Nine Inch Nails using viral marketing for its new album, Year Zero

NINNine Inch Nails‘s new album, “Year Zero“ has a really interesting marketing campaign/alternate reality game, partly in response the last album’s poor marketing. It is great to see Trent Reznor’s creativity (with the help of 42 Entertainment) being put into marketing and engaging his fans. I am a longtime NIN fan, as well as a fan of viral marketing, community marketing, and new marketing, so it is with great pleasure that I deconstruct and present the tactics being used to engage NIN fans.

Reznor’s lyrics are usually about self loathing, god, sex, and death. Apparently Trent’s new frustration is with the Bush Administration’s policies (on the war, privacy, free speech, and personal liberties), something that many NIN fans who are disenfranchised with the mainstream can relate to. Politics is definitely a new area for him. He has created an alternate reality dystopian future 15 years out. The first clue was found by visiting a URL which was assembled by combining letters of a different color on a 2007 NIN tour shirt, leading to This site lead to clues about various other websites that have been set up to represent various players in this alternate world such as a military group enforcing Christianity, a totalitarian church, a version of the NSA wiretapping organization, resistance artist (as in using are to show defiance), conspiracy theorist, and a drug company. Phone numbers have been scattered within songs (via spectral imaging), and through these websites. When you call one of the phone numbers, you can hear recorded messages of the various characters in the alternate world. New clues are uncovered almost every week.

In a bold move again traditional record company rhetoric, the NIN marketing strategist left USB drives in the bathrooms of 3 NIN concerts in Europe, each containing a song from the forthcoming album, as well as cryptic jpg images. All of the clues and are being assembled together on various NIN fan websites, especially The mp3s are freely distributed on p2p and on these sites, and you can listen to them on NIN’s MySpace page.

All I can say is: wow! This is fun and smart in so many ways. It is a way to deliver an experience to NIN fans outside of the usual CD sales, merchandising, and concerts. I think similar things have been tried with movies and other products, but these did not have a preexisting fan base that would be ready and willing to be engaged in the game. Other ways NIN has stood out in the past has been by code-naming each official release with a “halo number,” virally releasing banned music videos which spread via VHS copying, going outside of Ticketmaster to sell concert tickets because of outrageous service charges scalpers, and allowing fans to remix the single “The Hands That Feeds” by providing all of the separated tracks in ProTool and GarageBand. The album comes out April 17, 2007.

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2 Responses to Nine Inch Nails using viral marketing for its new album, Year Zero

  1. me says:

    “Reznor’s lyrics are usually about self loathing,…”

    Maybe that’s why i’ve never really been into them..self-loathing?! NEVER!!

    *by the way, you write very well.

  2. Pingback: n.sputnik » Do you want to be like Billy or like Trent?

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