Beer + Puzzles = Viral Marketing Hijinks

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[Image courtesy of Busch]

We recently discussed the art of viral marketing in our post about an upcoming Cartoon Network show. This year alone, we’ve seen some very clever viral marketing techniques — the Game of Thrones promotion that had people scouring the globe for replicas of the Iron Throne comes to mind — and last week, the folks at Busch Beer got in on the puzzly fun.

The concept was simple: launch a pop-up shop (a short-term retail venue where the location and the brief duration are selling points for the store) in a secret location and leave clues for interested customers to follow in order to find it.

News stories like this one hyping the Busch Pop Up “Schop” began appearing all over the Internet on July 15th and 16th.

The promises were intriguing. Limited-edition merchandise. Free beer. The commitment to plant a hundred trees in a national forest for every visitor who makes it to the Schop. Plus, a random drawing where one lucky visitor wins Busch Beer for life.

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[Image courtesy of Busch.]

After the launch video, additional clips with clues were posted once or twice a day from the 17th to the 19th.

On the 17th, solvers received this clue: Kansas to the left of me / Illinois to the right / here I am stuck in ____ with you. Can you guess what state I’m in?

On the 18th, they received this clue: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I’m actually in the forest. Can you guess which one?

Later the day, another clue appeared: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Which is why I can tell you I’m in an area with a lot of vertical wooden objects.

On the 19th, they offered a final clue: First syllable: Abel’s brother. Second syllable: Rhymes with duck. Can you guess where the trailhead starts?

Later that day, they made things less opaque: Ok, final clue. If you were hypothetically hiking to the Busch Pop Up Schop, you might hypothetically start at the Kaintuck Hollow Trailhead. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So, from the clue on the 17th, we got the state: Missouri. By the 18th, we knew it was the Mark Twain National Forest. And the day before the event, we even knew where to start hiking: Kaintuck Hollow Trailhead.

On the day of, the Busch Twitter account shared the following advice:

-No need to hurry, you do not have to be first to arrive to win, it will be a random draw after we close
-We’re open 10AM-5PM
-Bring your hiking boots
-Stay hydrated, it’s going to be a hot one

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[Image courtesy of Ryan James Hausmann.]

Unfortunately, the “No need to hurry” line looked quite bad in retrospect.

It seems that Busch severely underestimated the number of people who would be attending. (The expected number seemed to be between 75 and a few hundred people.) Though the event was scheduled to run from 10 AM to 5 PM, they reportedly closed off the Pop Up Schop by 10:30 AM because they’d already reached capacity. (Some online reports said they closed the shop by 9:30 AM, before the event had even officially started.)

Naturally, since these are anecdotal reports, details are contradictory, but the vast majority claim that the merch was gone quickly, attendees either got a warm beer or no beer at all, and the only consolation rested in the fact that you could still sign up for the free beer for life contest before being turned away.

According to one attendee on Twitter:

We walked there and were told we couldn’t go up the trail because they were at capacity and out of beer and merchandise. We got to enter for the drawing, hike back to the car and attempt to turn around on a one lane road.

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[Image courtesy of Nick Schmidt.]

A few later reports suggest the Pop Up Schop was restocked at some point, given that there are stories of attendees arriving between 1:30 and 3:30 and getting drinks. Perhaps they were simply overwhelmed by the early morning onslaught… or maybe the promotional team was doing damage control and seeding a few positive reports in with the negative feedback. It’s hard to say given the general lack of coverage for the event. (Despite the many reports hyping the event, as far as I can tell, none followed up with the results of the promotion.)

Either way, a viral marketing campaign with great traction and excellent turnout had a lackluster result. Hopefully those who made the journey had fun and the marketing team learned something from all this.

And, in their defense, it does seem that many people enjoyed the adventure, even if the end result didn’t exactly meet their expectations. The staff was routinely praised for their professionalism and grace under tough conditions (especially in 100 degree weather).

There’s always next time. I mean, a summer day, a nice hike, a puzzle, and free beer? That sounds like a recipe for major turnout to me.


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