Derek Sivers

Captain T

2000-04-20

Back in 1997, when “The X Files” was still on the air, a friend of mine who called himself Captain T recorded an album that was all about conspiracy theories, Area 51, and aliens. It was intentionally funny, but he stayed in character. He acted like a guy who was trying to tell the world about the government cover-ups.

We wanted to send his album to college radio stations, but couldn’t afford to hire a real radio promoter, so we decided to do it ourselves. We decided to make his marketing an extension of his art and image.

I had visited many college radio stations and saw that the kids there would receive twenty packages a day, all exactly the same, in the same boring envelopes, with a little cover letter saying the same thing: “Please consider this album for airplay.” I wanted to be considerate and give them something different.

So we bought 500 black envelopes, 500 sheets of brown paper, 500 alien head stickers, and 500 huge red labels that said “CONFIDENTIAL! DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON”.

We did a mail-merge to the 500 program directors at 500 college radio stations, so that each one got a personalized printed letter that said this:

Dear __name__,

You don’t know me, but I live in the bushes behind your station.

I have been here for 12 years, and your station has saved my life many times over.

The music that you play has kept me going through my darkest of days and for this I owe you everything.

So I must tell you that a man named Captain T found me in the gutter yesterday, and he taught me about what is really going on with the government cover-ups, and what really happened down there in Area 51 with the aliens. This man has a message that you have to get out to the world, because people need to know the truth!!!

Signed, the man in the bushes, looking through your window right now.

We took each letter out to the backyard and rubbed it in dirt, then crumpled it up. Then we put the crumpled letter and CD into each black envelope, sealed it with an alien head sticker, and finally covered it with the huge label that said “CONFIDENTIAL! DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON”. And that’s what we mailed to each radio station.

Now imagine you’re that college kid receiving twenty boring packages per day. Then you get this scary black package that says “DO NOT OPEN”. When you open it, it’s covered in dirt and says, “You don’t know me, but I live in the bushes behind your station.”

375 of the 500 radio stations played it.

Every now and then, my friend Captain T gets approached by someone that used to work at a college radio station back in 1997. They tell him they still remember it, because it was the coolest package they ever got.