Portland Band’s Viral Marketing Campaign Causes Backlash

The Domestics sent mysterious cassettes to regional media with return addresses marked for the Westboro Baptist Church and Ku Klux Klan headquarters.

IMAGE: Jason Quigley.

Stop me if you've heard this one before—a viral marketing stunt intended to promote an indie band's new album has backfired, causing the group to issue a conciliatory explanation. And no, we're not talking about Yacht again.

Earlier this week, music media around the Northwest—including Willamette Week—received cassette tapes labeled "Trump/Comey Recordings" and bearing a red "Confidential" stamp, along with a web address and hand-written password. As you may remember, back in June, Donald Trump implied he'd secretly recorded conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey, a claim he was eventually forced to admit was a lie.

The tapes in question featured only garbled audio. But if you went to the website and entered the password, you'd encounter a page with an email address, the image of an eyeball and a small Russian flag, with snippets of music playing between soundbites of Trump, someone speaking in Russian and the Tetris theme.

Turns out, this was all the work of Portland pop-rock band the Domestics—runners-up in WW's 2015 Best New Band poll—and their label, Tender Loving Empire. If you contacted the address found on the page, littledarkness_xkeyscore@mail.ru, you'd receive an advanced copy of the group's new album, Little Darkness, scheduled for release on Sept. 1.

All things considered, a convoluted bit of promotion, but on the surface, not particularly offensive. Except maybe to Russians.

The problem is that the return addresses on many of the packages traced back to such sources as the Westboro Baptist Church and the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan.

As the band was later forced to explain, the idea was that "any tape that bounced back in the mail would end up flooding the mailboxes of these bigots." (The majority of the 63 tapes that were mailed out went to right-wing media in hopes of trolling them into "briefly thinking they were getting the actual Trump/Comey tapes," Tender Loving Empire explained.) Of course, receiving a mysterious tape allegedly from the KKK invoking Trump's name is unnerving in any instance, but particularly after what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend, and especially if you're Jewish.

The band denied that it sent the tapes to media members based on ethnicity: “The claim that we could have intentionally targeted Jewish individuals with this made my stomach churn so I wanted to clear that up immediately, especially in light of all the devastatingly sad hate, racism and violence that has infected this last week.”

You can read the full statements from both the Domestics and Tender Loving Empire below.

As a viral marketing project, 63 tapes were mailed out. The tapes were labeled “Trump / Comey Recordings” and contain some poorly found audio of 45 and Comey discussing Russia. On the tape there is a web address that leads to a website with an email address. Our goal was to get people to email us at that address, at which point we’d send them the band’s upcoming album “Little Darkness” in advance of the 9/1 release date.

Our intention with the project was to troll the right wing media into briefly thinking they were getting the actual Trump / Comey tapes. We had hoped that right wing media would write about it wondering what it was, and in turn be writing about a viral campaign the band was pulling off.

The vast majority were mailed out to right wing media sources (Info Wars, The Blaze, Rush Limbaugh) to troll them. We also sent some tapes to local music media in Portland, a couple student newspapers in the Northwest, and a few music industry non media contacts. We did not send any tapes to national music media.

There is a rumor going around that these tapes were only mailed to Jewish music writers, this is definitely false. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with this project or who we sent the tapes to. The band, label, nor anyone else involved ever took religion or ethnicity into account with who the tapes were being mailed to. Both the label head, the band’s manager, and many people involved with the release are proudly Jewish.

The tapes were mailed out before the tragic events of Charlottesville. Given the current political climate, we can see how people could be put off by this project without knowing the facts about it. Our intention was not to offend anyone by sending them a tape, it was to pique interest in the band’s upcoming album.

Tender Loving Empire and Silver Morning Management
The day after Trump made that threatening tweet months back teasing that there might be tapes of his conversations with Comey, we got a call from one of our good friends at our label asking Leo and I to sit down with him to hear out a viral marketing idea he had come up with.

TLE had purchased trumpcomeytapes.com and his idea was to create a fake Trump / Comey cassette tape to send out to select contacts, and along with it a trail of breadcrumbs for a curious mind to follow. We knew people would fairly immediately know it was not an actual highly classified tape of the President and former FBI director, but the hope is it would be weird and timely enough to cause them to dig a little deeper and eventually be led back to our new record, which is exactly what happened.

Today it blew up, and our inbox was flooded with emails asking if we were behind the tapes and for our comments. There was talks of reports being made to the FBI about these actually being the real tapes, which was hilarious and exciting for me to witness. I also got two emails that suggested somehow Jewish individuals in the music industry were specifically targeted in the distribution of this tape which is totally not the case. The tape was sent to about 60 different outlets, mostly in right wing media to troll them. The mysterious packages were marked with the return addresses of Info Wars, The KKK’s headquarters, and The Westboro Baptist church in hopes that any tape that bounced back in the mail would end up flooding the mailboxes of these bigots.

The claim that we could have intentionally targeted Jewish individuals with this made my stomach churn so I wanted to clear that up immediately, especially in light of all the devastatingly sad hate, racism and violence that has infected this last week.

Much love, from The Domestics

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.