"I don't think we all realized what an undertaking this was until we got into the nitty-gritty of it," Columbia Records Senior Vice President of Marketing Scott Greer told Billboard.biz of Pearl Jam's Aug. 17 worldwide scavenger hunt reveal of the tracklist for Cameron Crowe's upcoming "Pearl Jam Twenty" documentary. "The question was: 'how can we engage social media to get people finding and posting clues?'"
At 20 years old, Pearl Jam may be considered veterans in rock'n'roll years but they're celebrating their birthday with a deft social marketing strategy befitting a band that has always tried to remain on the cutting edge of distribution and music (back in 2000 PJ was the first major group to literally release official bootlegs of every show of its tour) To reveal the Crowe-chosen tracklist for the soundtrack, Sony Music and Columbia records created an elaborate day-long scavenger hunt that sent fans racing to cryptically alluded-to locations around the physical and online world.
On August 17 at 10:30 a.m., Sony Music unveiled the details of the hunt via a Columbia Records redirect from the "PJ20.com" website and a well-timed tweet from @PearlJam. The page featured a series of short clues that fans used to find the locations where the track titles would be revealed. Some hints led to physical locations, including a Times Square billboard in New York City and the Seattle club, Chop Suey. Other clues led to intangible media, including the LiveNation Facebook page and a broadcast from Pearl Jam's Sirius station. The first fan to find a particular track name and tweet its name with the hashtag "#PJ20" received a numbered Pearl Jam Twenty poster.
Scavenger Surfing: Pearl Jam fans who entered in "Pearl Jam 20" into a Google search learned the name of a track from "Pearl Jam 20." .
Twelve hours later, the campaign had quadrupled the number of Pearl Jam mentions on Twitter, reaching 5.9 million tweets globally, and drew over 65,000 views to the PJ20 website, making it Columbia's most-viewed page of the day, according to Columbia.
Columbia Records marketing, international, Sony college marketing and digital teams planned and oversaw the campaign with input from Crowe and Pearl Jam's management.
Artists have been using internet-rooted viral marketing for several years, but rare is the mashup of real world and online action. Rock act Nine Inch Nails notably launched an entire alternate reality game in 2007 for album "Year Zero" which went so far as to involve mysteriously disseminated t-shirts and cryptic posters on the streets in certain American cities as well as websites. But the PJ20 scavenger hunt may be unique in terms of scope. Track names were revealed in physical places across the globe, including New York City; Seattle, Washington; Bologna, Italy; Auckland, New Zealand, Manilla, Phillipines and Tapei, Tawain, reflecting the band's global fanbase.
Pearl Jam's Name in Lights: The scavenger hunt led fans to Times Square, near Pearl Jam's 1991 MTV Unplugged set, where one of the soundtrack's songs was listed on a marquee.
The mixing of real world locations with more virtual places further broadened the scope of the hunt. "If you're only engaging people in only a physical way, then you're limited to those locations in the world that the fans are," Greer said.
The two-CD, 29-song soundtrack will be released on September 20, the same day as the film, and is packaged with a 40-page book with liner notes written by Crowe.
The scavenger hunt came and went quickly by design, but Sony music has further plans to promote Crowe's documentary and Pearl Jam's 20th birthday, which is loosely tied to the anniversary of the Aug. 27, 1991 debut of the band's first album, "Ten."
On September 1, Pearl Jam's website will begin the PJ20 "Twenty Days" and unveil a new piece of content every day until the movie's release date on September 20. After a PJ20 Labor Day weekend mini-festival at Wisconsin's Alpine Valley, Pearl Jam will play a pair of shows in Toronto on September 11 and 12.
After the documentary completes a brief theatrical run kicking off Sept. 20, it will make its broadcast debut on Oct. 21 as part of PBS's American Masters series and will be released as a DVD on October 25.
"We're really just gearing up," Greer said, "this is a celebration of Pearl Jam history that the fans get to take part in."