Dodge’s Hidden-Vehicle Contest Doesn’t Quite Go as Planned

Two of the three searches hit potholes

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Taking ad campaigns into the real world is exciting. It can also be risky, because, you know, you run into these unpleasant creatures known as human beings, who always mess things up. Take Dodge's scavenger-hunt campaign for the Journey crossover. Working with Wieden + Kennedy, Dodge hid three Journeys across America—one in the West, one in the Midwest, and one in the East—and told people that if they found one, they could keep it. After a monthlong series of clues, all three vehicles have now been found—but only the West Coast portion of the campaign went off without a hitch.

     The most serious problem was in the Midwest, where the winner—Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer Brad Neidy—ended up declining the prize when it was alleged that he may have known about the general location of the vehicle after helping to close streets so the agency could film there. (Dodge is deciding what to do with the vehicle. Right now, that section of the winners page is awkwardly running the original contest promo.) There was also a hiccup in the East, where Dodge included a seven-digit phone number in the final clue. By that point, the hunters were supposed to know the car was in Maine—and thus dial the 207 area code. But many people dialed 212, deluging a baffled New Yorker with unwanted phone calls. (A Chrysler rep tells Jalopnik: "We're very sorry it happened to this gentleman and it ruined his weekend.") 

     At least the West Coast contest was a success. Nevada resident Bruce Armbrust and his 9-year-old son Matthew found the car in Hope Valley, Calif., just 16 hours after seeing the TV spot, prompting just the kind of press coverage Dodge was looking for. "The people with the ad agency were very happy with us, that we found it," Bruce told the Tahoe Daily Tribune. "They didn't think they could have cast it better—this kid with all this enthusiasm and excitement."

     It's a shame Dodge made that small mistake in the East, and ran into that huge jackass in the Midwest. But in a way, it's a reminder of just how unpredictable these stunts can be, and a testament to client and agency that they did it anyway. These kinds of campaigns are fun, but it's a jungle out there—and you have to buckle up.

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.