US government guidelines to prepare for a zombie attack

This week, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“your online source for credible health information”) posted a notice on preparing for a zombie apocalypse.

Such a piece will spread online wonderfully, because of the discrepancy between the host (a government agency) and the topic (a fictitious thread of popular culture). I read about it through a tweet by Maître Éolas, a French lawyer who sports over 35,000 followers, because of his witty tone and informative choice of topics. In the context of heightened anti-American sentiment in France (always present, but exacerbated because of the DSK episode), Éolas’s pointer is hugely topical. No French ministry would condone such a fun approach.

The CDC’s web traffic probably jumped. A quick look at’s aggregate stats for the page show nearly 43,000 clicks through’s own links, 15,600 tweets, nearly 134,000 shares, 82,000 “likes” and 123,000 comments on Facebook — not bad at all for a piece of content that’s been up for just a week. And of course it’s done PR wonders (906 news articles picked up by Google news, and both positive and negative video reports).

Does it work? I would think so: the standards of government reliability are upheld, as the copy is tongue-in-the-cheek, and quotes Wikipedia and movies as sources of inspiration. But the payload is there: a compact version of the CDC’s emergency preparedness kit. This is a nice example of dual-purpose content: one layer to attract people and get them to talk and share, one layer of serious stuff that piggybacks on the controversial or humorous topic. All news stories dutifully pick up on the actual message.

I’m less convinced by the social media campaign where people are asked to create videos or to use badges. It’s a bit too complicated, the call to action is not very decisive and the instructions are confused — I think that part will not work. A quick look at Twitter mentions lists only buzz about the article, no video contribution. Same over at YouTube.

An issue that comes back regularly in people’s comments: the Rapture. Whoever planned this zombie campaign at the CDC either didn’t think of, or didn’t have the guts to ride on this actual existing topic. It could have been much more powerful because it’s topical, and even a Doonesbury cartoon would then have echoed the CDC’s message. It could also have drowned out the message in the mass of other humorous takes on the issue. And of course it could have totally back-fired if religious nuts had taken offense: zombies were perhaps the safer choice!

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