No, not the rainbow tin-foiled chocolate things you hide in the back yard for your kids, virtual Easter eggs are hidden messages and inside jokes baked into TV shows like the Simpsons, video games like Guitar Hero and Halo 3, and even software like AutoCad, Photoshop, Mac OSX, Skype and Microsoft Paint.
It’s even slipped through to some ecommerce product pages (though in this case it may be the workings of a rogue employee).
More recently, mobile sites and apps have leveraged the unique properties of mobile devices. Shake your iPad when viewing Zappos.com and watch the kitties fall from the sky:
Tap the Monocle in the Yelp app and experience augmented reality goodness:
Hiding Easter eggs is obviously amusing to developers, but how can you use Easter eggs for fun and profit?
1. Gamify your marketing
Coffee Cup hid over $20,000 in cash and software on its site. Not only did it boost traffic and sales, customers commented that they discovered things they didn’t know about their business and product offering. Easter egg campaigns are a great way to encourage deeper exploration of your site, and digestion of your value propositions.
You don’t have to limit Easter eggs to just your site. Old Navy hid QR codes in its physical stores, announcing the game through email.
Easter eggs don't have to be literal eggs. Bonobos hid a model in its signature pants on fashion blog NotCot.org. The first 50 to find the pants each day won $25 gift certificates plus free two-way shipping. Visitors who found a “special little guy in paisley pants” won $100 voucher codes.
2. Surprise and delight customers
If you’ve got archived assets, like Kelly Blue Book, consider exposing premium content. KBB’s iPhone app hid a copy of its very first edition (from 1926), revealed by shaking the phone.
Other ways to surprise and delight include revealing secret discount codes, free gifts with purchase, or bonus loyalty points for reviewing a specific product. The reward should be randomized for highest impact.
3. Reactivate Inactives
Professional networking site LinkedIn got a lot of buzz last holiday after it embedded Snow E. Mann behind the recent visitors section.
Many LinkedIn users shared the egg through other social networks, which encouraged other users who hadn't logged in in a while to see for themselves. Easter eggs are a smart way to re-engage inactive users – especially after a redesign or revamp of features.
4. Word of mouth on steroids
When customers, visitors and subscribers discover your Easter eggs, they turn to their social networks and blogs to brag about it. What better way to get organic social word-of-mouth than doing something cool and unexpected? Use email, Twitter and even blogger outreach as a way to announce your Easter egg campaigns.
5. Creative uses
MAC Cosmetics found a whimsical way to get its image across when images are off in an email client.
It's a subtle Easter egg for email designers, but die-hard MAC fans will recognize the pixel art rendition of Iris Apfel also resembles another MAC spokesmodel, Lady Gaga.
404 pages are another place to hide eggs. For example, Call of Duty:
Blue Fountain Media is another creative 404 page example, featuring a functional Pac Man game.
Whether your Easter egg is an in-joke or a marketing campaign, they’re a great way to get customers and users egg-cited.