When Viral Music Ad Campaigns Go Wrong


There’s no such thing as bad publicity, goes the old Madison Ave truism. But is it actually true? Boards of Canada’s epic album-announcement promotion stunt got them a whole lot of coverage in various publications that don’t normally go in for cerebral electronica, so in that respect it was presumably a success — but let’s be honest, it was also kind of a pain in the ass, especially for fans who’ve been waiting eight years for a new album and don’t appreciate being teased on top of that. Internet marketing is an inexact science, and when artists get it wrong, the results can be at best irritating and at worst counter-productive. Like this lot, for instance.


“Oooh, look, it’s a 30-second snippet of my new song! In a Pepsi ad! Maybe next week, if you’re lucky, I’ll deign to bestow another new song on you — but only if I can find an on-message brand to align it to, obviously! Bow down, bitches!”


What better way to promote your album than with a massive publicity stunt designed to make people think you murdered your cheating boyfriend with a knife? Ashanti’s ill-advised “viral” campaign for The Declaration in 2008 won her nothing more than an initial rush of bewilderment and a whole lot of bad publicity.Thankfully, everyone eventually realized that the whole thing was an ill-advised hoax. Well, almost everyone.

Susan Boyle

Key takeaway for publicists here: if you try to promote your client’s album with a hashtag — #susanalbumparty — including the words “anal bum party,” the entire population of Twitter will giggle like a sort of giant gestalt Beavis and Butt-Head, and the thought of Susan Boyle having such a party will be embedded in the mind of everyone forever after.

Mr. Oizo

Anyone remember Flat Eric? The little puppet who nodded his way through Mr. Oizo’s “Flat Beat” for a Levi’s commercial? It was priceless publicity for the hitherto unheralded French producer, and in fairness, the complete overexposure of the campaign wasn’t his fault — but still, after about the bazillionth time it became more headache-inducing than endearing.

Nine Inch Nails

Perhaps the only campaign ever to rival Boards of Canada for elaborate obtuseness. Trying to catalogue the entire story of the lead-up to the release of Year Zero here would probably take the rest of the afternoon — suffice it to say it’s a tale of USB sticks “accidentally” left in venue bathrooms, messages hidden in band T-shirts, and, yes, eventually some actual music, too. (Also, NIN fans being NIN fans, there’s an elaborate timeline of the entire campaign here.)