The Anatomy of a Successful Marketing Campaign – Trivial Pursuit


In a previous post I wrote about a marketing campaign idea based on a launch campaign used by Trivial Pursuit in 1983. In this post, I want to dissect the Trivial Pursuit campaign to understand why it was so successful.

Trivial Pursuit was due to launch at the 1983 Toy Fair in New York 1, an event attended by the key decision makers for all companies in the industry. The marketing team were doubtful that any buyers would make a point of visiting their stand. Their most successful game, Scrabble, was established in the market and retained little attraction now. They needed to create ‘buzz’ in the weeks leading to the event.

The team decided to produce a series of teaser mailers which were sent to hundreds of key buyers in the toy industry. Emanuel Rosen writes:

“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.”

Each card had a Trivial Pursuit style question. On the third card, the identity of the sender is revealed (Selchow & Righter). The company started receiving calls about the cards, some from buyers complaining that they hadn’t received the mailers. 

The product was launched at the Toy Fair, the Selchow & Righter stand was inundated with visitors and a high number of orders. The campaign was a success

A mystery

The campaign incorporates mystery and tension, the type a great magician or storyline cliffhanger can produce. The recipient receives a series of fun trivia questions, but the sender is unidentified. Someone has produced a new game, but I don’t know who it is. I want to know the answers to these questions and I want to find out who is behind them.

Building tension into a campaign is successful in generating a response. It’s in our nature to address that tension. If you’re gripped by a story, you want to get to the end. If a TV show ends on a cliffhanger, and you enjoyed the show, you want to watch the next episode as soon as possible to find out what happens next.

As Maria Konnikova states in The Confidence Game2

“Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation.”

When you receive a marketing campaign that you appreciate or enjoy and element of the campaign builds tension, many recipients will take action to find out who and what is behind it.


If you receive a Trivial Pursuit question card for the first time, whilst in the office, the first thing you do is ask your colleagues to answer the questions on the cards. The card has a viral impact amongst Toy Buying offices across the US. People within these offices no doubt communicate and share with other people in the industry.

By the time the third card is delivered to reveal the identity of the toy and the manufacturer, everyone is talking about the unknown quiz cards delivered across the industry.

The impact of a direct marketing campaign is monstrous when you create a mailer that people can’t help but share with their friends and colleagues, thus multiplying the reach and impact.


The cards were relevant and specific to the recipient. They weren’t randomly sent across a broad cross-section of people. A card game was sent to the person responsible for buying new games. It’s their job to find the next fun thing to sell to their customers. When a card game is delivered to your door which has got the office buzzing, it has proven its potential to sell before the buyer even has the chance to buy it.


Once the buyer discovers that the new game is produced by Selchow & Righter, a sense of anticipation is created. The buyer can’t buy or see the game in full until the launch at the Toy Fair. Yes, it’s only a few weeks away, but they can’t simply call a sales rep in immediately. They have to wait. The anticipation is building and the Selchow & Righter stand will be one of the first on the list that the buyer wants to visit.

When you incorporate at least two of the characteristics above (mystery, shareability, relevancy and anticipation) into a direct marketing campaign, you have a good shot of success. When you incorporate all four, you have a winner. Of course, it helps when you’re launching a fantastic new product too.

  1. Emanuel Rosen writes about this campaign in The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited – p.159-161
  2. Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game: The Psychology of the Con and Why We Fall for It Every Time. P.6
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Liam CurleyHi I’m Liam. I created this site to help businesses in B2B make the initial breakthrough with prospective customers that are otherwise unaware of what you can do for them –  You can read more about my background here.

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