Flash Drive Mystery or Marketing?

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A true mystery is shaping up on Colorado campuses, and flash drives seem to be at the heart of it all.

Since early March, at least three campuses–UC-Boulder, University of Northern Colorado, and Colorado State–have seen the appearance of strange chalk symbols at various locations on the grounds. These circular logo-like drawings have experts convinced that whoever is drawing them, has more than a passing knowledge of semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and they’re usage.) They’ve been compared to everything from demonic markings to something reminiscent of the Zodiac Killer. Scary as those sound, nobody is on high alert just yet, as they symbols are placed in conjunction with flash drives.

USB drives have been placed strategically around the campus, coinciding with the chalk symbols. Students who have been brave enough to open the flash drives say they contain music and other media, including links to even more mysterious YouTube videos. The heavily-edited videos claim to be “not a warning” and, between flashing of random letters and numbers, appear to show the drawing of the symbols at campus locales.

Of course, police and campus security are keeping their eye on the situation, but semiologists think more viral marketing than mystery. Stunts like this have been pulled in the past (to maximum effect, no less) but the vagueness and slow burn of the rollout are worrying as much as intriguing. Recently, a similar social experiment was conducted with flash drives left in subways and busy city locations, testing how many people would plug a random flash drive into their personal computers. Could this be a similar plan?

Either way, the inclusion of the flash drives is a cool element, speaking to the influence of the digital storage devices. Perhaps a little more clarity would serve an ad campaign better, but the notoriety is apparent. The flash drives themselves were picked up almost instantly, and the story itself picked up by national news affiliates just as quickly.

Image: Manny Perez | UNC Mirror