Jay-Z: Social Gaming Mogul

Jay-Z put on the latest of many hats today: social gaming mogul.

Jay-Z: Social Gaming Mogul

On “What More Can I Say?” from “The Black Album,” Jay-Z boasts his branding prowess, announcing, “A CEO’s mind—that marketing plan was me.”

Jay’s come along way from the Marcy projects, wearing an impressive number of hats along the way: world’s most successful rapper, record executive, apparel company CEO, author of his own autobiography with “Decoded,” which releases November 16, and, as of today: social gaming mogul.

Starting today, an expansive social gaming campaign to promote “Decoded” rolls out in cooperation between its publisher Random House and search engine Bing, owned by Microsoft.

The marketing plan was created by the agency Droga5 for Microsoft, but its sheer scope and ambition has Jay-Z’s personal imprint written all over it.

Here’s how it works: Bing is creating a kind of real-life Willy Wonka scavenger hunt. Full pages of the book will be printed in real-world places referenced in parts of “Decoded.” These will vary from billboards to a custom-paint job on the bottom of a hotel pool, to a particular restaurant’s plates. A 3D map with clues and locations will roll out online, and Bing hopes to engage consumers online with their offline search for pages. Those first to find Jay’s pages out there in the world will win prizes, from signed copies of “Decoded” to a grand prize to see Jay-Z and Coldplay in Vegas.

By all counts it’s an impressive platform. But it does raise a couple questions: First, some of Jay-Z’s core audience and long-time fans feel he’s compromised some of his creative integrity in recent years, softening his music and focusing more on marketing and accessibility. Is it possible to market on a massive scale without losing the loyalty of your core fans? Is Jay-Z still Jay-Z if he’s playing shows with Coldplay? In this case it’s easy to make the argument that Jay-Z’s corporate ambition was on display right from the start. Jay-Z has always wanted to take over the world—don’t hate the man for getting what he’s always wanted.

But a second, potentially more interesting question is, Does anyone really care about social gaming? All the hype around social gaming platforms like Foursquare have yet to determine whether anyone actually cares about getting a digital “badge” for going a restaurant three times in a month, or being declared the “mayor” of your local bar. What does being the “mayor” even mean? However with the “Decoded” social gaming initiative, winning might actually mean a trip to Vegas to see Jay-Z, so users are incentivized with a little more than 10% off their next beer. But do they like interacting with the social gaming component, or is it just a hassle they’re willing to endure in order to get their prize?

At any rate, one thing that’s certain is that Jay-Z is launching the most elaborate marketing plan for any book in recent memory. Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” was the most anticipated book release of this year, if not the last 5 years, with President Obama actually coaxing a local bookstore owner to sell him a copy before its official release date. But even Franzen’s “Freedom” heralded a mere marketing sprinkle compared to the deluge of signage and online exposure that Jay-Z has cooked up for his autobiography.

I’m not a hip-hop expert. I like Jay-Z, but I’m not qualified to tell you whether his recent work stacks up in the pantheon of all-time rap titans. And I can say with some certainty that I won’t be running around my city looking for clues on the next Jay-Z golden ticket. But the campaign has certainly caught my attention, and I can say with about 85% certainty that I will probably buy, read, and enjoy “Decoded” (probably digitally—this is perfect iPad reading.)

In some sense, I have played the broader “social game” whether or not I have played the one on Bing’s microsite. And that, I guess, is what all the hype is about.