Robbins Diamonds

On a sunny day last fall, there was a strange sight in Center City Philadelphia. More than 650 people, wearing bright purple T-shirts emblazoned with a cartoon of famous Philadelphia jeweler Jerry Robbins, tore up the town in a citywide treasure hunt to solve riddles, reach locations, and answer challenges, all in the hope of finding a $20,000 Hearts On Fire diamond ring.

The jeweler is well-known in Philadelphia for creative marketing, including a goofy mascot of himself that performs at professional sports events. But for this event, Robbins Diamonds partnered with Hearts On Fire and SCVNGR, a high-tech mobile gaming and promotion firm, to create the First Annual Robbins Diamond Dash, held Oct. 18, 2008. Working in teams of two, participants literally ran all over town following text-message clues in search of the Hearts On Fire ring. Hearts On Fire supplied the prize ring and also contributed funds to advertise the event.

Was it successful?

“How do you put an ROI on smiles?” asked Gordon Robbins, vice president and director of marketing for the four-store firm. Chuckling, he cited another legendary Philadelphia retailer, John Wanamaker, who famously said that 50 percent of his advertising worked, and 50 percent didn’t, but he never knew which was which.

“What we know is that we want to be out there with people having fun,” Robbins said. He’s received nothing but great feedback on the event.

“People would come in the stores [after] and say ‘I was part of it,’ or ‘I tried but I didn’t make it.’”

The Robbins Diamond Dash radio partner was WMMR, one of the city’s top rock radio stations, but much of the exposure came from local and regional coverage. It also got billing atop the Jumbotron at the Wachovia Center, home to both the Philadelphia Flyers NHL hockey team and the 76ers NBA basketball team. The Jerry Robbins mascot was on hand for the Diamond Dash, running, leaping, and dancing with the crowd as he typically does.

Robbins’s Web site (www.robbinsdiamonds.com) enjoyed a 150 percent boost in traffic and received many happy e-mails. The Dash also has its own Facebook page and is profiled on MySpace.com.

“The core of the concept was leveraging mobile technologies in a fun and dynamic way to break out of the clutter of conventional advertising,” said SCVNGR’s Michael Hagan. “We wanted to do something cool, something unique that would draw people to spend a full day interacting with the Robbins Diamonds brand and come away, win or lose, having had a great time.” Though the event drew thousands of applications from couples, the number of participants was kept limited for the first edition. But it drew thousands of onlookers.

The most exciting moment came at the end of the treasure hunt. The winning couple, Brett Huhalada and Nancy Duan, drenched in sweat from running all over the city, first sprinted up to president Jerry Robbins (the real one, not the mascot) to show him the text message proclaiming them to be the winners. Then the young couple turned and jogged over to the city’s famous Robert Indiana LOVE statue—a fitting location—as Huhalada bent down on one knee and proposed to his sweetheart.