Friday, April 3, 2009

The Big O: How Oprah Winfrey Built Her Brand

By: Katherine Matz and Ellen Leto

Through the use of media and an uncanny honesty, Oprah Winfrey has created a powerful brand for herself. Winfrey has been connecting with people around the world for the past two decades as supervising producer and host of the award-winning The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her accomplishments as a global media leader and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures today (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography). Winfrey does not simply befriend her viewers, according to Jennifer Harris and Elwood Watson; she “transforms them into loyal consumers.”

Situation Analysis

Influenced by Barbara Walters on the Today Show, Winfrey began her media career in high school, when she worked at WVOL radio in Nashville. At the age of 19, she became the youngest person and the first African-American woman to anchor the news at Nashville's WTVF-TV (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography). At times, Winfrey struggled with the detached nature of news reporting and was criticized by her colleagues for being too emotional (Famous Entrepreneurs). Next, she moved to Baltimore to co-anchor the six o’clock newscast on WJZ-TV and was later appointed co-host of the station’s People Are Talking morning show. This program helped Oprah to find her niche. She said, “I felt comfortable. I felt like I could be myself. All of those years I was on the news, I was always acting” (Koehn and Helms). Unfortunately, her bosses at WJZ-TV wanted her to change everything about her appearance, which was traumatic for her.

In 1984, Winfrey’s charismatic broadcasting style attracted the attention of Chicago’s ABC affiliate station, WLS-TV, and she was invited to host its half-hour morning show that had been struggling to maintain viewership against The Phil Donahue Show, an extremely popular, nationally syndicated program. (Koehn and Helms). Dennis Swanson, vice president and general manager of the station was not concerned with her appearance—he let Oprah be Oprah. With Winfrey as the host, AM Chicago became the number one local talk show just one month after she began. Due to the positive and progressive results of having Winfrey, the show expanded to one hour and was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1986 it became the highest-rated talk show in television history and entered national syndication (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography).

Her success, as a woman and a minority, is a testimony to her innovative hosting style. At the time, the roughly 30-year-old talk show industry was dominated by The Phil Donahue Show. Donahue established the “sympathetic model” of talk shows: rather than entertain, the host consoled and educated guests about previously private issues. However, Donahue did not possess the relatable nature that Winfrey exudes. Winfrey opened herself up to her viewers, and, in turn, her viewers followed suit (Harris and Watson). Though Winfrey was never expected to out-perform Donahue (she was hired only to marginally improve the ratings numbers for AM Chicago), her viewership exceeded Donahue’s by nearly 2-to-1 within two months of her arrival (Koehn and Helms).

Winfrey realized early that because of her swiftly mounting success she would need an agent to manage contracts and offers and hired Chicago entertainment lawyer Jeffrey Jacobs to represent her (Koehn and Helms). According to Patricia Sellers, while Dennis Swanson, WLS-TV, taught Winfrey to be herself, Jacobs convinced her that she could run an empire. An important part of this empire was the eventual ownership of her company.

Due to Federal Communications Commission regulations, WLS-TV, an affiliate of ABC, could not distribute the program to non-affiliates. So by July 1985, after The Oprah Winfrey Show received offers from several national syndicators, King World was finally chosen for distribution. Jacobs negotiated a deal in which King World was required to obtain distribution rights from both WLS and Winfrey. By the first day of syndicated distribution, an unprecedented 138 local stations had purchased rights to her show (Koehn and Helms).

That same year, Winfrey played the role of Sofia in the motion picture The Color Purple, sparking an interest in production. In May 1986, she established Harpo, Inc. The company was established to oversee publicity for her show, answer fan mail, and manage developing projects, including purchasing the rights to Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved (Koehn and Helms). Jacobs was given a 5 percent share of the company. Three years later, when he was named president of Harpo, Inc., he was given 5 percent more (Sellers).

With the help of Jacobs, Winfrey negotiated effective deals with King World and ABC, and Harpo, Inc. was able to claim a substantial portion of the shows profits. WLS-TV gave up its ownership after a short time, and with each renewal of King World’s distribution agreement, its share decreased (Koehn and Helms). By late 1988, an estimated 11 million viewers in the United States watched The Oprah Winfrey Show each day, and licensing fees for local stations brought Harpo, Inc. around $100 million. Harpo’s current president, Tim Bennentt, says that this period “was a seminal moment when Oprah took control of herself. And by taking control, she opened up the door to getting the lion’s share of the profits for the show” (Koehn and Helms).

