NIN (or for those of you who aren't familiar with them, Nine Inch Nails) has been and continue to be one of the most influential and ground-breaking bands of the last 15 years. Being the music-obsessed junkie that I am, I cannot help but appreciate what NIN founder Trent Reznor has done for alternative as well as mainstream music -- and now I appreciate what he is doing for online marketing just as much.
NIN typically makes very difficult, unapproachable records, and their new record is no exception. Titled "Year Zero," it's is a concept album that is centered on the end of the world. It supposedly features crashing guitars and complex sounds, which is also typical of a NIN record, but what I want to focus on is the way that Reznor has utilized cross-media integration, social networking and Internet media to create buzz and generate excitement for a record that most people will never hear and slightly fewer people will even enjoy (outside of me, of course, who looks forward to these records almost as much as each pending Pearl Jam release).
It all started with a concert T-shirt that came out in February. The T-shirt featured a hidden code driving fans to a Web site called "I am trying to believe." Following the launch of the Web site, USB drives with "leaked" songs were found at bathrooms in concert venues. Encoded digitally in some of the leaked songs as a spectrogram were images and phone numbers, all of which detailed a mysterious hand or wiretapped phone calls and other secret phone numbers revolving around the topic, as well as leaked bits of the first single, "Survivalism."
Following these "leaks," a trailer for the record emerged online, followed by leaked songs being played on radio stations in the middle of the night, and the beginnings of a press junket for Reznor, where he described the artistic elements surrounding this next release.
What I find so amazing is the complexity of this promotion. USBs hidden in bathrooms, hidden codes in t-shirts, secret phone numbers that introduced a song or played missing elements of someone else's phone conversations.... This is a true digital marketing concept that has no regard for boundaries or paradigms. This is not an Internet promotion. This is far beyond an integrated promotion. This is unlike anything I have ever seen, with the slight exception of "Lost" last summer, which was not even this complex or this rooted in the real world. The savviness of the audience that NIN is speaking to demonstrates what the general audience will be able to do eventually. Bouncing back and forth between online and offline at staggering speeds to decipher a riddle conveys a message about an upcoming album release -- that's where marketing is truly headed.
Even the Internet elements themselves are intricate and boundary-pushing. The images are surprising. The Web site requires you to mouse-over in order to read the content. It's a series of challenges that are difficult to read and harder to understand, but that require a very savvy, very intelligent audience to pull together. It's quite a compliment to the NIN audience!
If you get a moment, check out the videos and read the story behind the promotion. As always, try to take something away from these. Even if it's not applicable to you directly, the concepts can be universally applied.
For the full story, including elements I am not going to dive into here, check out the Wikipedia entry.