With Easter fast approaching this Sunday, this week seemed a perfect opportunity to discuss the value of Easter Eggs for small business marketing efforts. While this may bring to mind hidden colored hard-boiled specimens that go unnoticed under your couch until the smell becomes unmistakable sometime around Memorial Day, that’s not what this Tip is about. Nor is it about the many varieties of chocolate eggs that are laid in abundance this time of year (though one can’t argue with the marketing value of gifting these luscious confections to customers).

Today, we’re discussing the media related Easter Egg—a hidden gem in a video game, DVD, software program, website, or even published article or piece of computer hardware—designed to surprise and delight the people who find it. According to Wikipedia, the first Easter Eggs were found in late 1970s video games. And while the first is largely attributed to Warren Robinett, who inserted his name into the 1979 Atari’s Adventure game to gain recognition for his work, the post notes that an earlier example in the 1978 game Video Whizball has been confirmed.

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The History of Easter Eggs

Though the concept of Easter Eggs dates back much further than that. A Brief History of Easter Eggs in Tech from Gizmodo suggests that the concept dates to the Russian Imperial Family’s practice of giving gifts of Fabergé eggs, which contained additional secret gifts inside. And the NY Times notes a 1955 journal article in which, unbeknownst to the Nobel-prize winning main author, a graduate student included a tiny fisherman in the accompanying illustration. The key to a real Easter Egg according to EGGS.com (The Easter Egg Archive) is that it satisfies five criteria: It is undocumented, hidden, and non-obvious, it is reproducible by anyone who properly attempts to access it; it is inserted by creators for personal reasons; it is not malicious code; and it is entertaining.

Easter Egg cheat codes in video games (which originated with codes used by developers to aid testing) took off in the 1980s, most notably with the Japanese game company Konami which made bestselling games for Nintendo. Ask any old-school gamer (think the 50 year old programmer with a Pac Man T-Shirt), and they will likely regale you with stories of the secrets they unlocked and the levels they beat with ‘The Konami Code’: Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right B, A (and then Start if on a game console)—in case you wondered. (Note: If you’re into 1980s video game Easter Eggs, a great read is Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.)

Modern Easter Egg Examples

However, Easter Eggs certainly don’t stop at video games. They can be found in movies (as in the famous eggs purportedly left over from an actual staff egg hunt that made the final cut of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and more recent surprises in the trailer for the upcoming Ghostbusters movie), in software (the Flight Simulator game found in Excel from Microsoft’s Office 97, which was resurrected in Windows 7 & 8), and in websites across the Internet spanning everything from the /ponystream in Google Hangouts and the hidden TARDIS in Google Maps to a hidden message that was revealed when the image promoting Tesla’s Model X was adjusted in Photoshop. For more fun examples of Easter Eggs, see 19 Of The Greatest Easter Eggs Hidden Around The Web. (NOTE: Many of these are triggered by typing the Konami Code)

Implementing Easter Eggs for Small Business Marketing (Online and Off)

OK, enough fun with Easter Eggs, how can you put them to use in your small business marketing?

The simplest way is to include hidden Easter Egg messages on your website that your customers can find and share. As a very basic example, you could include a coupon code that is revealed if a website visitor mouses-over an image on a web page.

Take that one step further, and create your very own website Easter Egg hunt. Start with hunt instructions and an initial clue hidden under a prominent image on your homepage or on a landing page, and then integrate additional elements throughout your site. You might use a successive set of hidden clues that eventually bring the visitor to the coupon-code “Prize.” Or, you could include one character of your coupon code under each of multiple images and require your customer to collect them all and put them in the correct order to claim the discount or special offer. (See this post for instructions on how to implement this type of Easter Egg)

This type of promotion works on several levels. It engages your customers with your website, perhaps leading them to visit pages and read about products and services that they might not otherwise have investigated. It also provides a discount, which can help boost sales. And, it gives your customers a reason to post about you on social media. After all, human nature dictates that if someone figures out a secret they’ll want to boast about it. In the best of all possible worlds, this leads to your Easter Egg going viral and drawing throngs to your site to “discover” it themselves.

Of course, if your Easter Egg is a discount code the first person on the scene can simply post the final code and thus defeat your marketing campaign. (Though if the coupon creates sales and generates new customers, that is not necessarily a bad thing.) That’s why so many Easter Eggs are not directly sales oriented. Instead they are humorous videos, surprising screen behaviors, and anything that is just plain fun and unexpected. A great example is the Blue Fountain Media page not found 404 error message, which is actually a real live Pac Man game, with the board in the shape of “404.”

In the Blue Fountain Media example, you unexpectedly come upon the Easter Egg if you attempt to access a page that doesn’t exist on their website. Another way to implement the Easter Egg is to include code on your webpage that listens for a certain behavior and executes a function when it is detected. For example, you might turn all the text on the page purple, drop kittens from the sky (a la Zappos), or play an off-the-wall video, if a visitor types the Konami Code, or any other sequence you choose. You can even include code that will enable you to use Google Analytics to track the number of people who uncover your Easter Egg. (See this post for instructions on how to implement this type of Easter Egg using simple JavaScript.)

Of course, you needn’t restrict Easter Eggs to online media, you can use them as part of any customer interaction. For example, you could include a hidden code on gift certificates you issue that will enable the recipient to take advantage of an additional free service if they mention it. Or, you could randomly place products marked with highly-reduced prices around your store, and honor them for any customer who presents one at the register. You get the idea.

Starting the Easter Egg Hunt Off on the Right Foot

However you implement your Easter Eggs, don’t neglect to drop at least a few hints about them. Remember, a true Easter Egg is not easy to find, so it is important to nudge people into looking. You might try something as oblique as a clue embedded in the image you want people to hover over; you could include an Easter Egg field on your checkout form to encourage people to search for a hidden code; you could take a cue from the video game industry and “leak” your egg to a select few with the wink-wink instruction to keep it quiet; or you might simply announce via Facebook or Twitter that something is up on the site and challenge people to join the hunt. If you’re lucky it will only take a little bit of sly hinting on your part to encourage your customers to take up the challenge, and keep the hunt alive via their own social media postings.

Just remember, the key to a successful Easter Egg campaign (as with a successful Easter Egg confection) is to leave a good taste in your customers’ mouths that will not only strengthen their loyalty to your brand, but will also encourage them to share their experience, and high opinion of your company, with others.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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