King World and Harpo, Inc. continued to negotiate distribution deals for The Oprah Winfrey Show for about a decade. With each contract, King World’s share of the program’s revenues decrease and Winfrey’s share of King World and licensing fees increased. In 2002, King World relinquished its remaining portion of the show and full ownership was given to Harpo, Inc. At this point, annual revenues from The Oprah Winfrey Show were nearly $300 million, and Winfrey’s net worth exceeded $1 billion (Koehn and Helms).


Winfrey is a multimedia mogul who has produced film and television programs and launched the most successful magazine start-up in history. Everything flows from her talk show, which she has used as a platform for sharing her struggles. She also uses her show to build a deep, personal connection with her audience, most of whom feel her values and aspirations reflect theirs. Winfrey has built her brand around her desire to build, produce and promote worthwhile projects. Her book club has become a key marketing force in the publishing industry, and it promotes undiscovered authors. In building an empire, she has become admired as an example of what a woman can do if she sets her mind to it (Montoya, 91).

Winfrey uses personal experiences, candidly revealing her vulnerabilities, to reach her viewers on an emotional level. Called rapport talk by Time magazine, this uniquely intimate approach of “personal dialogue, confession and compassion” was ground-breaking and her viewers connected with Oprah as they would with the closest of friends. The trust that developed between Winfrey and her viewers set a solid foundation for brand development.

Beginning in the 1992-1993 television seasons, Oprah decided that she wanted to distinguish her program from other daytime talk shows by moving away from sensational topics. She wanted to be known to have a talk show that is more responsible, and would be a benefit and not belittle people. Oprah’s mission became to help her viewers live better lives through self-improvement and self-awareness. Although the show still had episodes where Oprah interviewed celebrities, it focused more on issues of personal importance. According to its official mission statement, Harpo’s goal was “to be a catalyst for transformation in people’s lives, to help them see themselves more clearly and to make the best choices they can using stories, real people’s experiences, information and ideas. Our intention is to create moments in which people can connect to the truest sense of themselves and build from there.”

Self-help books were popular for decades before reaching a peak in the late 20th century. For consumers seeking guidance or inspiration, these books were an easily accessible, affordable and anonymous way to seek personal advice. In the 1980s, Oprah recognized self-help material as a theme for daytime television. Oprah was an active participant on her show and sometimes referred to her own experiences with sexual abuse and food addiction.

In the mid 1990s, as many talk shows focused on self-help topics, The Oprah Winfrey Show introduced a personal growth theme known as “Live Your Best Life.” Winfrey inspired her viewers into action by focusing on physical and mental health, spirituality and self-fulfillment. Her audience was encouraged to exercise, meditate, read and volunteer, and Oprah persuaded them to take control of their lives and appreciate themselves. Her viewers came to associate personal growth less with the self-help authors who appeared on the show and more with Oprah herself. She added a segment called “Remembering Your Spirit,” which featured real life inspirational stories. All of this aided in the creation of a base for Oprah’s unique brand of self-help thinking.


Harpo, Inc., responsible for the production of Winfrey’s program after its separation from WLS-TV, bought a $15 million space to convert into a studio in 1988 (Famous Entrepreneurs). Harpo Studios was designed to accommodate both The Oprah Winfrey Show and other large-scale projects. There, Harpo Fims, Inc. has produced made-for-TV film projects based on classic and contemporary literature, including Tuesdays with Morrie, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and For One More Day. Many of her productions are award-winning. Harpo Studios has also created theater-released films like Beloved and The Great Debaters, which received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography).

The show is seen by an estimated 44 million viewers a week in the United States and is broadcast internationally in 144 countries (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography). Besides The Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Productions Inc. has created Dr. Phil, a syndicated daytime talk show, partnered with Rachael Ray in hosting a daily talk-show and created its first primetime series, Oprah's Big Give.

Beside TV producer, Winfrey is a magazine founder and editorial director. Winfrey, along with the help of Hearst Magazines, introduced O, The Oprah Magazine, in April 2000. O is a monthly women's lifestyle publication. It is credited as being the most successful magazine launch in recent history and currently has a circulation of 2.3 million readers each month (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography). Winfrey has also launched international editions of O in South Africa, extending her message to a broader audience. Today, Winfrey uses her Web site,, to provide resources related to The Oprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine. Her site offers advice to Women on everything from the mind, body and spirit to food, home and relationships. averages more than 6.7 million users per month (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography).

