Inside Jay-Z’s Launch of “Decoded” With Droga5, Bing

For the launch of his autobiography, hip-hop’s premiere entrepreneur turned marketing into interactive art and a scavenger hunt that rewarded his die-hard fans. Here’s an exclusive peek inside Jay’s bag of tricks.

Jam Master J mural


On Kanye West’s new song, “So Appalled,” Jay-Z raps, “I’m so appalled, I might buy the mall, just to show […] how much more I have in store.”

As Jay’s protégé’s album dropped this week (and leaked much earlier on the web), Jay himself was revealing what he’d long had in store for the publishing world: a game-changing marketing plan for his autobiography, Decoded, itself a groundbreaking book.

Beyond a mere collection of stories–which many readers would find plenty tantalizing–Decoded is also a rap Rosetta Stone. Listeners can literally decode Jay’s lyrics on 11 studio albums to unlock new details about the 40-year-old’s personal history. The marketing for the book took the idea further, mashing up old-school billboard advertising, new-school social media, mobile apps, and more for an interactive game that let players unlock pages of the book and enter to win concert tickets and memorabilia. Jay’s corporate partners, meanwhile, scored a fortune in buzz.

Jay initially hooked up with the creative agency Droga5, who conceived, created, implemented, produced, and delivered the campaign with the help of Microsoft search engine Bing. Droga5 slapped all 320 pages of Decoded in various blown-up sizes on some unexpected surfaces: a rooftop in New Orleans, a pool bottom in Miami (above), cheeseburger wrappers in New York City, a pool table in Jay’s 40/40 Club, and many more.

[Check out 32 images of the not-so-hidden pages around the country here.]


Reading became a scavenger hunt.

Fans could log on to between Oct. 18 and Nov. 20–last Saturday–and follow clues to Bing Maps locations and real life places where text from the book was blown up bigger than life or layered onto a guitar, onto records in jukeboxes, or onto a 1980s Cadillac parked in front of a Run-DMC mural in Queens. The most dedicated followers could read the whole book for free weeks before it came out. Plus, anyone who unlocked a page online or in person (by texting a code located on the physical page) was entered to win that page signed by Jay-Z or tickets to a Jay-Z/Coldplay New Year’s Eve concert in Las Vegas.

Then, at the very last minute, Bing and Droga5 decided that one lucky person who’d decoded all 200 clues using Bing Maps would get The Jay-Z Lifetime Pass, a golden ticket of sorts, good for admission for two to any Jay-Z concert anywhere on the planet for life.

“We heard a story through our Facebook page of a woman, a lawyer, who more or less hired a team of six or seven people who all scouted through the clues,” Bing General Manager Eric Hadley tells Fast Company.

The average time it took to decode the online clues was a little more than five minutes, he says. But it was the repeat visits that Hadley says were such a boon to Bing.


To get the whole book, “you had to go into Bing Maps and interact with Bing up to three times a day,” Hadley says, adding that the behavior helped visitors “break the habit” of using other search engines.

Jay-Z was a natural match for the so-called “decision engine,” Hadley says: “We’ve had a pretty long history with Jay-Z. He was the focus of a conference we did at Microsoft. We introduced him to Bill Gates a while ago.”

And beyond the artist’s penchant for dropping locations, Jay aligned with Bing’s users. People ages 18 to 24 consume 61% more search pages online than the average Web user. African-American Web surfers view 29% more search pages. Affluent African-Americans are more likely to use Bing as their primary search than Google, Hadley says. And users who listen to hip-hop at least once a week consume 19% more search pages online in any given month than the general population.

Jay, himself, remained intimately involved in the clues, too, Droga5 CEO Andrew Essex tells Fast Company. “He was actively involved in writing and vetting the clues. Alarmingly so.” He’d suggest more or less specificity at times or recommend references to different places or events.

At least one clue came solely from Jay, Essex says: “Ironically, Jay has never been spotted eating pork in this establishment.” (Answer below the picture of the pages on plates in that place.)

Answer: The Spotted Pig


Slideshow: Jay-Z “Decoded”: 32 Pages Revealed

[Images: Droga5]


About the author

Tyler Gray is the former Editorial Director of Fast Company and co-author of the book The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out in fall 2014. He previously authored The Hit Charade for HarperCollins and has written for The New York Times, SPIN, Blender, Esquire, and others