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Poor Bernie Brewer, Pirates Stole the Treasure – A Digital Treasure Hunt Case Study


Over the last few weeks the Milwaukee Brewers rewarded their fans with a chance to win prizes through a scavenger hunt called “Where’s Bernie?”. Bernie, the team’s mascot, went missing from Miller Park and hid 1,400+ lawn ornaments throughout parks across the state of Wisconsin. Attached to the lawn ornaments were prizes ranging from multi-game ticket packs to player autographs. Fans could follow @Bernie_Brewer on Twitter to receive clues about where Bernie hid the ornaments.

Unfortunately, on the morning of May 24th, when fans were told the lawn ornaments were fair game, they discovered that pirates beat them to the treasure! Shortly after the 5am start, reports began drifted in that people took multiple ornaments, some pushed and shoved other participants out of the way, and a few of the ornaments popped up on Ebay at hefty prices. All of this turned out to be just the beginning of a PR nightmare for the Brewers. Take a second to Google “Where’s Bernie” and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Here are just a few of the headlines on the first page:

We will give the Brewers credit for taking a risk. They wanted to engage with their fans beyond the standard marketing channels and reward them with a fun, memorable experience. Unfortunately a greedy few scarred their efforts and it will live on in infamy in the Google machine.

Through our own experience with digital treasure hunts, most recently Travel Leaders’ Pursuit of Paradise, we at Elasticity believe all the Brewers’ troubles could have been avoided with a few more hours of internal planning. Here are 6 ways the Brewers could have bulletproofed “Where’s Bernie?” as well things you should keep in mind the next time you tackle the online/offline digital treasure hunt:

  1. Don’t announce the location(s) ahead of time. The answers to Bernie’s clue questions contained the parks the lawn ornaments were hidden. By giving participants time to figure this out beforehand you are begging for large crowds on race day which always brings the unknown. The same level of engagement could have been achieved by asking general knowledge Brewers trivia. These trivia questions could solve a secret passcode you must have to claim a prize at a location TBA.
  2. Make the clues harder, spread the field out. By making the clues harder you are limiting the number of people who will arrive at the same time, spreading of the field of participants out. When multiple people arrive together you are begging for problems. Adrenaline takes over the participants and you run the risk of them pushing/fighting for the final prize.
  3. Limit the number of real world prizes. Although there is a lot of intrique with physically hiding the prize, the promotion could have been just as memorable by hiding a few grand prizes and giving the rest of the prizes away online before raceday. With so many prizes physically hidden (1,400+) it was impossible for the Brewers staff to manage it all. You must maintain control over the promotion to ensure fairplay and no unhappy campers. Alternatively, the Brewers could have been to attached claim tickets to the ornaments. In order to claim the prize you must bring the claim ticket with you to Miller Park and present a photo ID.
  4. Don’t lump prizes together in one location. If you’re set with many real world prizes, spread them out. The Brewers hid many prizes within eyesight of each other so you inevitably get participants taking multiples and selling them on Ebay.
  5. Don’t put trust in what you can’t control. It may be a real eye-opener but unfortunately you can’t always trust people. By telling them to only take one and to not show up until 5am you are basically giving away a proven method on how to beat the system.
  6. Keep asking “What if?” until you’ve covered it all, then ask again. “What if?” is the name of the game. What if people take multiple prizes? What if someone pushes someone out of the way for a prize? What if someone gets in a car accident? What if someone trips and breaks an arm? It may seem tedious but it will be worth it. You can’t predict the future so it’s best to be prepared.

In the end, the “Where’s Bernie?” promotion did end on a positive note with the grand prize winner being one of the participants who was victim to the pushing and shoving. But in a day in age when everything is documented permanently online, you must limit the unknown and prepare for every possible scenario. With a few more hours of brainstorming and asking “What if?”, the Brewers could have avoided this mess altogether.

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