The website also includes Oprah's Book Club, which began in 1996. Every year Winfrey chooses works of fiction that she finds interesting and invites the authors on her show. Viewers have the opportunity to join Oprah's Book Club online. There are approximately 1 million members who are offered in-depth study guides, and expert Q & As (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography).

Winfrey also launched a satellite radio channel in 2006. The channel features original daily programming from Harpo Radio, Inc., which includes segments hosted by people from The Oprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine. She also has a 30-minute weekly radio show, Oprah's Soul Series (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography).

Winfrey has used the media to turn herself into a global brand; however, one of the key aspects that has developed her brand is her role as philanthropist. She is a big believer in education, and through her charity, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, she has supported the education and empowerment of women, children and families from around the world, especially those who have no means (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography.) On The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey encouraged viewers to use their lives to make a difference in the lives of others. One specific show led to the creation of the public charity Oprah's Angel Network in 1998. Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $80 million, with 100 percent of audience donations going to nonprofit organizations across the globe (Oprah Winfrey’s Biography).

All of Winfrey’s projects have been deemed credible due to her brand. The Oprah brand has been developed over many years, and she has taken careful steps to maintain her brand.


Winfrey went from talk show host to the most powerful woman in America. This evolution occurred as she slowly transformed from Oprah the person to Oprah the brand. Personal Branding is the art of attracting and keeping followers by actively shaping public perception ( It is possible for public figures to control the way they are perceived. Winfrey realized early that talent alone would not take her to the top of her field, so she created and promoted her unique personal brand (

Three components make up the heart of every personal brand: 1) Emotional impact, 2) Repetition and 3)Time (Montoya, 44). Emotional impact determines how someone feels about a person causing them to make a decision about their opinion on that person. A good personal brand triggers strong, positive responses in the people in its domain: confidence, admiration, fondness, trust and fascination (Montoya, 45). Winfrey triggered these emotions in her audience by sharing honest and true personal stories and struggles. A brand also must remain consistent to create an image in the minds of the audience. The best way to accomplish this is repeated exposure to the same brand message. Winfrey used multiple channels to get her message across including television, radio and magazine. Personal branding also takes time. You can’t create strong perceptions overnight. Winfrey’s show has had 23 seasons.

When in the spotlight, everything affects your personal brand including the way you talk and dress, your education, where you’re from, your spouse, car, friends, presentation skills and how well you follow through on your promises (Montoya, 36).

The key to personal branding success is defining yourself instead of letting others define you ( Winfrey struggled in the beginning of her television career with negative perceptions of her image. She was seen as an overweight woman minority, which was unlike most typical television personalities. Her bosses at her first major television job in Baltimore wanted her to change her hair, lips, nose and other aspects of her appearance. She was quick to turn these potential flaws into the basis of her brand by sharing her personal struggles with the public.

It is possible to shape the public’s perception by defining strengths, values, goals and personality and presenting yourself in a compelling, persuasive manner ( Winfrey constantly and consistently expressed herself and what she stood for to everyone she met. Winfrey’s ability to relate to her guests, passion for her subject matter, and willingness to be emotionally open on camera quickly made her known as a distinct persona in the talk show genre. In the image-driven world of television, Winfrey was candid about her flaws and vulnerabilities, one being her lifelong struggle to lose weight.

According to marketing and branding specialist, Peter Montoya, there are eight laws of personal branding: the laws of specialization, leadership, personality, distinctiveness, visibility, unity, persistence and goodwill. When Winfrey was developing her brand it seems that she was aware of these branding principles. Winfrey’s brand coincides with all of the Eight Laws of Personal Branding.

The Law of Specialization has to do with a brand being precise and concentrating on a single strength, talent or achievement. The concentration can focus in on many different areas including ability, behavior, lifestyle, mission, product, profession or service ( Winfrey applied the Law of Specialization by differentiating herself from other talk-show hosts with positivism, ambition and an honest desire to create meaningful projects (Montoya, 92).

The Law of Leadership states that in order for a brand to have authority and credibility, the source must be perceived as a leader by their audience. Leadership stems from excellence, position or recognition ( Winfrey used The Law of Leadership to make herself a mogul through hard work and a strong vision. She has become a voice of power and control in entertainment, media and publishing (Montoya, 92).

