Lil Nas X has found a recipe to create internet-breaking songs and viral marketing that few other artists have. His song “Montero” debuted at number one and his current single, “Industry Baby,” at number two. Today when I am writing this, both of them remain in the top ten in the charts and Montero has stayed on the charts for 18 weeks.
How does he do it? What’s his secret?
For starters, Lil Nas X understands how to use social media to create viral marketing. His first hit, “Old Town Road,” quickly went viral on TikTok, creating a formula that he, and other artists like yourself, use for other songs.
In today’s article, I will dissect Lil Nas X’s viral marketing campaign for “Montero” so that you can use the same strategies for your next single launch. I will analyze his pre-save campaign, the fan awareness he created before the release, the setup for release day, and the marketing strategies he used post-release to continue to grow the track.
Determine The Value of The Song
Before you create a marketing plan, you must understand the core value of your song. A good marketing strategy will broadcast the message of your song on different mediums through other formats.
Lil Nas X excelled at this marketing strategy for “Montero.” The song tells a story about a man Lil Nas X fell in love with who had not come out as gay. Lil Nas X said the line was a “double entendre” as he felt the man lived an unhappy life “in the closet.”
The lyrics of the song are personal to Lil Nas X, and he used the music video to attach a bigger message to the song. In comes the most important aspect of this marketing plan: the music video.
Create An Enthralling Music Video
Although a music video can be expensive, if done correctly it can provide unmatched value to your viral marketing campaign
A successful music video should give additional value to the track itself. When people watch your music video, they should both listen to the track and receive the visual experience. This connection allows people to more deeply attach to a song due to the increased value from the video.
Lil Nas X’s music video for “Montero” expertly uses the cinematic message to demonstrate deeper themes.
In the video, Lil Nas X utilizes the homophobia often associated with Christian communities and spins it to play in his favor. He deceives the devil and becomes ruler of the underworld to illustrate the power one is capable of when they accept who they are. The video is full of other biblical references, alluding to Lil Nas X’s upbringing in a religious community where he was taught to hate himself and made to believe he did not belong due to his homosexuality.
Lil Nas X’s “Montero” demonstrates how to provide additional value to the story of your song through a music video. Montero’s success can be traced back to the music video and the limited edition Satan Shoes, a series of custom Nike Air Max 97 shoes made specially for the song.
Translate Your Songs Value Into Merch
You should create merch connected to your song to capitalize on your viral marketing campaign. If people like the track and the message, you should provide an additional way for them to enjoy the song by buying merch they can wear as well. In addition to increased marketing, merchandise brings in an extra revenue stream. Design creative merch that furthers the value and messaging already established from the music and music video.
For “Montero,” Lil Nas X created standard merch with funny messages that reflected the music video and track. However, the most interesting piece of merchandise was the “Satan Shoe” he launched with an art collective called MSCHF. Only 666 pairs of the modified $1,018 (£740) Nike Air Max 97s were made. The shoes sparked controversy, as they contained a drop of human blood, even leading to a lawsuit. Despite this, Lil Nas X utilized the extra publicity from the controversy to market his new track “Industry Baby.”
Try to emulate Lil Nas X to design creative merch. Potentially collaborate with a company as he did. For example, you can collaborate with local clothing designers and launch some sick merch for your upcoming track. It’s always good to do a limited edition as you can then mark up prices and create an exclusive atmosphere.
Create Digital assets For The Track:
In addition to the vitally important music video, Lil Nas X created many different digital assets that you should emulate as you market your single to create a viral marketing success.
1. Game – Twerk Hero
Akin to popular rhythm games like “Dance Dance Revolution” and “Guitar Hero,” the free browser video game Twerk Hero gives players control of Lil Nas X to get him to twerk along to the beat of “Montero.”
2. Interactive Book – The Book of Montero
Lil Nas X created an interactive book called The Book of Montero. The book allows users to enter their names and receive a personal snippet of the lyrics from “Montero” to be used for social media content.
3. Different versions of the song
As exemplified by Lil Nas X, it’s always a good idea to release different versions of the same song. Here are the different versions Lil Nas X created and where he released them:
– Spotify: Original, Satan extended, and karaoke version.
