Arcade Fire have long been known for their arty stunts (remember 1-866-NEON-BIBLE?) as much as their music and their latest publicity push appears to be perfectly 2017—a series of fake news reports about themselves.
You may have noticed in recent weeks, some weird ass stories about Arcade Fire popping up all over the place. Some are about the band suing people for the "millennial whoop," others are those boring features where a writer visits an artist's house. There is even one article about playing Rock Band: Arcade Fire. The stories run the gamut in terms of content, but they all share one thing—they're all very fake and pretty obviously satire. However, a couple of them have been just Arcade Firey (read as weird) enough for real outlets to fall for them.
While it's obvious that the band is commenting on the Post-Truth era, so far they have remained mum about their message—several requests for comment from the band's management went unanswered.
Last week, a major newspaper in Canada got fooled hard by one piece about a supposedly super-expensive film collaboration with Terry Gilliam—they have since rewritten the story (albeit without issuing a correction). That initial story prompted me to look into what was happening here, this swiftly sent me down a long internet rabbit hole that linked the fake news story to the band's label. It also brings into question how guerrilla marketing can exploit the Fake News Age to generate buzz under the guise of satire.
The National Post story was aggregated, and it got its information from the website www.hoolywooodreporter.co, that looked remarkably similar to the website for The Hollywood Reporter. Same sort of layout, a similar style, and an almost identical logo—save for it saying the Hollywood Reported in the corner.
The story on the fake site told the tale of Montreal's Arcade Fire putting themselves "massively in debt" because of a bid to direct an ambitious music video with director Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. The project was named after an Arcade Fire tune from their 2004 breakout Funeral—"Une année sans lumière"—and was set to be a "140-minute rock-opera film." The fake story claimed the idea's genesis was in 2005 and they have been working on it ever since—slowly sinking into a financial quagmire with the director.
"Despite Arcade Fire's reported net worth of $30 million in 2015, each member's legal and financial future is tied to finishing "Une année sans lumière" and recouping its costs," read the fake story.
Now, obviously, this was fake but that's not the interesting part of this story—fake news is rampant online. What's fascinating is that the fake website imitating the Hollywood Reporter seemingly was set up by a Sony Music employee in England. Sony Music runs Columbia Records, Arcade Fire's label, and Arcade Fire's next album Everything Now is due out Friday.
When you check the domain registration data it can be seen that the website was created by a Sony Music employee—this was checked by VICE through multiple WHOIS services. The website was set up on June 29 of this year. The majority of the site links back to social media accounts that are promoting the band's new album.
On the sites registration, Sony's London office is listed, an employee or former employee's name is listed, and the number is their office number. The website that has been used to set it up was UK.firstname.lastname@example.org. This same email address has been used to set up over 45 other sites related to Sony artists. These include the main website for One Direction, Il Divo, Susan Boyle, Kodaline, Dido, and much more. According to a reverse IP, the IP address of the fake site shares an IP address with the website for The Clash—another Sony band.
Upon a further search, it seems that the fake Hollywood Reporter website wasn't the only one set up. There are multiple stories still live that follow similar patterns as the fake Hollywood Reporter story.
One of the other stories, which was covered by other media because it was so obviously parody, saw the band parody Stereogum and write a mixed review about the upcoming pre-review of their upcoming album. The site name was Steoroyum and it was seemingly in response to an article entitled "Remember When Arcade Fire Were Good?" that was essentially a review before a review. The (possibly) Arcade Fire-orchestrated follow up article was called "Premature Premature Evaluation: Arcade Fire Everything Now."
The best story of them all, which appeared on rockandripped.com, had the headline the "Win Butler: Shredded Rock Star Workout" and promised a workout that would get you ripped like Butler. Sadly it has 404'd but some of the workout included "20 ax swings / wood choppers with guitar or cable machine" and "run in place while waving arms for one minute."
A representative for Sony Music told VICE that they "would not be providing comment" when contacted about the story. Since contacting Sony, the fake Hollywood Reporter website has been taken down but the metadata is still available. The day after Sony was contacted, an unsourced update to the Everything Now's wikipedia article stated: "the band created multiple satirical internet articles related to events happening within the company and band."
While the majority of this is obvious satire, we now live in the world of fake news and as we know, fake news has real consequences. Research has shown that in this era believability is perhaps the biggest challenge that brands face as consumer confidence has fallen. All this makes it not very surprising that as the content and term "fake news" has been wielded for political and cultural gain, the phenomenon has largely has been left out of the marketing world—until now. Leyland Pitt, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business, told VICE that all of this—while still satire—is also a form of guerrilla marketing and it could easily backfire.
"The benefit would be that the stories are newsworthy while not necessarily true, so people will look and read—it attracts attention. On the other hand, the problem with this, is if you get associated with fibbing or spreading fake news, people will stop believing you when you are telling the truth," Pitt told VICE
This isn't the first time that brands have exploited fake news, Pitt said. At other times, brands or companies have spread news about themselves buying a competitor or sneaked a flattering or damning rumour into the news cycle.
"I guess you could see it as a guerrilla marketing strategy, but to me, I think it's more interesting as a manifestation of how much fake news, truthiness, post-fact stuff is out there at the moment and I don't think people who manage brands think about it enough," said Pitt.
If it is a marketing attempt, most likely it's coming from the band itself who in the past have been in firm control of their image. Previous album cycle marketing for Arcade Fire has included hotlines and a VR setup. For journalists, an artist being weird and satirical isn't dread-inducing, that's been part of the music business since forever. But with a label's involvement, it's easy to see this happening more.
With media trust at an all-time low, having brands use fake news as marketing is hardly going to help Everything Now.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.