A great personal brand must be built upon the source's true personality including their flaws, according to the Law of Personality ( Winfrey applied the Law of Personality by openly sharing her struggles, hopes and emotions with her audience (Montoya, 92).

The Law of Distinctiveness states that a personal brand must stand out against its competition ( With the Law of Distinctiveness, Winfrey set herself apart from the dramatic and extreme talk show hosts. She chose to be a positive force, a promoter of unknown talent and an advocate for women (Montoya, 92).

In order to be successful, a brand also must be seen again and again, until it is imprinted in the minds of the audience. This is the Law of Visibility. This continual visibility leads to an assumption of quality because people assume if they see something all the time it must be better than other offers ( Winfrey’s brand applies to the Law of Visibility by having a daily talk show, a magazine, movies, a radio station, national tours and philanthropic work.

The Law of Unity has to do with the private person behind the brand compared to the public brand. The two identities must be one in the same with regards to morals and behavioral code. Private conduct must coincide with the public brand ( It is clear that Winfrey has applied the Law of Unity to her brand due to the lack of personal scandals that have emerged (Montoya, 92).

The Law of Persistence states that a personal brand takes time to develop. The process can be accelerated but never replaced by advertising and public relations ( The Law of Persistence is exhibited by Winfrey’s consistent message to “live your best life.”

Finally, a personal brand will be more productive and last longer if the private person is perceived positively according to the Law of Goodwill ( Winfrey’s adherence to the Law of Goodwill can be seen in the amount she has given back to society through her charity organizations.

Beyond the eight principles, another key aspect of branding is control. In the unique case of her brand, Winfrey is the actual content herself not just the content creator. Given that Winfrey’s life is the essence of her brand, it is not surprising that she has been reluctant to cede control of her brand. Winfrey has not licensed her name for the use on products or taken her company public. She also keeps tight control over her employees, who could essentially affect her brand. Everyone who works at Harpo must sign a lifelong confidentiality agreement.


Winfrey’s strategy in building her brand was clearly a success. The Oprah Winfrey Show has remained the number one talk show for 22 consecutive seasons. It is seen by an estimated 44 million viewers a week in the United States and is broadcast internationally in 144 countries. Winfrey and The Oprah Winfrey Show have received more than 40 Daytime Emmy Awards. Her magazine currently has a circulation of 2.3 million readers each month and has international editions. Winfrey is considered one of the most influential women in the world. She has won numerous awards for her business and humanitarian accomplishments. Due to her tight control of her brand and message content, Winfrey’s message to “Live Your Best Life” has remained consistent with her ideals. A list of honors includes:


· Time Magazine—100 Most Influential People in the World

· The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity—2007 Humanitarian Award


· Time Magazine—100 Most Influential People in the World

· The New York Public Library—Library Lion 2006


· National Civil Rights Museum—2005 National Freedom Award

· National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—Hall of Fame

· Time Magazine—100 Most Influential People in the World

· International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences—2005 International Emmy Founders Award


· United Nations Association of the United States of America—Global Humanitarian Action Award

· National Association of Broadcasters—Distinguished Service Award

· Time Magazine —100 Most Influential People in the World


· Association of American Publishers—AAP Honors Award


· 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards—Bob Hope Humanitarian Award

· Broadcasting & Cable—Hall of Fame


· National Book Foundation—50th Anniversary Gold Medal


· National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences—Lifetime Achievement Award

· Time Magazine —100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century


· Newsweek—Most Important Person in Books and Media

· TV Guide —Television Performer of the Year


· International Radio & Television Society Foundation—Gold Medal Award

· George Foster Peabody Awards—1995 Individual Achievement Award

Year Zero - A Look Into The Not-So-Distant Future of Entertainment Marketing

by: Brandon Bernola, Michael McLaughlin & Shinsaku Yoshida

Introduction & Background

It began with a message coded into a t-shirt. It quickly grew into an online scavenger hunt with some thirty unique Web sites; an alternative reality “game” with more than 3 million players. A concept of a not-so-distant dystopian future plagued by environmental collapse and endless holy wars. A future where drugs are laced into the water supplies in order to control the masses. A future where art and music are weapons of resistance. A concept that begs to question: what if the future is now?

In 2006, to accompany his upcoming Nine Inch Nails album, “Year Zero,” singer and multi-instrumentalist Trent Reznor enlisted the aid of 42 Entertainment to expand his concept of a dystopian future beyond the album. What resulted was an alternative reality game, or ARG, which lasted several months in early 2007. The ARG was comprised of 30 unique Web sites, USB drives left in bathrooms across Europe and an underground “Art Is Resistance” movement, which culminated in a secret concert that was raided by a SWAT team.

