Engineering Culture

Guerilla advertisement for creative thinkers

Sometimes advertisements just have to be bold.

You might have found, that most job ads are quite generic. They lack a personal note. Why apply at a company, when even the job description sounds boring?

Especially when your goal is to hire creative thinkers, why not give them something to… think about!? That was our goal when we planned a new marketing campaign for Software Engineers.

The plan

Being developers and curious thinkers ourselves, we wanted to do something fun and genuine. And so we came up with code-only billboards. No company name, no contact address, just code. (The fact that we used the trivago-colors for syntax highlighting was the only giveaway.)

Billboard advertisement, which only consists of PHP code

We placed these billboards in some local cities like Cologne and Düsseldorf.

Map of billboard locations in Cologne

And then, we waited.

The reactions

Naturally, the general public was confused. Local newspapers titled “What’s up with these new posters?” and people on Facebook were puzzled by what the strange code would mean. Here’s an article that appeared in the German newspaper Express:

German newspaper article with a photo of one of our billboards and the headline "What are these billboards about?"

The article mentions that the campaign breaks new ground, but is also confusing for “normal” people.
That was precisely our intention, since we were only targeting the nerdy/creative kind. Even if many people didn’t understand the message, it stirred up a great deal of attention.

The explanation

So, what is the code doing? It’s actually pretty simple:

The code on the billboard is written in PHP. At trivago, we use it to show hotel details and prices to millions of users every day. It’s a reliable workhorse that served us very well throughout the years. We use the latest PHP7 and Symfony features to write lean, fast and scalable code. People who know the nitty gritty details of PHP are people we want to work with.

If you crack the PHP code on the billboard, you get a link to a secret website. You sign up there and get in contact with one of our engineers for an interview.

The result

We were not expecting so much (mainly positive) feedback. Within the first few days, around 500 people signed up on our secret website. We also organized a little meet-and-greet at our offices to have a casual chat. In our opinion, it was a success!

Google Analytics snapshot showing the rise in visitors at campaign launch and the appearance of the first newspaper article

Let’s face it: marketing is marketing.
We are not going to change the world with that. But we think that advertisements can be creative and entertaining.

If you like, try to crack the puzzle yourself. Or join one of the local usergroups to discuss!

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