are you going to use your corporate attorneys to ask a judge to order a cease and desist situation? I don’t know much about the law, but I do know that at least two retailers who are part of the Ace Hardware family asked you on your facebook page to direct your time and resources elsewhere.  In other words: not on college students and their film, which pose no *actual* threat to your brand image.

I’m really asking you, Ace. How far are you really going to take this? How many lives are you willing to impact negatively, over a zombie film? A film that was almost impossible to find online when all this began? A film that even once found highlights just how versatile your stock is?

Since your statement, news outlets have been picking up the zombie video story. (Because Google works that way. The more places something is talked about online, the more easily it can be found. Even when the ones doing the talking are wanting to keep something on the D.L.) And here’s the part I don’t think you bargained for. The main subject is not how deplorable the film is… but whether your reaction to it makes any sense. So every day that passes, more are reporting on Ace Hardware’s reaction to the zombie film.

Now, rather than never knowing about the zombie video in question…we can all stay up to date on the latest news on that film and you by entering in a very simple query: Ace Hardware + zombies + video + sundance. By the way, the results of that search are very interesting, because… apparently, last year, one of your biggest regional retailer groups won acclaim from marketing organizations for its award-winning campaign based on… the zombie apocalypse. The fact that Ace Hardware has its own zombie videos is really confusing some of your customers who are trying to piece this whole sordid thing together.

The point, Ace, is that I used to follow you on Facebook and Twitter. You were fun, good-natured, and just about the best answer to the corporate hardware jerks we all know to be your competitors, like Home Depot. The ones who issue statements about huge issues like marriage equality and gun ownership. But now… you use your previously friendly, fun-loving channels to issue heavy-handed statements of condemnation?  This film — this small film made by a young college filmmaker who got his big break in Sundance because of a creative take on the role of the hardware store in tomorrow’s zombie mythology – it changed you. It changed my image of you.

And it changed my commitment to you. You’re not the helpful place I used to know. You’re the corporate giant that people [who love zombies] love to hate. The uptight corporate so-and-so’s who probably represent the real zombie apocalypse. And like the rest of them, you’re here to eat our brains. 

Well, while we still have our brains, we’re using them. And we’ll be watching the news, hoping this comes around as it should, if you really do pursue this thing as you’ve promised: with a reaction as disproportionately negative for you as yours was to this whole situation. Or… you could stop compounding the wrong-headed direction of this. We hope that’s the way it goes.  

Learn how to spot a good thing when you’ve got it. From your audience to the free exposure that film could have gotten you. Today’s market likes zombies. And judging by all the negative comments on your original facebook post and on your Wall, as well as on your twitter feed… it doesn’t particularly care for you. It sees your pursuit as executive stubbornness — not a just pursuit. 

Your public (and customers) will see soon enough which path you’ll choose. Because now there’s an official RedDit about Ace’s reaction to “When the Zombies Come” in addition to all that’s come before it… and I have the feeling this is far from over as far as the social media is concerned.

It’s called social media, Ace, because it gives you the opportunity to both talk and listen. So, listen. Listen to what the people are saying. They are your market. That’s what consumer marketers do. They listen.

We get it, we really do. But we’re wondering if you do, and we’re watching to see.

Sincerely,

Some people who care about the bigger picture

PS: We noticed that you’ve dropped the word “deplorable” from your statements — at least the ones that appear on YouTube. Seems like you might be getting the message. Next, you might remove the words “aghast” and “outraged” and “deeply offended.” Here’s hoping.