Year Zero, while definitely an interesting case study, is equally frustrating. While the techniques used in the project are common of viral marketing, the creative team behind the project did not think of it as a marketing campaign at all. In an article in Wired magazine, Reznor made one thing, “perfectly clear: ‘It's not fucking marketing. I'm not trying to sell anything’.” [Edited something out]

Regardless of the intent behind the project, Year Zero presents itself as an interesting solution to some of the issues facing the music industry. The use of ARGs, pioneered by 42 Entertainment, may very well be a popular technique in the near future to accompany the launches of anything from movies to video games to music. If nothing else, Year Zero is a clear indication that fans of music and other entertainment media are looking for something more than traditional marketing.

Situation Analysis

42 Entertainment:

42 Entertainment was founded in 2002 by Jordan Weisman, and has been growing and building its reputation as an innovator ever since. 42 Entertainment’s mission, according to their Web site, is to produce the world’s most innovative and immersive entertainment to their distribution partners. 42 Entertainment is an independent producer that develops ground-breaking entertainment experiences for their distribution partners. They also call themselves “the storytellers who pioneer new forms of cross-platform narratives and build powerful online communities, to create highly participatory experiences for our audience.”

42 Entertainment was the first company to produce alternate reality games (ARG), a new genre that only dates back to 2001. ARGs offer an immersive experience to sophisticated users who seek a higher level of engagement from a game, both online and offline. ARGs produced by 42 Entertainment have been used as part of the marketing campaigns for movies such as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and video games for the Xbox 360 gaming console such as Halo 2. The company’s latest effort was created to promote Warner Bros.' 2008 film "The Dark Knight." ARGs are not typical video games and are more like online scavenger hunts. They utilize Web sites, telephones and other forms of media to offer clues to users to solve a puzzle. ARGs also provide hints at information about the upcoming product. ARGs are excellent ways to promote products, but there is a setback: cost. ARGs are expensive to stage, which is why they've been associated with major corporations. ARGs can cost anywhere from $1 million to $3 million. Web sites such as say that although the ARGs are expensive, they are defiantly worth the money.

Another example of an expensive but effective ARG is the Vista OS campaign. In 2007 a global puzzle game, by 42 Entertainment, was created to celebrate the launch of Windows Vista OS. The winner of the game was awarded a trip to outer space. More than 100,000 people registered and tried to solve the online puzzles that gave clues to staged events around the world. Finally, 42 Entertainment’s "Cathy's Book" from 2006 was the first ARG packaged as a multimedia book experience. It used web sites, real phone numbers, and physical clues in the context of a "diary" written by a teenage girl to solve a murder mystery. The book wound up on the New York Times' Children's Bestseller List. ARGs and viral marketing campaigns have been effective with devoted fans willing to invest their time, and who will spread the word across their online and real world communities.

Viral Marketing:

Viral Marketing is one of the marketing strategies introduced in 1996 by a professor in Harvard Business School named Jeffrey Rayport. Viral marketing mainly focuses on spreading the information through social networks by the users creating a great exposure to the message. Like a virus, the message will rapidly be passed among the public by passing the information to others. According to the six principles of Viral Marketing, the marketing begins when the company gives away their product or services for free. This will allow the public to obtain the product effortlessly and increase the number of people consuming the product or service. At the same time, it exploits the motivation and behavior of the public. As the result it becomes a dynamic promotion to introduce the new products to the public. Recently, companies in the music industry have been attempting to apply this marketing strategy to promote the sales of their CDs.

The Music Industry:

The music industry in the 21st century has been encountering a severe problem with online piracy and file-sharing. The increasing rate of file-sharing has been blamed in part for the decline of CD sales and tumbling the music industry’s revenue. The Australian Recording Industry Association found that CD sales in Australia were also down 12.23 percent in 2007. This decline of sales was mainly caused from the rapid transition of recorded CD to digital music file. According to Business, approximately 2,680 record stores closed in the US by the end of 2005. Furthermore, large record companies have laid-off thousands of employees. For example, to cope with the failing market and falling record sales, EMI Records, laid-off more than 1,500 employees through 2008. While CD retailers and music stores have declined, sellers of online and digital music have become more dominant. By 2009, online music stores, such as iTunes and, owned 29.1 percent of sales of music market.

