“Linda Pezzano was really after the Scrabble account. Instead she was assigned to do the PR for some game nobody had heard of – Trivial Pursuit, a new release by Scrabble’s maker, Selchow & Righter.
Pezzano knew that she’d need to settle for this unproven new game for the time being – and she also realized she’d need to act fast. It was November, and Toy Fair 1983 was fast approaching, and although she had no experience in the toy business, she knew Toy Fair was important – probably the best place to introduce an unknown game.
Scrabble was a product that stores ordered on a regular basis, and Pezzano realized that buyers didn’t have a real reason to visit Selchow & Righter’s exhibit at Toy Fair. Nobody was going to stop by the booth to ask if there are any new letters in the alphabet or if the number of points for Z had changed. How, she wondered, could she build some buzz for Trivial Pursuit among buyers before they even came to New York? How could she make sure none of them skipped Selchow & Righter’s booth?
Pezzano and her staff created a series of teaser mailings that were sent to several hundred key buyers in the toy industry a few weeks before the trade show. The first mailing was sent in a small envelope, hand-addressed, with a real stamp and no return address. It contained a little card with the Trivial Pursuit logo and a random card from the game.
Imagine that you’re a buyer at a toy store and you receive a card with questions such as ‘What’s the largest city between Ireland and Canada?’ and ‘What sport did John Wayne play at the University of Southern California?’ It’s likely to get your attention, and you may even mention it to your coworkers. Three or four days later, a second random card arrives: ‘What was Elvis Presley’s middle name?’ ‘How many sides does a nonagon have?’ ‘What was Al Capone’s nickname?’
Now you’re really curious as to what all this is about, especially since you still have no clue who’s sending you these cards. When the third card comes (finally identifying the sender), I can see you getting up from your chair and stopping the first person you see: ‘Hey, Susan, guess what word was intentionally omitted from the screenplay of ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Who invented peanut butter?’
Buyers started calling up Selchow & Righter before Toy Fair. Some even complained that others got cards and they didn’t. A simple and inexpensive idea created significant buzz. Selchow & Righter’s showroom at Toy Fair was mobbed, and the company wrote up an unusually high number of orders for Trivial Pursuit.
Pezzano also distributed sample cards in popular spring break hangouts, organized Trivial Pursuit parties in bars, and mailed games to celebrities like Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra who were mentioned in the questions. This helped to start buzz (and trivia parties) in Hollywood.
What would have happened without those mystery envelopes? Without the radio promotions? Without the samples for students? Without the celebrity mailings?
It’s impossible to tell for sure. I suspect that Trivial Pursuit would still have gotten buzz. It’s a great game, and people love to talk about a great experience. I do believe, however, that word about the game would have spread at a much slower rate. Essentially what Linda Pezzano did was accelerate the buzz about the product. During 1984, 20 million games were sold with almost no advertising.”