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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“Infinity Train” Arrives Soon With Some Puzzly Ideas (and Viral Marketing)

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Puzzles pop up all over the television landscape, whether you’re expecting them or not. For instance, while watching an old episode of The Sopranos the other day, I was surprised to see a Crostic puzzle from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles in the hands of an FBI agent on the show.

You never know where puzzly ideas will show up, though thanks to a recent viral campaign, we do have some details on the latest Cartoon Network show with a puzzle element.

Infinity Train.

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[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Based on an 8-minute short film by Owen Dennis — who worked as both writer and storyboard editor for Regular ShowInfinity Train is an adventure/mystery series featuring a student named Tulip who has a knack for coding and solving puzzles. Tulip ends up on the titular train, discovering not only endless strange worlds inside the train, but dangerous foes and a puzzly mystery to solve.

The folks at Cartoon Network even whipped up a puzzle-fueled challenge for interested viewers.

It started with this brief teaser trailer for the show:

A link in the description box on YouTube directed folks to this website, where a piano puzzle — similar to the one from The Goonies — awaits:

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Intrepid solvers quickly figured out that the solution to the puzzle is to play that brief melody you heard in the teaser. If you press (in order) D, B, G, and F#, a full trailer plays as your reward, revealing more scenes from the upcoming TV show.

It’s a cool piece of viral marketing that definitely sparked greater interest in the show, and even before the first episode has aired, fans are already speculating about the infinite train, the strange number on Tulip’s hand that changes depending on her actions, and the sinister characters that want her to “return to her seat.”

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[Image courtesy of Infinity Train Fans.]

There is an intriguing mix of danger and excitement to the proceedings, as Tulip and her companions seem eager to unravel the train’s many mysteries, but never forget that they are in peril. It’s a tough tightrope to walk narratively, but if done correctly, it will add tension and drama to the show’s puzzly premise.

Given how much fun — and how challenging — solvers found some of the puzzles connected to Gravity Falls, there’s real potential for those same solvers to find new joys with Infinity Train.

Only time will tell.

Oh, and hey, here’s the full trailer in case you couldn’t crack the piano puzzle:


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You Could Claim the Iron Throne in this Game of Thrones Scavenger Hunt!

The final season of HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones is fast approaching — the first episode of the 8th season airs April 14th — and HBO has gone all out to promote the end of the epic saga of the Starks, the Lannisters, Daenerys Targaryen, and the numerous other families and factions vying for the Iron Throne.

But as it turns out, they’re not the only ones hunting for the throne. Fans around the world have been puzzling out the locations of replica thrones hidden across the globe over the last week.

As news of this incredible scavenger hunt started to go viral earlier this week, four of the six thrones had already been located. Scattered across Europe were the first four thrones: Björkliden, Sweden; Puzzlewood, England; Atienza, Spain; and Beberibe, Brazil.

The Throne of Ice was yet to be discovered, and there were no hints yet as to the possible location of the sixth and final throne.

But as of yesterday, the Throne of Ice was found.

Tucked away in a small mountain town in the Canadian side of the Rocky Mountains, the Throne of Ice was discovered by Birgit Sharman and her husband Kevin in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia — the first throne found outside Europe.

From an article on BGR:

HBO is taking the promotion pretty seriously, it seems. Two men wearing fur coats, presumably of the Stark clan, were waiting on the throne to be found and put a crown on Birgit’s head that she was allowed to keep and which she showed off via her Facebook page.

One throne remains to be found. But where? And what surprises await those who find it?

The Game of Thrones Instagram page offers this picture and hint:

Its location is unknown for now, but one thing is for certain: fans won’t soon forget this amazing moment when the show brought a little bit of Westeros to life.


Update: The sixth throne was found!

Located in Fort Totten Park, NY, the Throne of the Crypt will be left in place until April 1st, so if you’re looking for a killer photo opportunity, you’ve got it.

The Game of Thrones Twitter page posted this photo about half an hour ago to indicate the sixth and final throne had been found.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Potter Puzzle edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’ve got another anagram story for you.

Harry Potter fans are one of the most enthusiastic and devoted fanbases in the world. The Boy Wizard’s fans are legion, and they’re ready to pounce on any little nugget that might reveal new Potter-centric projects in the works.

So when author J.K. Rowling posted this mysterious tweet, the fanbase exploded with excitement and intrigue:

It was immediately recognized as an anagram, and naturally, the fanbase hoped this was news of more Harry Potter content to come, perhaps even a new novel featuring their favorite hero.

Soon after, a solution was posted!

Harry returns! Won’t say any details now. A week off. No comment.

To the disappointment of many, Rowling replied that this wasn’t the correct solution.

But just 24 hours after the tweet went live, a Harry Potter fan and Ph.D. student at the University of Sheffield replied with another possible solution:

Newt Scamander only meant to stay in New York for a few hours.

J.K. Rowling quickly replied, confirming the answer and congratulating the solver.

The answer references Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off title set in the Harry Potter universe that is set to become a trilogy of movies. Apparently, this sentence summarizes Newt’s story in the forthcoming screenplay and film.

In a world where teasers and viral marketing can make or break a franchise, I suspect we’ll see more and more puzzles like this to keep fans invested between movies or novels.

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