Attempting to stave off extinction, the paper launched what they hoped would be the greatest puzzle hunt of all time. Wrapped in a Sherlock Holmes-type story, each week the paper revealed clues about treasure medallions hidden in cities all over the country. Readers were supposed to buy copies of the paper (increase readership and circulation!), solve the clues, and finally go out and find the treasure medallions. Well, the paper got more than it bargained for, as crazed readers all over the country started digging up roadways, public squares, and neighbors' flower beds in an effort to uncover the medallions. Thousands of people were arrested for destroying public property. And finally, the paper had to quit the treasure hunt early after getting sued by the state for being an accomplice to the rampant destruction.
You may not have heard about this because it didn't happen recently. It happened in January of 1904.
The full story is here in this account by British journalist Paul Slade, Trench Warfare: London's Treasure Hunt Riots. (via Metafilter)
There are many incredible things in this story - and I highly recommend reading the whole thing - but, what stuck out to me was how much this sounded exactly like the kind of "viral" or "guerrilla" campaign we might try to create today.
Embedding a puzzle into a print publication to increase sales? (Wired anyone?) Hiding stories inside of stories to give people a reason to dig deeper? Creating something so remarkable that it captures the curiosity and imagination of an entire country?
Let's not be precious about the format we choose. It's all been done before. Human nature hasn't changed. And the kinds of experiences that people find compelling haven't changed. Our chance to be creative lies in the stories we create and the tools we use to tell them (e.g. any Pixar movie). So, rather than patting ourselves on the back for reinventing the wheel, let's celebrate the moments when we use what's unique about digital media to create an experience for people that they never imagined was possible.