Nice piece of viral marketing: NIN

Bill Slawski did one of my favorite blog posts this week. He pointed to a Rolling Stone article that discusses how Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame is leading several people on a merry web chase to uncover websites from a bleak, dystopian future.

Starting from bolded letters in concert T-shirts, searchers quickly find sites that discuss parepin, a fictional additive (with some mysterious side-effects) that is added to the water supply in the future. Other sites look optimistic, but reveal a darker sentiment when you scrub through them in different ways.

Let’s take a quick look at the campaign from an SEO perspective. What was good? I noticed a few things:
– Check out the text from It’s so jittery that it’s hard to read, but if you view the source, you’ll notice that it’s mostly text content, which lets search engines index it.
– The buzz built pretty organically. USB drives were left in bathrooms at conferences and messages were hidden in conference T-shirts. It’s much better to let people find you than to push too hard to get noticed. The links from the “people-find-you” approach are more organic than if someone spammed to get links to viral sites.
– I appreciate that the campaign picked a lot of terms (e.g. “parepin”) that were unique nonsense words. That keeps the marketing campaign from crufting up search results for actual topics or real peoples’ names, which is a pretty rude thing to do.
– Good use of email, Flash, and phones. If you email some of the sites belonging to the “resistance,” you’ll get back contrite messages which make it look as if the creator of the site has been “re-educated.” Likewise, some phone numbers are hidden in various places, and calling them gives you sound clips. Flash is used to create a fake IRC chat where you can watch as the participants are found by the authorities.

So what wasn’t as good?
– Several of the sites (,,, etc.) are all on the same class C subnet. If you wanted to avoid legions of NIN fans finding new sites, you would want to avoid that.
– No paid-search campaign seems to be leveraging people searching for related stuff. That’s missing a chance to throw more mind-bending stuff at obsessive fans.

Conclusion: I thought the viral campaign was well-done. I’ll probably pick up a copy of the new CD, just because I appreciate the attention to detail that was put into the campaign.

29 Responses to Nice piece of viral marketing: NIN (Leave a comment)

  1. >are all on the same class C subnet.

    So are you saying that’s bad because pesky people will search via IP or are you giving a cryptic hint at something else?

    C’mon first comment cant go unanswered right?

  2. “The links from the “people-find-you” approach are more organic than if someone spammed to get links to viral sites.”

    Matt – could you give your definition of ‘spammed to get links to viral sites’? Thanks..

    Very nice follow-up to Bill’s excellent post BTW…

  3. I’m trying to believ, but my mother warned me never to believe anything on websites with a PR=0. The Alexa graph is a little scary as well:-)

  4. Thanks for turning us on to this. I really enjoyed the sites, and never would have come across them without you mentioning them. It reminds me of sitting in a messy bed room somewhere with some friend studying the covers of Led Zeplin albums trying to find THE hidden message.

    Very Cool

  5. > USB drives were left in bathrooms at conferences
    > and messages were hidden in conference T-shirts.

    I think you mean concerts, not conferences.

    An MP3 on a USB drive left at a concert in Spain had an ID3 metadata tag saying “found at X concert in the bathroom, far left stall”. They definitely planned everything out. Also, graphing the noise at the end of the MP3 produces an image of the hand-like “presence” from the viral marketing campaign.

    Very interesting stuff. 🙂

  6. graywolf, I’m not saying anything at all about class C’s (good or bad), other than adoring fans would be willing to check the other domains on the same class C, so that might not be ideal for NIN’s viral marketing campaign.

    Chris Winfield, I was just saying that I could imagine some agencies trying to bootstrap a viral campaign via spam links (e.g. signing a bunch of guestbooks with a script, etc.). By not gathering any spammy links in order to be crawled, as well as picking off-the-beaten-path words to target (e.g. parepin), this viral campaign didn’t cause issues for any regular web communities. I appreciate that they displayed that level of care. This is my first experience with the agency that did this, but those steps move them toward the positive karma side in my book.

  7. keniki: you’ve conveniently ignored the single greatest online viral marketing campaign of all-time (and the one everyone who isn’t an extreme geek and has been for the past ten years forgets):

    Super Greg! Numbah Wan!

    How can you possibly forget the famous, fabulous DJ?

    For those who don’t know the backstory behind that, remove the sgdotcom from the URL listed above.

    By the way, was all this only done in the States? Concert T-shirts, etc. My girlfriend’s a major Trent Reznor fan, and I haven’t heard of any of this (and niether has she.) Granted, we’re from Bizarro World, but still…

  8. Hi Matt,

    This is a bit off topic but…
    Why does Google use a 302 redirect, to go from: – to – (Is this temporary?)

    It makes my job that much harder when Google does not lead by example.

  9. Google finds 12,200 pages with the word “parepin” – amazing work so far.

    I can atest to the benefits of “unique words” for our own sites. Our Taj Mahal site benefits greatly because “Taj Mahal” is pretty unique phrase. There are only the monument in India, the blues singer, and many, many restaurants etc including Trump’s casino.

    Our other sites have names and content that are generally not unique, and refer to many different places and things, e.g. even Kew Gardens (botanic gardens near London) refers to several different places (place in New York), etc

    Having a viral campaign with unique keywords is a big boost to traffic.

    Very impressive NIN work!


  10. This only shows that viral marketing campaigns are most effective when not relying entirely on web resources. Getting additional, more traditional coverage is equally important.

    Regards, George

  11. > I’ll probably pick up a copy of the new CD, just because I appreciate the
    > attention to detail that was put into the campaign.

    Better to buy the CD if you actually like NIN music! Which IMHO is crap and unlistenable

  12. Class C’s

    Hmm so would the hypothetical fan know about Class C addresses and search the other ip’s – I think you making a big assumption there.

