Schenck’s Take: Jay-Z Decoded. Game Changer or Da Vinci Code 2.0?

November 12th, 201011:46 am @ Rafik


Schenck’s Take: Jay-Z Decoded. Game Changer or Da Vinci Code 2.0?

We are proud to announce the latest contributor of wit and wisdom to the Tomorrow Awards Magazine : the illustrious Ernie Schenck. Renowned as a top-level freelance creative director and consultant, and famous in the blogosphere and in the pages of Communications Arts that have words instead of pictures, Ernie will be gracing Tomorrow Awards Magazine on a regular basis, in a new column entitled Schenck’s Take. Check back regularly for more from Mr. Schenck.


Recently, I was approached by a best-selling crime novelist to help him market his latest upcoming book.   I was psyched.  I’d never done a campaign for a novel before.

How cool would that be, I thought. Especially since this particular author was not your average, stuck-in-the-past jamoke that thinks all it takes to send a book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list are a couple of small space ads, a radio spot and maybe, if everyone is feeling atypically cutting edge that day, an online video trailer.

The idea we came up with, a multiplatform transmedia experience that I like to think would have passed muster with Henry Jenkins, the media convergence Zen master himself, never made it past the publisher.  And while I was disappointed, I was hardly surprised.  Well, come on.  Who would be?  Charlotte Bronte could come back from the dead and not feel out of her element with some of these people.

Don’t get me wrong.  There have been exceptions.

The Da Vinci Code exploited the whole web quest thing with an online scavenger hunt that was tied to clues embedded on the book cover. After a total of 514,319 visits to the site over two months in late 2003, 40,000 people solved the puzzle and entered the contest for a trip to Paris.  It was a crossroads moment in publishing.


Then came The Traveler, a fantasy/sci-fi thriller that set the bar even higher with one of the most ambitious interactive campaigns for a novel ever undertaken.  As in the book, the Orwellian played to our fascination with big brother’s surveillance society, allowing viewers to track characters via closed-circuit cameras or by following their credit-card transactions.  No trips to Paris but hard-core fans went bonkers over it.


Which brings me to Jay-Z Decoded, the new location-based campaign from Droga5 and Bing that launched a week ago.  Memo to publishers: If this doesn’t get you guys to sit up and take notice of what’s going on out here in Webville, nothing will.  The campaign is designed to launch rap mogul Jay-Z’s upcoming memoir, Decoded, due out from Random House imprint, Spiegel and Grau, on November 16th.

If you haven’t seen it, it goes like this:

Every day, 5 to 10 pages from the book are revealed somewhere in the world, although most are spread around different locations in New York City in places that are actually mentioned in the book itself.   Fans participate by using clues, aka random bits of Jay-Z trivia, and Bing location technology to track down the pages.   Which could be literally anywhere.  Billboards.  Fashion designer clothing racks.  A page could turn up on a pool table as easily as it could at the bottom of a swimming pool at the Delano Hotel in Miami.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Once you locate a page, you get credit for it online. If you find it in a physical location, you text a game code that appears on the page. There’s a whole prize structure for players, but the big one two tickets to see Jay-Z and Coldplay in concert at Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve.

Is Jay Z Decoded a gamechanger?

In a way, yes.  In another way, no.  I’ve seen a few blogs that call the campaign historic.  Technologically, maybe.  But conceptually, well, not exactly.  Like I said, the interactive quest idea is a path that others, including The Da Vinci Code, have been down already.  Indeed, if you go back far enough, the scavenger hunt shtick goes back at least to a campaign for Canadian Club that had thousands of wannabe treasure hunters from all over the world looking for a buried case of CC. The campaign was recently resuscitated with a $100,000 prize in addition to the booze.

That said, Jay Z Decoded is one very cool fusion of hipster rapper vibe, the adventure of the chase and search and location technology.   It’s as seamless as seamless gets.   And I mean the whole shebang. Bing Maps features such as Birds-Eye View,  Streetside imagery. Plus Bing Entertainment features, mostly photos and videos of Jay-Z, as well as song clips.  Bing picked up nearly the entire cost of the campaign and whatever the final numbers were, it was a small price to pay for the way it brings out the robustness of the search engine.  It all makes for a pretty damn exciting book launch.  Twilight and Harry Potter notwithstanding, we see about as many of those these days as we do political candidates.

Is Decoded perfect?  Possibly not.  For one thing, there’s nothing stopping you from using another search engine, say, oh I don’t know, Google, to track down clues.  The game’s a little buggy here and there and for the average person, it can seem a little confusing if you’re not all that savvy with modern search technology.  (Not that techno hipsters like you and me fall into that category).

But on balance, Droga5 gets max props for this one.  And with all due respect to Bing, something tells me Dave Droga and company aren’t going to need a search engine to find their way to Cannes next year.

brettcreditpicErnie Schneck
Freelance Creative Director