Tapping Into Code Hunting

Code hunting? What’s that?

That was my reaction when I sat down last week with our executive director of emerging platforms, Chad Stoller. He mentioned code hunting as an emerging opportunity for marketers. Indeed, it’s an interesting new play for marketers who are targeting a tech-savvy audience.

Here’s a brief recap of our conversation.

Mark Kingdon: What’s code hunting all about?

Chad Stoller: Haven’t you ever searched the Web for a hot deal or Googled for promotional codes? We all have. Think of code hunting as a way for brands to give customers insider pricing or exclusive deals. Customers have to hunt around for these deals and often have the opportunity to combine offers and get a “ridiculous deal.” Essentially, brands can leave a breadcrumb trail of information enthusiastic consumers can follow — with a reward at the end — whether it’s information, clues to a game, or a special deal.

MK: But don’t people do this anyway? What’s in it for the brands?

CS: That’s exactly right. People are doing this anyway. Have you seen the article from Joystiq about how folks anxiously awaiting the introduction of the Nintendo Wii found a quirk on Amazon — a preorder test — and Amazon honored the preorders? Essentially, these orders slipped through the cracks during a site maintenance window. Wii fans found the flaw almost immediately, and word spread quickly. People are constantly out trolling for insider deals and loopholes; that’s what hot consumer brands inspire — people who spend hours hunting. For them, it’s a fun game.

Here’s another example, intended or not. Earlier this year, Target broke the launch date of the Nintendo DS Lite and some stores were selling the devices earlier than they should have. Rumors and newsbreaks through the gaming blogosphere set off a nationwide DS hunt, where Nintendo fanboys stormed Target stores looking for the new device. They listed stores with the device on a Frappr map. The race for social currency was on, as locals wanted to be the first in their community to report on the status of their local Target, while also wanting to be the first one on the block with an icy white DS Lite. Regardless of whether or not this street date break was preplanned or not, a lot of people in the incredibly vocal gaming community were buzzing about Target and Nintendo.

MK: Social or cultural currency is the biggest reward, then. It sounds like the folks who found the special Wii offer were just as excited to share their discovery as they were to get a preorder secured.

CS: Social currency is incredibly powerful. People love to follow the white rabbit and be the first to know. And brands have an opportunity to fuel this behavior. Code hunters are usually the ones who are most passionate about your brand and the most vocal when it comes to your brand’s word of mouth.

MK: If marketers want to set up a code hunt, what should they be thinking about?

CS: Two things. First, the offers need to feel secret and special. That’s what increases the value of the social currency. Code hunters want to feel like they’re beating the system.

MK: Of course, brands have to carefully walk that line so that they aren’t misleading customers. (Read the WOMMA ethics statement for more on this.)

CS: Absolutely. And news about big finds travels faster if code is placed on “comment-able” Web sites so people can buzz about their wins.

MK: So code hunting is like a treasure hunt without a map?

CS: That right. And marketers need to make sure that the hunter’s journey is worth their time. There’s nothing worse than panning for gold only to learn your shiny nuggets are pyrite.

MK: It probably doesn’t make sense for Betty Crocker to promote cake mix with code hunting since they can just post a coupon on CoolSavings. So what kinds of brands should take a look at code hunting?

CS: Good point. Code hunting works particularly well for cultural brands with a passionate and engaged following that are willing to go the extra mile to find something unique, special, and exclusive. We actually did something in the vein of code hunting when our client’s new vehicle, the 2007 Jeep Compass, sponsored the ABC show “Lost” with the “Lost Experience” this summer. Bits of information were scattered all over the Web.

Wrap Up

Interesting, isn’t it? People are naturally inquisitive, and the Internet is the perfect platform to feed that need in a way that makes brand loyalists active brand participants and advocates. Code hunting fulfills the ultimate promise of word-of-mouth marketing. And it gives your customers something interesting to talk about.

Happy hunting.

Vote for your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 30 through close of business (5 pm EST) on November 8. Winners will be announced on November 13.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.