Canlis is One Smart Cookie – particularly when it comes to their latest promotion which celebrates their upcoming 60th birthday. The highly-regarded fine dining restaurant has outdone itself with the “Canlis Menu” contest and I especially love their tactic of running it entirely via social media!

Here’s the scoop:

Brothers Mark and Brian Canlis have personally signed 50 restaurant menus from 1950 (view here) and are hiding them around the Greater Seattle area daily (except Sundays) from Oct. 19 up to the restaurant’s 60th birthday on Dec. 11. The “scavenger hunt” starts anew every day, as the restaurant posts a clue to the menu’s whereabouts, via their Twitter and Facebook accounts. The first person to unravel the clue and find the hidden menu wins dinner for two at Canlis – at 1950 prices!

“Birthdays are a time for play,” said Mark Canlis, owner of the restaurant. “We invite the city to join the festivities as we celebrate our history and thank our guests for their generations of support.”

The first day’s clue “Squash a Beetle in your hand” led seekers to the hidden menu in the Volkswagen resting in the Fremont Troll’s hand, and day two (which I thought was MUCH harder!) told hunters “It’s Time to Open a Restaurant“.  Within about 20 minutes, the winner posted his discovery on Twitter, finding the menu among the Time Magazine archives (1950 edition, of course) at the Seattle Central Library.

Canlis Menu from 1950 - dine at these prices if you win!

So why do I think this is one of the most brilliant uses of social media, certainly by a restaurant, ever??

  1. Contest Duration – Spreading the contest out over nearly two months, and culminating with the restaurants 60th anniversary, gives it long-lasting interest and participation.  Rather than running a one-time “be the 5th caller” contest that is over with a blink of an eye, this promotion has legs and will be talked about for a very long time.
  2. Repeat Visitors to your Site – Posting the clues each day exclusively on Twitter and Facebook ensures that your fans/followers will visit your pages EVERY day for months, meaning that they not only get the contest info, but you’ve captured their eyeballs for other information you might want to convey.  The traffic over the length of this contest is going to be amazing and will build a daily visit/habit into people’s web surfing activities.
  3. It’s Worth Playing For! Like host Jeff Probst asks contestants every week on “Survivor” before a challenge – “Is it worth playing for?” – this contest is DEFINITELY worth playing for! Considering a couple could easily spend $200 on dinner for two (without drinks) at Canlis, the opportunity to dine at 1950s prices could mean a very attractive (almost ridiculous!) $20 subtotal.  To wit: 2010 pricing for a New York Steak or Filet Mignon runs $48; the 1950 price is just $4.25. Yes, the decimal point is in the right place. At an iconic restaurant that has earned Zagat’s highest overall rating in Seattle for the past four years, that’s just crazy.
  4. It’s Creative – Unlike other promotions that offer a free gift card or a free meal, or require only a simple answer to a trivia question that can be found online, this contest is madly creative!  People like to be challenged, they like to solve puzzles, and they like “different”.  Luck is only a small part of the equation in this pursuit, as you need some brainpower to solve the clue. For the same reasons that the “Old Spice Man” commercials resonated so well, Canlis’ contest will be raved about for weeks and months as a great example of thinking outside the box.
  5. There will be MANY winners – We love the chance to win, and with daily opportunities over the next two months, there could be nearly 50 different winners.  That encourages me – and other interested contestants! – since it’s no fun to play a game after the big prize is already gone.  But with the variety of questions and number of opportunities to win, this contest will keep us engaged, and thinking we can win, up until the last day.
  6. Cost-Effective Advertising – Obviously I don’t know the financial numbers behind this promotion, but even some rough math tells you Canlis is going to get a BIG bang for its buck over the next two months.  If you assume each winner receives about a $200 prize, multiplied by about 50 winners, that’s a $10,000 “advertising” spend for the restaurant. Custom Java Development Services Weigh that against the cost of magazine/newspaper ads or radio/TV airtime, and it’s quite obvious to see the value of this social media promotion.  It’s a buzz that is going to last for months, for an amazingly low investment, resulting in a lot of very happy people.

So, what do you think about this promotion?  I’d love to hear your feedback, or examples of other social media contests you think are brilliant.  But for now, I’m off to find the clue for Day #3!