In order to counterattack this crisis of illegal downloading and music piracy, the music industry attempted to add an access control technology called Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM limited the consumers to copy their music file to transfer to other media devices. For example, Apple’s iTunes has applied DRM to every music and movie file they sold at their Web site. This prohibits the users from creating back-ups for the DVD’s and music downloaded from the music store.

Nine Inch Nails:

Nine Inch Nails is a band that is largely the work of front-man Trent Reznor. Reznor began writing and recording music under the name Nine Inch Nails in 1988. His first full-length album, “Pretty Hate Machine,” was released in 1989. After the release of the first album, Reznor put together a touring band, and began touring aside popular alternative rock bands and collecting a growing fan base. Nine Inch Nails was also featured in the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991. By the time 2007’s “Year Zero” was scheduled to hit, Nine Inch Nails had become incredibly popular. According to All Music Guide, “Nine Inch Nails were the most popular industrial group ever and were largely responsible for bringing the music to a mass audience." The style pushed by Reznor and Nine Inch Nails had become so influential that in addition to spawning acts like Marylin Manson and Filter, even renowned artists like Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose had fired his band and attempted to emulate the industrial rock sound in 1999.

The album “Year Zero” would be Nine Inch Nails’ fifth studio production. As opposed to the five-year gaps that were privy to the previous four albums, “Year Zero” would be released just two years after the chart-topping (No. 1 on The Billboard Top 200 in 2005 and 2005; No. 1 on Top Internet Albums and No. 2 on Top Canadian Albums in 2005) “With Teeth” (2005). The album would also represent the end of Reznor’s contractual obligation to Universal Music Group. Reznor’s anger with his record label resulted in his criticizing the label shortly after the release of “Year Zero,” writing: “As the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more.” Reznor continued to state that a label representative responded to his inquiries about the higher prices for “Year Zero” over-seas with: “'It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out - you know, true fans. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy.' So... I guess as a reward for being a 'true fan' you get ripped off."

Reznor has also spoken out against the compact disc format and Digital Rights Management-protected music. In an article in The Guardian, Reznor said, “"The medium of the CD is outdated and irrelevant. It's really painfully obvious what people want - DRM-free music they can do what they want with. If the greedy record industry would embrace that concept I truly think people would pay for music and consume more of it.” Reznor’s disdain for the record industry’s strategy of right-protected music and a CD format served as a reason and justification for the intentional leaking of editable songs on USB flash drives. Reznor said, “As to what I'm looking to gain from doing this, I'm not really sure. . . it just seemed like something I'd want as a fan."

Timeline of Events:

The Year Zero project involved 30 Web sites, strategically placed USB drives, hidden messages and a movement of itself. The following is a timeline of the events that occured (some were left out, as they were not quite as important):

February 12, 2007

Fans deciphered a t-shirt where certain letters were highlighted. These letters spelled out “I am trying to believe” which led to a Web site Other Web sites were found by tracking similar Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and referencing the album’s track list. These Web sites included:,, and

February 14, 2007

A USB flash drive containing an mp3 of “My Violent Heart” was found in a bathroom at a concert in Portugal. By reading the file through a spectrograph, the static at the end of the song actually showed the picture of a hand reaching down from the sky, which would be known as “The Presence.”

February 19, 2007

A second USB flash drive containing the song “Me I’m Not” and a second mp3 of static was found in a bathroom at a concert in Spain. When the static track was put through a spectrograph, it spelled out the phone number 1-216-333-1810.

February 22, 2007

Fliers leading to the Web site are handed out at a concert in France.

February 25, 2007

A third USB flash drive containing the song “In This Twilight” and a second file with an image of a Hollywood sign was found in a bathroom at a concert in England. The image of the Hollywood sign would lead to

March 7, 2007

A USB drive containing the video to Year Zero’s first single, “Survivalism,” was distributed at a concert in England. The video led to discovery of the Web sites:, and

March 11, 2007

Fliers with directions to a billboard under a bridge were handed out at a concert in England. The billboard led to discovery of and

Lithographs were handed out at a party to people who had pre-ordered the album, leading to discovery of

E-mails sent out to fans, leading to discovery of

April 13, 2007

There is an “Art Is Resistance” meeting in Los Angeles. Kits containing cell phones, bandannas, buttons and other things are handed out to those attending.

April 13-25, 2007

Year Zero is released in Europe (13), Australia (14), the UK (16), the United States (17) and Japan (25).