– YouTube: original, Satan extended, lofi, and acapella version.
4. SMART pages
Lil Nas X had a pre-save page before the release date and a SMART page with different options of where to listen after release.
How To Break The Internet with Viral Marketing:
Lil Nas X Montero utilized the two most important ingredients to break the internet:
1. He was personal, allowing people to relate to him
2. He pushed his ideas and song to the extreme, causing people to share and talk about his content
Acting personal and creating shareable content are fundamental for online marketing success The music video and “Satan Shoe” for “Montero” caused people to talk about the song, both positively and negatively. Everyone, from religious groups to politicians, had something to say about the song, music video, and shoe.
Now let’s take a closer look at the different social media strategies used to promote the track, music video, and other digital assets before and after release day.
Before Release – Creating Awareness with Viral Marketing
Lil Nas X teased his audience with small snippets of “Montero” almost a year in advance of the release date.
It wasn’t until January 15th, 2021 when he shared snippets of three new tracks: “Scoop,” “Montero,” and “Industry Baby.”
A common question I get from musicians is whether to share a preview of the song pre-release. Regardless of this decision, you need to create awareness before the track starts sticking with a person. Typically around 7 interactions. If you do a surprise drop you start that work of creating the interactions on launch day! If you start marketing early with song snippets, you create the interactions before the song goes live.
TikTok songs go viral for a reason: the same 15-second snippet from a song repeats and after people hear the track a few times on TikTok, they likely head to Spotify to stream the song
It may seem as though you have nowhere to send listeners to stream the track after they have heard the snippet on TikTok. However, merely creating interactions with the song builds up hype and causes people to subconsciously connect emotionally to the track. Lil Nas X, for example, used “Montero” as background music on many of his TikTok’s long before the song went live.
To grow your streaming numbers, you need to get people emotionally connected with the track so they start ACTIVELY listening to it and not passively through playlist placement. Playing snippets of the song on social media helps achieve this.
Now let’s take a closer look at the last month before the release of “Montero” and what Lil Nas X did to build the hype.
1. Viral Content Marketing
Almost all the posts Lil Nas X shared on TikTok during the month before the release of “Montero” used snippets of the track, regardless of the content itself.
He uploaded this together with the first video and then kept using this audio for all his content. To do this, upload the audio snippet with a video to TikTok and then keep using this audio for your content. Since your song isn’t officially live yet, you will need to manually upload it with a video and then rename the audio after on TikTok. Then you can start using the audio for your content.
Lil Nas X dropped cover art and announced the release date for “Montero” two and a half weeks before release day on all his channels (Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube Community). He also launched the pre-save campaign the same day.
Lil Nas X is most active on Twitter where he posts several times per day. After announcing the release date for “Montero,” Lil Nas X tweeted something to build the hype up for the song. I found at least 20 different tweets before release building hype, promoting pre-save, and more. Lil Nas X used Instagram four times to share photos from the music video and used TikTok six times pre-release to promote the pre-save campaign. He used Facebook twice before release day and YouTube only once.
While I cannot go back and evaluate Lil Nas X’s old Instagram stories, They are a great way to share many updates throughout the day. You can use Instagram stories in a similar way to how you can easily tweet 20 times per day without spamming people.
2. Pre-Save Campaign
Lil Nas X announced the pre-save campaign the same day as he released the album artwork, but in separate posts (except for on Facebook and Instagram where he put the pre-save in the comments). He also announced that he would give $50 and/or Bitcoin to random people who pre-saved the track. A pre-save Campaign is important for both small and big artists. I have a full online course inside the SMART club on how to set up a pre-save campaign where I take you through the content strategies I used on one of my successful campaigns.
Lil Nas X’s strategy to utilize incentives to increase pre-save rates was smart as pre-saves have low conversion rates because of the many obstacles involved in doing so. For starters, in-built browsers have login issues to Spotify. Moreover, fans receive no value in the pre-sale exchange. Incentives are, therefore, a smart way to get more fans to pre-save songs.
