Hide and Seek: Why Scavenger Hunts Are Becoming Popular Again

As we’ve learned over the last year, event industry pros have been forced to get creative with experiential marketing campaigns and activations, looking to the future with virtual and avatars and repurposing the past with tried-and-true ideas like mailers. One of those event formats that seems to be enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity lately is scavenger hunts.

While not a new concept, these types of activations, whether in person or virtual, have become a way for brands such as Perrier and Coors to safely engage consumers and fans and generate buzz during the pandemic without the need for large in-person gatherings.

In December 2020, at ComplexLand, an immersive virtual version of the popular ComplexCon, Perrier hosted a digital scavenger hunt as part of the promotion for the Perrier x Murakami collection, a collaboration with artist Takashi Murakami. Via daily scavenger hunts in the form of merchandise drops, fans were able to score T-shirts, hoodies, tote bags, notebooks and even collectibles signed by Murakami himself. ComplexLand participants were alerted to the drops and then had to search the virtual environment with their custom avatar to find and unlock the Perrier prizes.

Perrier hosted a digital scavenger hunt as part of its promotion of the Perrier x Murakami collection, a collaboration with artist Takashi Murakami.Photo: Courtesy of Perrier“In lieu of traditional sampling events due to the pandemic, we needed to get fans excited about one of our biggest artist collabs to-date with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami,” explained Thomas Conquet, marketing director of Nestle Premium Waters, Nestle USA, which owns Perrier. “This digital scavenger hunt with ComplexLand enabled Perrier to get limited-edition product into the hands of our biggest fans across the country in an interactive and innovative way, all without ever leaving their homes.”

In June, Coors Banquet sent fans on an IRL hunt for a fully restored ’77 Pontiac Firebird. Participants were asked to solve five clues that tie back to Coors Banquet’s heritage and history to unlock the different locations, where they needed to snap a selfie. Whoever was first to correctly solve the clues was handed the keys to the car and will receive Coors Banquet beer for a year.

“We created a unique, yet very on-brand way for Coors Banquet to celebrate the brand’s rich history. To bring our ‘Stolen, Smuggled and Sought After’ campaign to life we gave fans a chance to seek out the ultimate prize, a ’77 Firebird and Coors Banquet for a year,” said Stephanie Clanfield, marketing manager for Coors Banquet. “Brewed only in Colorado, Coors Banquet is legendary for The Trustees of Reservations used Flowcode's QR codes during its first annual South Shore Reindeer Quest.The Trustees of Reservations used Flowcode’s QR codes during its first annual South Shore Reindeer Quest.Photo: Courtesy of Flowcodebeing smuggled across state lines. We viewed the opportunity to send fans on the hunt for a car notoriously used to smuggle the golden liquid as the perfect way to kick off summer and remind people that Banquet has been so coveted that in the past, it was literally considered to be contraband.”

Unlike Perrier’s ComplexLand stunt, the Coors search only took place in Colorado, with participants receiving the first clue via email after registering. Hunters were required to take a selfie at the physical clue location and scan the QR code posted there to receive the next clue. The use of QR codes also gained renewed interest during the pandemic, as brands looked for contactless methods to engage with consumers. Plus, it allows brands to easily collect first-party data.

Flowcode works with brands and companies to create QR codes for contactless experiences including scavenger hunts. For example, The Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit land conservation and historic preservation organization dedicated to preserving natural and historical places in Massachusetts, used Flowcode’s QR codes during its first annual South Shore Reindeer Quest in January. The “reindeer” featured QR codes that could be scanned to reveal the reindeer’s characteristics.

Via a nationwide hunt, Travis Scott and his Cacti spiked seltzer brand invited fans to track down 100 signed cans that unlocked two tickets to the rapper’s sold-out Astroworld Festival.Via a nationwide hunt, Travis Scott and his Cacti spiked seltzer brand invited fans to track down 100 signed cans that unlocked two tickets to the rapper’s sold-out Astroworld Festival.Photo: Courtesy of Anheuser-BuschVia a nationwide hunt, Travis Scott and his Cacti spiked seltzer brand, which was developed with Anheuser-Busch, invited fans to track down 100 signed cans that unlocked two tickets to the rapper’s sold-out Astroworld Festival, which takes place in Houston on November 5 and 6. The specially-marked, limited-edition strawberry-flavored cans, which were hidden inside nine-count variety packs of Cacti at undisclosed retailers, also featured a custom Astroworld-themed wrap, as well as Scott’s signature. Fans have until July 31 to find the specialty cans. 

“We really wanted to do something special with Cacti for the fans who weren’t able to get their hands on Astroworld tickets,” the performer said in a press release about this twist on Willy Wonka’s golden ticket concept. Monica Rustgi, VP of marketing for Beyond Beer, a segment of Anheuser-Busch, said that “when we were building out the plan, we wanted to execute something that would excite our fanbase all summer long as we celebrate ‘The Summer of Cacti.'” She added that five of the 100 cans will be upgraded to V.I.P. Astroworld tickets when redeemed.

“[Scavenger hunts] are really great at activating consumers for an extended period of time versus a single day,” Rustgi said. “In addition to the initial launch of the campaign, you also see coverage and consumer conversation when the products are found and when the prizes are awarded.” 

The need to modify in-person events reaches beyond brands into the nonprofit world as well. For example, in October 2020, Cystic Fibrosis Canada created Quest4CF, a socially distanced scavenger hunt where individuals and teams ventured out in their cars to solve clues and riddles, while raising funds for the cystic fibrosis community. Teams were tasked with taking photos at various locations and landmarks in select communities across Canada.

“I believe brands will continue to explore a number of ways to host a hybrid mix of virtual and in-person experiences to safely reach fans far and wide as we continue to navigate the evolving landscape of experiential marketing post-COVID,” Conquet said. “Perrier, like many brands throughout the pandemic, explored a number of creative alternatives to established marketing strategies in order to maintain engagement with brand fans and uplift our consumers.”