The Mystery and Joys of Strange Crates in the Mail

Fun & Games
The Mystery and Joys of Strange Crates in the Mail

Today was another hectic day at the office. Workdays can get all tangled up sometimes, serious, fraught with drama, with looming deadlines. And too much coffee.

And then you get a mysterious wooden crate in the mail. At least that’s what happened to me today. I came back to my office after a meeting to discover that a large, heavy box addressed to me had magically appeared in the center of the room. I opened it to find another box, a wooden crate, mummified in layers of bubble wrap. I struggled to get the crate out of the box, the bubble wrap off, and then I muscled the heavy crate onto my desk. What the heck was this thing? Who sent it to me? The top of the crate was postmark-branded “Blithe Hollow Cemetery” and my name and “17 of 49” were penned on the front. The crate was nailed shut. I knew I needed help and I had a feeling this was going to be something special, so I called in others.

I called our Creative Director, Jason Babler, into my office. Jason is like the kid at the birthday party who likes to open all of the other kid’s presents. He grabbed a hammer and chisel and set to opening mine.

Lifting the lid, we discovered model grass and a tiny shovel inside. “I guess ya gotta dig,” Jason said. I dug.

I begin to dig to find out what’s inside this box of green earth. Zombified grave dirt?

After we realized this was going to get messy, as the green-dyed dirt in the box started flying everywhere, we decided to moved into Make: Labs. Then disaster struck.

Oops. As Jason moves the crate into the Labs, it breaks apart, sending dirt all over the place. I didn’t do it! It was Jason’s fault!

I dig down in what remains of the crate to find an amazingly beautiful laser-etched coffin inside.

Everyone ewws and ahhhs as I lift the lid off the coffin (after intern Dan carefully pried up the coffin nails) to reveal the dread corpse inside. Note the scratch marks on the inside of the coffin lid, including the poor deceased’s own initials.

So what on earth did I UNearth? It’s an amazingly detailed silicone rubber zombie character from the forthcoming film, ParaNorman. LAIKA, the stop-motion animation studio behind Coraline (and the awesomely cool marketing campaign that stopped our offices three years ago), are producing this film (which opens on Aug 17). As with the Coraline “buzz marketing” campaign, where our then Art Director Daniel Carter got a customized Coraline box (1 of 50), I was chosen as a “Weird Hero” (a mantle I will gladly assume) and given ParaNorman box 17 of 49. I’m in esteemed company. Neil Gaiman got box number 2.

After the excitement had died down, and we’d cleaned up most of the zombie grave earth (that green stain better come off of the office carpet!), Jason and I talked about what brilliant marketing this is. As Jason said: “This sort of thing can be so hokey and just look like a lot of wasted money and effort, but this really rings true.” And it did. It created a special moment of magic and mayhem at the office (one I felt compelled to write about). It was a nice break from the routine of the day. In the clutches of “my” zombie’s rotted fingers was a calligraphic letter to me, actually to me. It talked about the magic of making, about not being “normal,” and about how weird kids grow up to be fascinating adults like me. The motto for their campaign is #weirdwins. I couldn’t agree more. And I will proudly display my little monument to weirdness (and successful buzz marketing) on my desk.

[Photos by Gregory Hayes]

44 thoughts on “The Mystery and Joys of Strange Crates in the Mail

  1. The Mystery and Joys of Strange Crates in the Mail Dave W says:

    Can we see the full text of the letter?…

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      I’ll scan it tomorrow at work and see if it’s legible.

  2. random-things says: would LOVE a parcel like that! Great packaging! Right up my street!!

  3. Alain says:

    <<He grabbed a hammer and chisel and set to work.

    Oh no, he didn't.
    He grabbed a hammer and a screwdriver and set to abuse said screwdriver.

    1. trkemp says:

      On the other hand a chisel would have been the wrong tool too and most likely more expensive to replace than the bent screwdriver.

      1. Alain says:

        Good point, dear Sir.

    2. Gareth Branwyn says:

      Oh no he didn’t! He grabbed a hammer, a chisel, and a screwdriver (’cause he couldn’t find a pry bar) and was very gentle with them all. No tools were harmed in the opening of this box.

  4. Chuck Bellweather says:

    …a crummy commercial?

    1. Phoebe says:

      But it said Fra-gi-le on the box! It must be Italian!

  5. caitlinsdad says:

    In New York, you call the police for all suspicious packages…

  6. SPENCER says:

    I need a job where I get to make things like this and send them out as buzz marketing.

  7. Goli Mohammadi says:

    I can dig it!

    1. Poet says:

      I guess we all have the DIRT on this.

    2. Gareth Branwyn says:

      I am gravely disappointed in your comment, Goli.

  8. Benjamin Barreth (@bogrollben) says:

    Best. Marketing. Ever.

  9. Scott says:

    Reminds me of some x-mas “gifts” my family used to give each other.

  10. MAKE | Your Comments says:

    […] the piece The Mystery and Joys of Strange Crates in the Mail, SPENCER remarks: I need a job where I get to make things like this and send them out as buzz […]

  11. Andreas Beer (@tueksta) says:

    marketing in a fun digging box, very nice – except i saw an article about a marketing stunt like that last year already on some other blog. if you wanna be creative, be creative, don’t steal ideas.

    1. ANormanChildhoodTeen says:

      Is it possible you saw it by the makers of Coraline? They are the same makers of ParaNorman, too. :D Coraline sort of started this kind of marketing idea after it got released in 2009.

      If you saw it last year and it was a different movie, I guess whatever company just thought it was a cool idea and copied Coraline’s marketing strategy. :P

  12. Melony says:

    Did you guys find any more of the tiny props that where also buried in the dirt?

  13. OutofStep Indutries says:

    […] gets even better, full story here – The Mystery and Joys of Strange Crates in the Mail Tags: […]

  14. Patrick Kenney says:

    what was the size of the little burlap sacks buried with the coffin?

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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