Last week I received this Snapchat from a friend:

I was quite surprised to see a black-and-white photo. “When did Snapchat add filters?” I asked in response.

With pride and delight, my friend responded with instructions: enter the text caption, “B&W…”, to activate the black-and-white filter. Grinning, I immediately sent a dozen B&W Snapchats to my friends, anticipating their curious replies because I knew something they did not. I knew a secret.

The black-and-white filter is one of Snapchat’s many Easter eggs. An Easter egg is an inside joke or hidden feature. The term was first coined by a programmer who hid his signature inside a secret room within the Atari 2600 video game, “Adventure”. Decades later, Easter eggs are a recurring meme in gaming, a head-nod to players, and have expanded into non-gaming, consumer products. Look closely and you may find Easter eggs hidden within your favorite applications.

The nature of Easter eggs is an oxymoron. Why would Snapchat or any other product hide functionality. Apps should be intuitive and accessible, right?

Easter eggs go against users’ expectations and in turn serve as a powerful form of marketing, enabling companies to:

  • Get People Talking — People love knowing secrets but they like to share them even more. Consider the last time you heard office gossip or a twist ending to a much-anticipated film. Did you have an urge to tell others? Wasn’t it amusing to see your friend’s reaction as you revealed the secret?
  • Bring People Together — As a child, we were told not to withhold secrets from our parents. But we did so anyway. Mutually shared secrets between our friends and siblings brought us together. The same is true for Easter eggs. Those aware of the Easter egg secret share a common understanding, separating people “in the know” from outsiders. This helps form a bond between holders of the secret and strengthens a community.
  • Build a Brand — Easter eggs are fun and produce a “WOW!” effect. This delight forms a memorable connection between the brand and its users through a shared understanding not privy to everyone.

Here are three companies that use Easter eggs to spike engagement, establish a community, increase word-of-mouth, and build a memorable brand:

Apple (Siri)

When Siri launched, Easter eggs bombarded the internet. People could not get enough of Siri’s unexpected, witty answers to the hidden questions and phrases.

Siri’s humor was inescapable as blogs, TV shows, and social networks exploded in discussion. Websites dedicated to its Easter eggs sprung up. A Google search for “siri funny questions” results in over a million results. The free marketing instigated by these Easter eggs was arguably more impactful than Apple’s multi-million dollar advertising budget.

The secretive and clever nature of Easter eggs encouraged users to explore the product to uncover its secrets. When users cracked an Easter egg mystery, they acquired bragging rights, often sharing their discovery with friends. As a result, Siri became a celebrity as people promoted her wit.

Lyft

As I was walking down Howard St. in San Francisco, I overhead a group of people talking.

“What are those pink mustaches for?” A woman said, pointing to a blue sedan.

“I don’t know! I see them everywhere.” Her friend replied.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this question. I observed two other groups of people ask the same question earlier that week.

Lyft, a ride-sharing service, aroused curiosity by decorating its fleet of vehicles with furry, pink mustaches. Instead of plastering its brand name on the side panels of its cars, Lyft used an Easter egg to catch people’s attention and get them talking. After seeing a half a dozen pink mustache-sporting vehicles, one is bound to resolve the mystery.

As users demonstrated an effort to understand the meaning behind the silly spectacle, by asking friends or searching online, Lyft became more memorable. This is especially important in competitive markets, where recall and top-of-mind-awareness determine which transportation service one turns to the moment they need a ride. Lyft creatively stood out from the competition by hiding its brand behind an Easter egg: a pink mustache.

Google

Google is known for its shenanigans and clever Easter eggs. The search goliath often replaces its logo with Google Doodles, turning its name into art in honor of holidays, special events, and anniversaries. The company even turned its logo into an interactive synthesizer and zamboni mini-game. These rotating doodles spur conversation and encourage people to visit the homepage to see what others are talking about.

Less obvious, though arguably more impactful, are Google’s hidden search terms. Visit google.com, type in “do a barrel roll”, and press enter! Be prepared for a delightful surprise as the screen rotates. This hidden gem continues to spread across the web years after its release in 2011, as evident by the hundreds of tweets like the one below, shared just this week.

Despite being a multi-billion dollar corporation, Google demonstrates playfulness, charming its users with fun surprises. Although Easter eggs provide no value to the product’s core offering, it creates a personality to the brand and encourages users to engage in marketing the product by forwarding it to friends.


Easter eggs are more than a fun distraction and can serve as a powerful form of marketing. Consider how you can incorporate Easter eggs in your product or service to increase engagement, establish a community, get people talking, and build a memorable brand.

And now that you know the secret, don’t you want to share it? ;)


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