The Tonight Show | A look at the treasure hunt mechanic

Whilst travelling, I’ve been observing how UK, EU and US brands are currently handling digital and posting some of my finds. The series kicked off with Revlon and today we’re looking at The Tonight Show.

It’s no secret that The Tonight Show has seen great success integrating Social Media into their line-up. The show makes effective use of several social media platforms, hashtags and user-generated content in order to attract a younger audience. They’re playing with consumers on Vine, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube and Facebook. Meme’s, gifs and a slick content strategy – their social team is all over it.  We’ve seen hits like the #hashtag song with JT, strong use of user-generated content and even a weekly, New York based #ticketsat12 treasure hunt.

social case study tonight show

Now let’s talk about #ticketsat12. This is a weekly treasure hunt for 2 Tonight Show VIP tickets that occurs every Thursday in New York city. The Tonight show introduces the giveaway on Twitter and then instructs consumers to add them on Snapchat, in order to see their story or clue if you will. They’re leveraging their strong Twitter audience beautifully here. The clue directs followers to a location in New York city where The Tonight Show’s intern is waiting with two VIP tickets for the lucky winner. After releasing the clue on Snapshat, consumers have roughly an hour to make it to the mystery location and spot the intern in her trenchcoat and fedora.

tonight show social case study

Whilst in New York, I played the game. I wanted to see what the uptake of this activation was like and lastly what could be learnt from one of the strongest Social teams in the world. Plus I’ve recommended and executed social-based treasure hunts for clients without ever actually participating in one myself. The snapchat story was released and the treasure hunt began. On arrival at the location, there were already two girls there  and as the minutes ticked by, roughly another 20 people arrived in the hopes of landing tickets. The crowd was pretty much bang on the Snapchat demographic –  young, majority female – and mostly local New Yorkers with a few foreigners.

Now here is where the mechanic starts to break down.

The crowd got talking (effectively I ended up with a focus group) and swopped hearsay and stories about previous games. The sentiment was surprisingly negative – despite this, the young consumers hadn’t been dissuaded from playing the game. Due to the rarity of these tickets, they and the game has become  increasingly popular – to the point where the intern had been mobbed at the previous week’s giveaway. It turned out that there was no fair method to selecting a winner and it boiled down to who made eye-contact with the intern first. In previous instances this equated to whoever had shoved their face in front of the intern first. Hmm, this isn’t nice for the consumer nor the intern.

social case study tonight show

The intern arrived, the crowd discovered her and a girl who made eye contact first won the tickets. Now you cannot please everyone, but it did leave a sour taste in the mouth of the young consumers who bemoaned the show and the lack of fairness. I particularly felt for the girl on her third attempt who had been waiting longer than anyone else. Ouch. On a positive note, The Tonight Show then followed up on both Twitter and Snapchat with a snap of the winners – nice – a lot of brands forget to close the story loop.

tonight show social media study

So their intern is getting mobbed (people can be so tiresome) and the negative WOM sentiment seems to be growing with each iteration of the game.  Now  we know that we can’t please everybody and that treasure hunt mechanics work, but how can we as marketers curb the disappointment and make these experiences more positive for consumers and the brand? To be clear, this post isn’t pointing fingers at the Tonight team – they are kicking ass and taking names at Social. In fact, I’m just as guilty, having recommended clients activation with the very similar mechanics. Digital Marketing is constantly evolving and this post is about digital marketers can improve these experiences for the consumer.

So how do we learn, tweak and improve?

Follow the same initial process –  announce the challenge on the social platforms and leverage the stronger community. BUT –  make the tickets the treasure and not the intern. Direct consumers to a meeting point, instead of a treasure point. Hide the tickets before hand (or perhaps even in a separate location) and once they’re all assembled, the intern – complete with trench and fedora – kicks off the hunt for the tickets. This could even take the form of another snapchat story and increase the social longevity of the hunt.

This will keep the excitement up and still leverage the novelty of the intern, yet level the playing field and keep the brand experience as positive as possible. From now on, I’ll be recommending digital activations like the above with these insights in mind. It’s all fun and games until a consumer feels cheated – see what I did there?

Take the above treasure hunt mechanic, apply it to your brand and see where you can make it better for your consumer. Or have you tried a treasure hunt? Did it work, or did it bomb?

If you have any insights or learnings you’d like to share, please feel free to add in the comments below.

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