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How marketing genius Lil Nas X creatively uses social media, controversy to build his career

Lil Nas X isn't one to ever shy away from controversy — if anything, he's incredibly talented at stirring it up, and it has proven to be a major reason for his success.  – Photo by Lil Nas X / Instagram

There’s no denying that Lil Nas X is the best marketer in the game. Since his breakout hit “Old Town Road” went viral in 2019, the 22-year-old rapper showed the music industry how a viral TikTok sound can rapidly evolve into a massive cultural moment, spending 19 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100.

But all of Lil Nas X’s success is no accident: He creates and executes next-level marketing strategies that contribute to his success. Whether you like his music or not, you have to respect the empire he has strategically placed himself at the top of through his promotional tactics.

Here are five of his best marketing moments that made him the pop culture icon he is today:

“Montero” billboards

Lil Nas X released his debut album “MONTERO” last week, and regardless of whether you've listened to the album, I’m sure you heard about it.

Why? Due to the billboards he bought and created to grab attention.

As seen on his Instagram, the billboards picture the artist dressed as a lawyer with phrases such as “Do you hate Lil Nas X? You may be entitled to financial compensation,” “Do you miss the real America? Visit welcometomontero.com to see how we can take our country back!” and, my personal favorite, “Gay? You may be entitled to financial compensation.” 

Each sign has the URL to welcometomontero.com, which will not, in fact, give you financial compensation for any of the above concerns. Instead, it brings you to his website to download the album and watch his music videos.

With this marketing moment, he's catering to his fans who understand the joke, but also capturing the attention of people outside of his normal audience, who may fall into his trap.

Announcing his “pregnancy”

In anticipation of the release of his album, Lil Nas X had some big news. Surprise, he’s pregnant! His baby being an album, of course. He put on a fake pregnancy suit and had a maternity photoshoot for the announcement of his upcoming birth of “MONTERO.”

Seeing a gay man who's pregnant go viral on your Twitter timeline is surely enough to make you stop for a second and have him in your mind, at the very least. This is just one of the out-of-the-ordinary marketing tactics that boosted anticipation and wonder around his album, and him as an artist.

Going anonymous on Reddit

One of the most genius things Lil Nas X has ever done, in my opinion, is partially how “Old Town Road” gained traction in the first place. He went on Reddit, found a thread where users can post song lyrics they’ve heard but don’t know what title track they belong to, and other users will help track down the song.

On this thread, he posted anonymously, “What’s the name of the song that goes ‘take my horse to the old town road’,” leading Reddit users to search for the song, rack up Google keyword searches and listen to the track. To me, this is incredibly creative, and something a lot of artists would never think of doing

Twerk Hero

When Lil Nas X released the debut single for his recent album, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” he received immense backlash for giving a Satan character a lap dance.

So what did he do? He commoditized the hate and created an app called Twerk Hero that allowed users to make a character literally twerk to the song. Which, of course, created even more buzz around the song and its controversy.

Apology video fake out

In addition to the aforementioned backlash he received for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” Lil Nas X received hate for a sneaker collaboration that sold Satan-inspired, modified Nike Air Max 97s.

He got sued by Nike, and social media was up in arms over this. He responded with an apology video posted to YouTube. He begins talking about the controversy, but instead of apologizing, the video cuts away and switches to the music video for the song. This video bolstered more than 8 million views, which speaks for itself.

For Lil Nas X, no press is bad press. He's incredibly creative, and his success is largely in part to his strategic, innovative marketing that keeps him viral and on top of the game. He isn’t afraid to dive into controversy and flip the narrative being told into one that he controls.

Regardless of the success he has gained from the way he markets his personal brand and his music, you have to admit that everything he does is entertaining — and that alone is powerful marketing


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