He later created a Youtube video stating his label took his phone and begged his fans to pre-save “Montero” so that he could release the song and the music video on the same day. He claimed the label required 100,000 pre-saves for this to happen. The youtube video was then promoted on all the other channels such as on TikTok. Lil Nas X loves creating these fake news stunts to market his songs.
He also created comedic parody musician DIY stories for TikTok to promote the pre-save. These videos followed the theme of upcoming musicians who receive no support from their families and only get hate. View some of his TikTok videos about this here and here.
Lil Nas X also reacted to vulgar extreme tweets people said about “Montero.”
Lil Nas X published the music video and track on the same day. The video was published on Youtube.
Lil Nas X tweeted every 15 minutes the day of the release to let his fans know when it was live in England, Brazil, and finally everywhere.
This is where the viral marketing promo really kicks in.
On release day itself, he posted over 20 times on Twitter. These posts ranged from the official release announcement, to sharing support from his Dad and Miley Cyrus, and even to a personal note to his 14-year-old younger self explaining why he released “Montero.” He also shared a preview of the “Satan Shoe” set to release.
On Instagram, he posted the announcement about the release of the track as well as four other posts which included the personal letter to his 14-year-old self, an album coming soon announcement, and images from his music video photoshoot.
On Facebook, he posted the out now announcement as well as the note to his 14-year-old self.
Finally, on TikTok and Youtube, he posted an announcement post sharing a snippet of the music video and a call to action to stream the track.
After Release – Grow the Track Every Day!
Even with all the prep work, the real viral marketing strategies have just begun. After release day, Lil Nas X consistently finds success because he continues the conversation about his songs on social media. Moreover, he provides ways for fans to contribute through content creation and to tell their personal story related to the message Lil Nas X sings about. I will list content strategies Lil Nas X used to promote “Montero” but first let’s look at the frequency of his posts after the track was released.
Social Media Post Frequency:
During release week Lil Nas X tweeted around 20-30 times per day and also responded to relevant tweets about the track. He is the most active on Twitter as he has a lot to say and can post several times per day. In addition to marketing purposes, the artist uses Twitter to respond to hate, give his opinions, and share reaction videos.
Lil Nas X posted between 2-5 Instagram posts per day during release week. These posts included pictures from the photoshoot for the music video for “Montero”, best viral marketing Twitter memes, and personal photos.
As previously mentioned, I cannot evaluate Lil Nas X’s Instagram story strategy as this content disappears after 24 hours. However, I can confidently state that using the story to promote your music during your launch will be important because your fans will watch your story and you can share more content throughout the day. Post between 5-20 stories throughout the day. Read here if you’re interested in learning more about how to convert followers into fans using Instagram stories.
After release day, Lil Nas X posted on TikTok between 5-21 times a day. These posts included anything from videos reacting to the song’s achievements, user-generated content, and Twitter meme reactions.
Lil Nas X posted between two to seven times on Facebook per day post-release. Similar to Instagram, these posts included promotions of the different digital assets and sharing the best Twitter memes and user-generated content on TikTok.
In addition to posting alternative versions of “Montero” on Youtube, Lil Nas X also posted an apology music video and a satanic version of the song where Satan is next door listening to the track.
In addition to music videos, he also used Youtube to share song announcements. Moreover, posted videos such as an interview with Vogue and a video with Genius about the lyrics of the song.
Viral Marketing Content Strategies Used:
Allow your fans to share their opinions about the message from your song and music video. Check the case study here on how to grow a TikTok trend.
Please continue reading to learn about a few of the TikTok trends Lil Nas X created for “Montero.”
1. Lil Nas X created a trend where TikTokers can showcase their meeting with God to either go to heaven or head to hell with Lil Nas X. The pole was central here as the sound indicates that lil nas x is passing them on the pole. The sound is representing gay.
TikTokers should show how they react to the sound. Do they try to hide or embrace it.
2. He also created a trend where individuals show their hatred and disgust to the track on camera. They then go off-camera, demonstrating that they actually love the song and you can’t get enough of it.
