website easter eggs & the power of fun in marketing

In a past life, some time before DragonSearch, I was included in a brainstorming session for content strategy. The topic: How can we make viral content?  What struck me most was that, initially, the meeting took a very conversational, spirited direction, but the meeting leaders quickly pulled everyone together to “get serious” about building the viral strategy.

I understand: structure and focus are important. But if I was going to put my money on a viral strategy being successful, it’d be born out of a spirit of fun, and the people who made it would be having a great time, in a loose format, when they started it. In fact, that raw spirit of spontaneity, and the feeling that you’ve found an “insider something” is the defining difference between a traditionally successful content/marketing strategy and something that is truly viral. For example:

  • The Dress – We’ve never looked at an orange and thought it was anything other than an orange before. And then, spontaneously, a dress appears and we have no idea what color it is.
  • Goat Simulator – A game created quickly and spontaneously about a goat’s adventures, celebrated for its eccentricity and ridiculous bugs.
  • David After Dentist – An impromptu video taken by a father who was enjoying his son’s “high” from dentist drugs.

In all the cases above, the content was spontaneously created, rough around the edges, fun, and authentic. If too much refinement had been added to any of them, its “virality” would have been lost. Think of it this way: If the photo of “the dress” had been professionally taken and photoshopped before release, would it still have gone viral? Would Goat Simulator have been successful without the bugs?

With so many companies trying to manufacture viral content, people have understandably become wary of these kinds of corporate shenanigans. Some companies have thwarted that by being shamelessly transparent about their viral strategy, but it’s harder than ever to make it happen. There is, however, one last frontier for viral digital content…

enter the easter egg

Because Easter Eggs are often unauthorized little nuggets snuck through by the developers, they still have that rogue taste of the Wild West about them: you’ve stumbled on something that, perhaps, The Boss doesn’t know about. That’s really cool! Those few who happen to discover them become your ambassadors – spreading the word in all the places where marketers and brands aren’t welcome. They feel rewarded and clever for finding it, and immediately motivated to share the fun with others.

Here’s how some big brands have been making this work for them:

google pac man

Google gets it. When they began releasing their doodles in 1998, they were making an investment both in branding and in a strategy that built the concept of fun in what they were doing. There was no measurable ROI, no metrics, no content marketing. Just the goal of occasionally decorating a logo in a way that makes people feel something positive while having some fun internally.

When the Pac-Man doodle was released, the game was far from groundbreaking. Literally a Pac Man clone, it added no new elements or depth to the original work. And let’s face it: the 30th anniversary is not particularly more notable than, say, the 25th or 40th. Truth be told, most people that visited the home page (Time estimated 75% of visitors) didn’t even notice that the logo was interactive.

But there was the joy of discovery – their first interactive logo! And it brought back all the nostalgia of the original Pac Man. What more could you ask for?

The stats are as follows:

  • According to Moz, the Pac Man Google Doodle page earned 6,556 total links from 2,081 unique root domains. (Make that 2,082 now.)
  • It also earned 8,041 shares on Facebook and 6,046 likes. Twitter’s seen it shared 12,330 times, and Google+ 8,169 times.
  • Variants aside, the keyword “google pac-man” has 12,100 searches monthly – almost 20k/month during peak times.
  • People spent so much time playing Pac Man at work that they cost the world more than $120 million in lost productivity. User time on-page went up by 36 seconds (a total of 4 million hours) on the day it was released.

Fun facts: Clicking on “Insert Coin” twice adds a second player – Ms. Pac Man – so two can play at once. Is that possibly the world’s first Easter egg hidden within an Easter egg? Also – they’re not the only ones to use a Pac Man game as an Easter egg.

IMDb’s Spinal Tap Page

IMDb proves that it really doesn’t take much effort to draw attention with an Easter egg. On their This Is Spinal Tap page, they pay homage to dialing it up to 11 by giving the movie an 8/11 rating, when all other movies go up to 10. When you get right down to it, the difference is two light-gray characters on the page:

The result? In terms of social shares, the Spinal Tap page blows more popular movies out of the water. Compare the “buzz” around this page with IMDb’s page for the  blockbuster hit “Ghostbusters:”

                                                             This Is Spinal Tap Ghostbusters
Facebook 10,465 Shares
Twitter 2,509 Tweets 572 Tweets
Google+ 379 +1’s 132 +1’s

Additionally, the page has earned 3,028 links from 1,020 root domains, and the “up to 11” Easter egg has been mentioned in hundreds of articles, forums, videos, Wikipedia pages, and social platforms online.

SkyBet’s “panic button”

Say you’re not one of the most easily recognizable websites on the Internet: how do you earn fame and popularity with nothing more than a 168kb PNG file? Why, with a mock spreadsheet, of course! Betting website Sky Bet has tucked away a “Boss? Look Busy!” button on their website that sends you directly to a hokey-looking spreadsheet filled with amusing charts:

Sky Bet Panic Button

Super simple (and not even especially well done) this link has drawn attention from some pretty hefty websites, including BBC NewsYahoo, The Guardian, and Mirror. It’s also canon material for virtually every “Top 10 Website Easter Egg” article, forum, and social media chat online. The amount of work that went into it is minimal and fun, and the payback is the kind of thing that SEO’s dream of.

Adding Easter Eggs To Your Own Website

It’s as easy as taking a little time to relax a little during the hectic web design phase and add a spark of creativity to the mix. I’ve personally added an Easter egg somewhere in most of my blog posts (like this one, with Taylor Swift hover text, or this one’s Lord of the Rings sound byte) as a fun way to encourage and reward readers who engage in the content.

In most cases, incorporating Easter eggs is simple and enjoyable, and if you’re building a 404 page, this kind of creative approach is simply best practice. Even when your strategy doesn’t explode in virality, Easter eggs tend to be easier and more fun to create than other strategies, and just as likely to reach that critical mass. It’s a pretty safe bet.

Simply put: If this strategy can bring Barack Obama, Vogue, and The Oatmeal together, there’s a place for it somewhere on your site. Video game designers have been using this strategy for decades — it’s time digital marketing caught up.

cool places for easter eggs

…and examples of each that you probably don’t know about:



Comments in the robots.txt file (The laws of robotics)
Creative 404 pages (Even knows what day it is!)
Surprise animation (Hover over the cup!)
Also Kickstarter (Click the scissors three times)
Hidden Graphics (The background image is this)
Konami Codes (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Enter) Buzzfeed (So many sloths!)
Also Vogue (Try it a few times!)
Hidden/buried links WordPress’ TOS (Anchor text: “here’s a treat”)
Hover Text XKCD (Hover over any comic)
Source Code Comments (A note to geeks)
Barack Obama (Ascii Logo)
Also Coca Cola (Another logo)
Unexpected Search Feature Responses YouTube (Type “beam me up scotty”)
Hidden features Skype – For example, type “(oliver)” into a chat
Also Facebook – Choose “English (Pirate)” as your primary language in “Account Settings”. Yar welcome again!
Response Header Reddit – Although it’d be awfully unlikely for someone to find this.
An “internal” Easter egg that you’d never find without someone telling you about it. (Type “dance” and press Enter)
Also Google’s humans.txt file
Something wildly creative uni.xkcd (Whaaaaaaaaat?)

What kinds of Easter eggs have you found? Share the fun with us in the comments, and we’ll thank you in an Easter egg hidden somewhere on our website.

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