Last week, Britney Spears sent fans into a tizzy when she began rolling out all-too-brief teaser clips for her upcoming “Hold It Against Me” video , which premieres February 17 at 9:56 p.m. on MTV. And while the snippets are certainly tantalizing — Britney onstage ! Britney with some shirtless dudes ! — they’re also rather brilliant: the truest example to date of Britney and her team harnessing the promotional power of social media and riding it for all it’s worth.
Though promo stunts have become rather commonplace in recent years — it seems like every new album comes pre-loaded with some sort of viral campaign or marketing tie-in — the good ones (like Spears’) manage to rise above the clutter. In honor of Britney, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable promotional efforts in recent music history.
Korn fly the friendly skies: In 2005, to promote the release of See You on the Other Side, Korn rounded up a bunch of contest winners, boarded a private jet from London and performed a five-song set at 37,000 feet. The end result wasn’t exactly pretty — the band were crowded together in the cabin and forced to use battery-powered amps (“Hey, everybody, don’t expect too much,” then-drummer David Silveria announced over the in-flight P.A. system, ” ‘Cause this sh–’s kinda f—ed up in here”) — but it certainly was memorable. See You on the Other Side debuted at #3 on the Billboard albums chart and was certified as platinum.
Fall Out Boy go to Infinity and beyond: To celebrate the release of their 2007 album Infinity On High , Fall Out Boy decided to cross the continent aboard a private jet (dubbed Infinity Flight 206) and play free shows in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles . Despite battling severe weather and some serious jet lag, the whole stunt went off without a hitch, climaxing with a gig atop a building in downtown LA. In the end, all their hard work paid off: Infinity bowed at #1 on the Billboard chart , giving the band its first chart-topping debut.
Nine Inch Nails go deep for Year Zero: At the time, it was simply an engrossing viral campaign for Trent Reznor’s upcoming record. But now, nearly four years since Reznor foisted Year Zero upon us, it’s not a stretch to call it the greatest viral campaign for an album: an expertly planned, deeply engrossing, downright-disturbing blitz that used Web sites, secret codes and “accidentally” lost flash drives to transport fans to a not-too-distant future. In the weeks leading up to the release of Year Zero, the game crossed over to the real world, as players were instructed to meet on a street corner in Los Angeles, where they were given “resistance kits” — some of which contained cell phones that would randomly ring with further instructions. Though the album didn’t sell particularly well, Reznor was reportedly so enthralled with the Year Zero campaign that he’s considering turning it into a TV series, with HBO and BBC both attached.
Prince really wants to give it to you: Ever since he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and began warring with his record label in the early ’90s, Prince has sort of been the (very funky) grandfather of, uh, unique promotional stunts. In 2004, he gave away copies of his Musicology album to everyone who bought a concert ticket for his tour — a move which forced SoundScan to change the way it counted album sales — and then, in ’07, he partnered with the U.K.’s Mail on Sunday newspaper to have a copy of his Planet Earth album included with the July 15 edition of the paper. That move angered his label, Sony BMG, who refused to distribute the album in the U.K. — though that most likely didn’t bother the Purple One.
Radiohead give away In Rainbows for free: In October 2007, without so much as a warning, Radiohead announced that they were releasing a new album called In Rainbows , and that they’d allow fans to pay whatever they wanted to download it. They weren’t the first band to do it — earlier that year, Canadian act Stars made their In Our Bedroom, After The War available for free download — and they certainly weren’t the last, but Radiohead were definitely the biggest band to give away an album for free. Predictably, fans went nuts , but not so predictably, the physical version of In Rainbows also managed to sell well, going to #1 on the charts.
Iamamiwhoami mystifies, terrifies: It all started with one video — a spooky, ooky clip featuring plenty of trees and grisly footage of a goat being born — in December 2010, and things got progressively weirder from there. The videos kept coming, getting increasingly longer (and more terrifying), as the Internet paused and tried to figure out just who was behind the “Iamamiwhoami” campaign. Everyone from Lady Gaga to Christina Aguilera was suspected, but with each passing video — and mysterious package sent to the MTV newsroom — it became clear that neither Gaga or Xtina was behind the thing. In the end — or, at least, we think it’s the end (since the campaign is still sort of happening) — it was revealed that Swedish singer Jonna Lee was responsible. We’re still confused.
Josh Freese takes things to the next level — and then some: To promote the release of his solo album, Since 1972, Vandals/A Perfect Circle/Devo drummer/session dude to the stars Josh Freese got creative, unveiling a rather, uh, involved pricing scheme that started at $7 (for a download plus three videos) and going all the way to $75,000 (for a super-deluxe edition including dinner, drum lessons and foot massages, plus a five-song EP written about your life, a drinking session, a trip with Freese to Tijuana, a flying-trapeze lesson and a homemade lasagna). Here’s one Freese fan’s account of his experience, which included dinner, drinks, a Vandals show and a barbecue pool party — a total steal at just $1,000.
Kanye West launches G.O.O.D. Fridays: In the lead-up to his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West was reportedly having a difficult time whittling down the list of potential songs … so, he decided to just give some of them away for free. Beginning in August 2010, he launched his “G.O.O.D. Fridays” initiative, which gave fans a new song every week until Christmas. Some of the gems he cast aside even featured the likes of Jay-Z, Common, Mos Def, John Legend, Nicki Minaj and Keri Hilson — but Yeezy didn’t seem to mind. So long as folks weren’t leaking his tracks , that is.
Which promotional campaign had you the most interested? Tell us your pick below!
Don’t miss Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me” video premiere February 17 at 9:56 p.m. ET on MTV and MTV.com before a new episode of “Jersey Shore”!