3. His pole dance to hell challenge had people post a video of them pole dancing to “Montero.” The winner received $10,000.
4. Lil Nas X also started a trend of showing older family members react to the music video
5. Finally, Lil Nas X started a trend where people state they’re not gay, then watch a cartoon character from a show they watched when they were little, and then state they were gay
Sound Mashups on TikTok:
People create TikTok audio versions more suitable for viral marketing content trends. For example, some people combined the part from his Genius lyric video where he sings the lyrics with no music to the full song. The slow beginning and extreme end are perfect to use for transformation videos. You can easily do this yourself also by contacting TikTok mashupers. You can also mash the song into another popular song to bring familiar awareness to the track.
Here are a few different audio versions that were created for “Old Town Road” on TikTok:
2. No music version with original version
3. Mash with popular sound on TikTok
Whenever we market a song in our agency one of the biggest jobs we have to do is source content from online influencers. The key here is to find relevant people who create great content on social media. Lil Nas X heavily uses this strategy. By using strategic content creators who know your audience, you get great content to promote your track. Lil Nas X shares everything from people drawing paintings and baking cakes to Minecraft influencers. The smaller you are as an artist the more outreach you need to do. Lil Nas X receives tons of great free content he can reshare on his channels.
Creating and Sharing Memes:
Lil Nas X has used this strategy even before he blew up. He embraced the meme community on Twitter and translated this into content for TikTok and Instagram. One of the meme trends that really blew up on Twitter was this one.
Lil Nas X found a great format to share Twitter content on TikTok: he screenshots the tweet or meme from Twitter and he reacts to it with his song playing in the background This allows him to not only promote his Twitter, his most active social media account, but also allows him to repurpose the content in a suitable format for video and TikTok.
Use Pop Culture:
Use cartoons, movies, and other forms of pop culture to promote your track. You need to attach your track to something else that is familiar to your fanbase. For example, Lil Nas X uses computer games and cartoons in his content. Here are some examples of Lil Nas X’s use of pop culture:
Create Fake News and Milk The Extra Publicity From It:
Lil Nas X does this viral marketing strategy all the time. For example, he created what originally seemed like an apology video on YouTube for the “Satan Shoe” before quickly switching to the music video. Lil Nas X used the same trick on his new song “Industry Baby,” where he released an uncensored version of the music video that could include da naked shower scene. However, when you get to the shower scene on the uncensored version, it just looked like the video was stuck.
I mean just take a look at how he announced how he got his driver’s license.
Furthermore, after the release, Lil Nas X shared that some fans had problems streaming the track and told everyone to stream the song as much as possible before it got taken down the next morning. He also stated that if the song was gone he would upload the audio to Pornhub. It’s unclear if there were any streaming problems or if Lil Nas X orchestrated the whole thing. That said, the scandal got the community to stream the track more. He milked this to the last drop and played the “victim” very well.
Promoting the Digital Assets:
Lil Nas X also created content to promote the different assets on social media. Whether it was a new music video uploaded on Youtube where he then created a reaction video on TikTok or the launch of the twerk game or Montero book. All of this was promoted on all the channels through content.
Share all milestones for your track, such as stream numbers, chart numbers, and playlist placement. Lil Nas X frequently shared his milestones on all social media platforms.
Summary of Lil Nas X’s Viral Marketing Success:
You may think, “Wow, that’s a lot! I am a one man/woman show, there is NO WAY I can do all that.” To an extent, this is true: you likely neither have the time or budget for a campaign like this. However, there are parts of Lil Nas X’s campaign that you can easily do yourself that don’t cost anything.
Lil Nas X spent nine months planning the promotion for “Montero” and he hasn’t stopped promoting it since. While the focus has shifted to “Industry Baby,” He still posts content promoting “Montero.” The genius thing Lil Nas X did was attach his song to a bigger issue that people already had a lot of opinions about. He continued the discussion on social media to promote the track.
One thing is sure: Lil Nas X created a lot of content on social media to consistently promote the track. He even got some backlash for accusations that he was milking every last drop he could (which he promptly responded to).