Nailed It

September 23, 2020

Nine Inch Nails dropped a new merch collection yesterday. While one of the world’s biggest bands releasing new goods is nothing to write home/about on my blog, something was different about this…

They haven’t released new music in over half a year. They’re not on tour. They’re not promoting anything.

Instead their Pandemic 2020 collection is a re-imagining and re-purposing of their existing catalogue for the weird state of the world. They’re taken releases from as early back as 1992, and used them as a pointed statement about COVID-19 and the US political climate.

Here’s why this is bloody brilliant.

  • It’s a shared bonding experience with fans. It shows that no one, not even Trent Reznor, is immune to anxiety and anger from the state of the world.
  • It’s a show-don’t-tell way to promote their core values. This has more power than just saying, “Hey, we hate Trump’s handling of COVID-19.”
  • It’s news worthy.
  • The limited run feels urgent. Fans should purchase ASAP.
  • Band merch items tend to have a stories behind them. Instead of talking about the concert they picked up a shirt from, fans will be able to share their emotions in response to the 2020 pandemic and election.
  • It’s a smart way to give life to old releases, and in a way that feels fresh and new.
  • It’s a creative yet simple way to re-purpose existing content during COVID. A handy tactic if you can’t create content IRL due to health reasons and legal limitations (e.g. no photoshoots, travel bans).
  • It’s so on brand for them and their music. This isn’t the first time they’ve made veiled comments about American politics.

This merch drop works beautifully for Nine Inch Nails and their audience, but it won’t work for every artist. So here are my learnings for other musicians:

  • Random merch not tied to a campaign is okay. You don’t need to be promoting something specific.
  • Look at your existing assets and content with fresh eyes. It could be old releases like NIN have done. It might also be old press shots (turned into colouring books) or archival footage (cut into new music videos like the controversial You Know You’re Right clip).
  • Adopt a re-cycling mindset when creating new content. Always request layered art files and high res versions. Keep those random daily bounces that are rough cuts of actual songs. Document experiences. Save your AAA passes. Get those behind-the-scenes pics. Save everything in Dropbox or a hard drive. Make copies. Keep everything even if you don’t need it right now.
  • Use the power of ‘limited edition‘ to drive sales. Make it feel urgent and special.
  • Give your merch drops a story or an angle that fans can share and get excited about.

Trent, if you’re reading this, I feel like Big Man With A Gun should be in your next merch run. Just saying.

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