This attraction is dead set on attracting visitors

Instagram influencers are officially (un)dead in Ottawa. For the past few days, a man made up like a zombie has been popping up around the city holding handwritten cardboard signs displaying witty messages like “Normalize brains for breakfast,” “Stop saying ‘I literally died,'” “Beyond Meat isn’t fooling anyone,” and “Choose friends you can outrun.”

Dubbed “Dead with Sign,” the zombie is part of a new promotional campaign for a Halloween attraction called The Sawmill Haunt. Created by Halifax agency Wunder in partnership with Ottawa design agency Craft&Crew—whose CEO Dave Hale produces The Sawmill Haunt—the campaign is living (or not) on an Instagram account that will continue with daily posts through Oct. 31.

Wunder creative director Stephen Flynn jokingly suggests that the agency had no choice but to use a “dead” sign guy after failing in its efforts to recruit the hugely popular Instagram personality “Dude with Sign” for the awareness campaign.

“We didn’t think it was feasible to get him given the project and budget,” said Flynn.

“Dude with Sign” has amassed more than 8 million followers for his daily posts that riff on everything from popular memes to news events, while brands including Charmin, GrubHub and Bud Light have also featured him in campaigns. He also appeared in a post featuring U.S. President Joe Biden urging people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Dead with Sign” currently has a tiny fraction of his predecessor’s following, but Flynn said he’s been encouraged by social sharing and some media pick-up by outlets like Narcity. “It’s a bit of a slow burn. We’re essentially creating and growing an influencer from zero,” he said. “Someone follows and thinks it’s funny and they do a story share, and more followers drip in.” (Which, when you think about it, is exactly how a zombie horde grows.)

The Sawmill Haunt is also targeting rival attractions such as movie theatres. One post shows “Dead with Sign” standing outside one of the city’s main escape rooms holding a sign reading “Escape rooms take too long.”

“It’s a little quicker and more fun going to The Sawmill Haunt,” said Flynn. “It’s more exciting than jiggling locks and keys for an hour.” The escape room does, however, require some braaaains.

Chris Powell