99 Red Balloons Go by

Ok, so it’s not exaclty the song from the 1980s, but a recent contest sponsored by DARPA showcased the power of networking using social media to solve a problem and locate red balloons hidden in different places throughout the United States.

“In a nine-day challenge run by DARPA, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency,” the original article stated, ” members of the public are being offered a grand prize of $40,000 if they successfully use the internet and social networks to track down a series of balloons hidden across America.”

Instead of taking nine days to solve the problem though, a team from MIT was able to complete the task in only nine hours earning $40,000 for their efforts. According to the follow up article the winners haven’t said how they found all the balloons so quickly but it may have had something to do with the cash payout that offered $2000 to the person who gave the correct coordinates, $1000 to the person who invited that person and diminishing amounts to people who referred the referer.

The MIT team solution not only showed the ability of a viral campaign to energize the public to assist with solving a problem, but also showed that additional motivation, like the offer of a reward for participating, is a sure way to ensure that people pay attention and participate. For marketers, the lesson is that something different can capture the attention of viewers and can be tied back to a product or service. Even though the campaign didn’t last as long as intended, the buzz generated by it being solved so quickly may actually outlast the actual competition itself giving legs to future endeavors and keeping people interested in the work that is being done by DARPA.

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One Response to “99 Red Balloons Go by”

  1. Jamie Ceman Says:

    This is such a great example of how to use the Internet to excite and engage the public. 15 years ago we never would have imagined how quickly the world can get connected with each other, especially to solve a problem like this. Thanks for sharing this.

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