    Any one who would know about Class full addressing would also know that CIDR is where its at on the internet

    You can get that a set of sites may well be in the same block but if you used one of the big providers that wouldn’t get you anything – looking at the domain registrations would be a much easier way of ferreting out any relationships.

  13. @Adam, I think that it was done at least somewhat internationally. I believe that the USB stick I heard about was found at a concert in Spain.

  14. It’s not the first time they’ve used best practices 🙂 :

  15. Surprising and cool to see you making a post about Year Zero. Just thought a Reznor quote worth mentioning was this:

    “The term “marketing” sure is a frustrating one for me at the moment. What you are now starting to experience IS “year zero”. It’s not some kind of gimmick to get you to buy a record – it IS the art form… and we’re just getting started. Hope you enjoy the ride.”

    Sure, it’s tough to believe that there is *zero* marketing component to the motivation behind all this, but I also honestly believe that Reznor cares more about realizing some artistic vision than increasing record sales. He won a cool $3 mil from his former manager in a civil trial a couple years back, and since then he’s had several tours and an album that did pretty well (With Teeth), so I’m willing to bet he’s quite okay for money right now. But whatever you believe, it’s worth noting that quote from Reznor when taking all this in.

  16. Dave (Original)

    Reminds of the old days when the good ole vinyl records from the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zep, Mettalica, Deep Purple etc were often touted as having subliminal messages.

    Of course, all the REAL fans knew one had to play the records backwards at the stroke of midnight with all your mates around, drunk and stoned 🙂 Arh, those were the days!

  17. Hello!
    I’m Vietnamese. Did you toured whatever times? If not already please visit our country with Vietnam travel, Vietnam tours or Vietnam hotels

  18. Welcome to the wonderful world of ARGs :o)

    At the risk of coming across as a bit of a groupie, the whole alternate reality gaming thing is doing interesting stuff across all sorts of media, not just the web. Fascinating to see it discussed from the seemingly unrelated perspective of SEO.

  19. You forgot Floyd and the message they put in across their albums, Dave. 😉

  20. Heather Paquinas

    So we can use CSS to make hidden^H^H^H^H^H^Hhard to read text, and not be spam! Yes!


  21. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to this campaign: It’s in German, sorry, but I couldn’t find an English article on this story.

    In short he (a blogger and NiN fan) is writing, that he found one of those USB sticks on a concert. Happy as he was, he wanted to share it with other fans and so resampled it in low quality and offered it as a stream (not download) on his blog. A few days later he got a letter from a lawyer of Universal Music with a cease-and-desist-warning (I hope that’s the right English term), which costs him an estimated 500 EUR (he didn’t write the exact number, but that’s what you normally have to pay for similar cases.)

    That’s the other side of this coin ehm interesting campaign. 😉

  22. Dave (Original)

    Arh yes, Pink Floyd, how could I forget them….actually how did I manage to remember the ones I did! All I recall was being “comfortably numb” 😉

  23. How cool to see a NIN mention here.

    The marketing campaign (is it a marketing campaign if they aren’t actually trying to sell you anything?) is fantastic. The story he’s trying to convey through the viral campaign and the album itself is a pretty bleak vision of what we’ve got to look forward to. Word has it that Trent, having said that the album is “the soundtrack to a movie that hasn’t been written”, has now in fact been approached to make the accompanying movie.

    Unfortunately, I’m not as impressed with the music itself as I am with the virals/hype. C’est la vie!

  24. I was just talking to a friend of mine yesterday about how cool and relevant Trent has been with his choices in how to promote himself.

    After a bit of time out of the spot light, he’s very intelligently been able to use the internet as a means to bring NIN back into the minds of the right people. Not the mainstream, but rather the apex of the digital culture jammers.

    By releasing his bed tracks into the public domain, he’s created LEGIONS of Bedroom DJ’s that are REMIXING his tracks all over the web, while as this post discusses he uses the web in a very smart and “present” way to gain attention in a “NON PUSHY” way, that makes you want to “play with him” in his world.

    KUDOS to who I think is one of the most relevant artists of our time, and I do mean ARTIST and not musician as I feel that he’s transcended a single label and is using media itself as an artform.

    Too bad he and Beck would likely never work together, they are two of the very few artists that I believe really understand the digital landscape and are using it effectively rather than hiding behind old processes.

  25. Yeah, this is cool viral marketing, but it’s also cool viral marketing because it’s NIN. If it had been a company selling house alarms or even Backstreet Boys doing similar bizarre tricks, the reaction would have been “……what???”.

    This campaign fits the NIN image so it works.

  26. if you like parepin, research fluoride and its practical use in germany during WWII.

  27. if you lay your hand on the year zero cd its self.
    it changes colours.

  28. I’m just not sure on the actual point of the campaign – was it just to promote the new album? Or the band?

    I like the idea, though. In fact, it might be a cheaper way of marketing even. But, it’s true that it wouldn’t work for the Backstreet Boys or some other group like that. It probably works best with bands like NIN which are all about going against the system and that kind of thing. I think most people from a Backstreet Boys concert (mostly girls, I hope) would hand the USB stick in at info instead of take it home! Or even know what it is, and rather just leave it there. Plus, what’s so secretive of the Backstreet Boys anyway? NIN has the right image.

    I don’t even know if it would work for Madonna, even. It might… but i’m not so sure about that.

    Very good marketing idea, thanks for that.

    And thanks to whoever it was that posted the link to supergreg! That made me laugh!

  29. Who designed the If it’s mostly text why did he chose the jittery design? Those annoying colored lines made everything so vague.

    Your post reminds me of interesting fact has been pointed out by Geert Desager, Business Development Manager & Strategic Consultant at Tagora and blogger at Brandopia. And since I’m from the advertising and marketing department I really think I need to study this matter so as to avoid any future problems.