Lowe’s may not be the first brand to stage an escape room, but the stunt sure is a clever way for the hardware store to market its wares.
A new 17-minute reality-style ad puts four skilled craftspeople—an electrician, Moe; a contractor, Wes; and two YouTubers who run DIY channels, Bob and Grant—in a custom-built obstacle course with three rooms, a series of puzzles to solve, and one hour to make it to the ground floor. Each person got to pick one tool to bring into the maze, though more were scattered throughout.
They enter the first room, for example, to discover it’s totally without light. Luckily, one had selected a screw gun with a small flashlight on it, so they could find the larger one that Lowe’s had stashed, and replace a breaker in the circuit box (in other words, the jobs were certainly tailored somewhat to the casting … or more likely, vice versa).
Without giving away too many spoilers, other challenges required basic knowledge of various power tools—a shop vac, a welder, a table saw, and more—to solve for issues involving ventilation systems, carpentry and plumbing. And while they’re not allowed their phones or watches—a foghorn alarm blares every 15 minutes to apprise them of the time and ensure their anxiety levels are at a maximum—they do get a walkie-talkie so they can call in a life line from a Lowe’s employee.
Long story short, they make it out—in the nick of time—because of course they do. Nobody wants to make (or see) an ad where the heroes lose.
HBO and Google are also among the marketers that have used escape rooms to peddle their wares in recent years. Lowe’s is a natural fit for the format, though, given the hands-on basis of its products, and the popularity of DIY videos. The ad definitely isn’t a how-to or a product demonstration, but as in those genres, it certainly crams in plenty of gear, and infuses footage of people using tools with the intrinsic drama of problem solving to escape from a physical trap on a deadline.
It’s also fascinating to watch for how the different players do—and don’t—interact. The contractor and DIY personalities, three men, seem to often go straight for the tools, and start trying to solving the problem by hand. The electrician, a woman, seems to spend a lot more time looking for—and finding—key clues, looking at the instructions provided by the designers, and apparently doing a pretty good job of not getting frustrated when the dudes ignore her.
A behind-the-scenes video offers a little (but not much) insight into how the Lowe’s team came up with the idea. The full episode itself can’t help but be a little forced in its sales pitch—a final scene is sure to mention the great Black Friday sale the retailer is having on many of the products in the video. But its arguably not that much worse than a brand integration on TV—perhaps tedious but not irrelevant, if the story is your cup of tea.