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Jay-Z + Bing = a marketing plan treasure hunt. Is this the future for books?

October 21, 2010

The institutionalized decadence of the pool area at the Delano Hotel last night seemed an odd setting for a Bing Crosby tribute sponsored by the Jaycees. Then an executive from Bing (“the decision engine!”) came out to introduce a nice man named “Jay-Z” and I realized my mistake.

I was at a launch party for Jay-Z’s memoir, Decoded. More precisely, it seems, I was at the launch party for the baroque marketing campaign for Decoded, which won’t actually be published until Nov. 20.

Once it was explained to me — and the other hundred or so guests gathered for the august event — I knew I had to apologize for mocking Philip Pullman the other day.

First of all Decoded, which I have not seen, is supposedly no mere memoir, but a collection of lyrics from Jay-Z’s phenomenally successful rap albums. along with meditations on their meanings that come together to tell  “the story of a culture, an art form, a moment in history.”

What do you expect from a man whose self-chosen nickname is “Hova” — as in Jehovah? Please.

To publish and promote this masterpiece, Jay-Z has enlisted not only the help of a publishing company, Random House, but also a synergistic sponsor, Bing (Microsoft’s idea of a competitor for Google), and Droga5, a “creative agency” which has come up with a strenuously inventive strategy

In what amounts to possibly the most elaborate treasure hunt since Marie Antoinette’s  last party for Louis XVI, 10 pages from Decoded will be plastered each day at places significant to Jay-Z’s story — Brooklyn, London, Manhattan, Miami, etc. Fans can go to Bing (“Decode Jay-Z with Bing!”) for clues to the location of each one.

If you’re first to find a  page — plastered on the side of a building, say, — you enter a code into the Bing Jay-Z site. You win a signed copy of the page, and you get entered into a contest. Grand prize is a trip to Las Vegas for a New Year’s concert featuring Jay-Z and Coldplay.

Yeah, yeah, I see how some people might think this sort of thing is fun, and it certainly fulfills the marketing requirements of the day by being highly “interactive.” But last night the hand of corporate synergies being worked for all they’re worth lay so heavy on the proceedings the whole thing just made me tired.

Jay- is a huge star, which means his book will sell tens of thousands if not millions of copies no matter what. Why is it necessary to find a sponsor, and a creative agency (remember when “creative” meant something positive?), and flog the book with this wheezing machinery of 21st century marketing?

Smart business, I know. At least that’s how a mogul like Jay-Z, worth more than $150 million, with his own record label, clothing line, and a stake in the New Jersey Nets basketball team, will view it. To me it seems like overkill to the nth degree.

So now I must apologize to Philip Pullman, the acclaimed British children’s fantasy writer, who a few days ago complained of too many “daft celebrity memoirs” sucking up the attention and promotional resources of publishers, thereby sidelining “serious writers.”

I don’t know if Decoded is “daft” — not al celebrity memoirs are without value. But this promotional campaign certainly is.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2010 1:42 pm


    Attention is wasted on celebrities.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 21, 2010 4:10 pm

      They want it so much more than the rest of us, don’t you see. That’s why they get it.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    October 21, 2010 7:34 pm

    I can’t wait to enter the contest! Wish me well on winning. Personally, I like pop culture. Not love, but like.

  3. October 21, 2010 7:54 pm

    First of all, let me say that I HATE Bing. Hate hate hate hate hate. It’s on my work computer and i made google my home page. I drank the coolaid on that one.

    Second of all, this whole idea is one of the dumbest, dullest, most ridiculous things I have ever heard of. I really hope it doesn’t do well. And I thank God one of my favorite performers wasn’t the first one to do something like this. I mean, Wilco’s big enough to get mentioned on 30 Rock now, you never know.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 21, 2010 9:26 pm

      But how do you really feel?

  4. October 21, 2010 8:51 pm

    Daft covers it, Chauncey if you also mean shallow as a blade of grass and so crammed with ego even the universe can’t compete with such a feat. Am I rapping or mixing my metaphors or? Maybe I missed my calling. Should have called myself Giche Manidoo. Time for drink.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 21, 2010 9:27 pm

      It’s the next giant step in the commodification of everything. Everything.

  5. rachel permalink
    October 22, 2010 11:12 am

    I don’t understand the obsession. I have no interest to read a book by some silly (or non-silly) celebrity. There isn’t enough to read actual good books.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 25, 2010 9:20 am

      My feeling exactly;

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