April 18, 2007

Fans are invited to a free concert in Los Angeles via the free cell phones from the “Art Is Resistance” kits. The concert is raided by a fake SWAT team, and the events are videotaped.

April 27, 2007

Fans who received free cell phones from the Art Is Resistance kits receive a phone call which leads to

May, 2007 – Present

Trent Reznor had intended the Year Zero project to last for at least two albums. Although there was a remix album released later in 2007, “Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D,” the campaign went “cold” at the end of April with the discovery of the 30th and final Web site. According to an interview in Wired, which represented the end of media silence about the Year Zero project from 42 Entertainment, “’I don't know if the audience was ready for it to end," says Susan Bonds, the president of 42 Entertainment. ‘But we always expected to pick it up again.’ Reznor, after all, had conceived Year Zero as a two-part album. ‘Those phones are still out there," she adds. "The minutes have expired. But we could buy new minutes at any point.’”



We have evaluated the adequacy of Nine Inch Nail and 42 Entertainment’s background information on the current plunge of music industry by researching the tactics that they used. Trent Reznor intentionally leaked his new songs by leaving the USB flash drives in the bathrooms during the tour in Europe. He did this intentionally because of his dislike of the DRM policy that restricts fans from having the level of freedom with music that he felt they desired. Additionally, 42 Entertainments utilization of a broad spectrum of media, including Web sites, phone messages, automated e-mails and word-of-mouth shows an understanding of the development of viral marketing.


Number of messages sent to media and activities designed:

We did not find a single press release about the Year Zero campaign. However, 42 Entertainment created 30 Web sites that fans would be led to if clues were properly followed. There were 3 active phone numbers that the fans could call to lead them to other clues. There were also an undisclosed number of t-shirts, flyers, and flash drives that were used during the campaign that acted as hidden clues and messages.

Number of messages placed and activities implemented:

The results in LexisNexis after searching for “Year Zero” were:

Newspapers – 791
Magazines & Journals – 107
Industry Trade Press – 94

The results in LexisNexis after searching for “Nine Inch Nails Year Zero” were:

Newspapers – 161
Magazines & Journals – 46
Industry Trade Press – 48

The newspapers that covered the Year Zero campaign were from all over the world. Publications from Australia to Korea and back wanted to know the news and updates about this innovative campaign. Several major newspaper publications in the United States, including The New York Times, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times picked up the story. However, the magazines, journals and Industry Trade Press that covered this campaign were mainly music-based publications, such as Rolling Stone and Wired.

Number who received/attended messages and activities:

The number of people who received/attended these messages is uncertain. There were an estimated 3.5 million people a part the “Resistance Movement” and countless fans involved with figuring out hidden clues, messages, and puzzles.


The campaign made a huge impact among the loyal fan of Nine Inch Nails and also to general fans of music. The album, “Year Zero” ranked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and peaked in the top-10 in six other countries. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Trent Reznor encouraged his fans to steal more of their music, and may have indicated an attack on his record label, Universal Music Group, during a concert in Australia in 2007. According to 42 Entertainment’s Year Zero Case Study Web site, approximately 3.5 million people were involved with the Art of Resistance Web site and movement. The Year Zero campaign became a social phenomenon suggesting that the use of viral marketing and other innovative tactics is necessary to save the music industry from their plunge of business.

Rose, Frank. “Secret Websites, Coded Messages: The New World of Immersive Games.” Wired Magazine, issue 16.01, December 20, 2007. <> Accessed March 23, 2009.

Huey, Steve. “Biography – Nine Inch Nails.” All Music Guide. <>.

Accredited to: Los Angeles staff. “Nine Inch Nails frontman blasts record label.” New Musical Express. May 15, 2007. Accessed with Lexis/Nexis Academic.

Wilson, Ralph F. “The Six Principles of Viral Marketing.” Web Marketing Today, February 1, 2005. Originally published 2/1/2000. <>.

Mackintosh, Henry. “Stars compose new ways to use music.” The Guardian, March 29, 2007. <>. Accessed originally with Lexis/Nexis Academic.

Murfett, Andrew. “Music industry ponders its future as CDs lose their shine.” BusinessDay, March 16, 2009. <>.

“Digital Rights Management: Digital Rights Management and Copy Protection Schemes.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. <>.
Moses, Asher. “Nails frontman urges fans to steal music.” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 18, 2007. <>.