How ZHU Went Viral Without Saying a Word

Wavo is a digital marketing platform and agency that specifically caters to the music & entertainment industries. Current clients include Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, SFX, Armada, Ultra and more. Wavo runs — the native advertising network for arts & culture.

Can you crack the ZHU code? 

Electronic artist ZHU first gained exposure through his 2014 hit, “Faded.” He is currently signed to Columbia and Mind of a Genius Records. His Genesis Series EP was released in November, and featured collaborations with some of the industry’s biggest stars, including Skrillex, AlunaGeorge, A-Trak, and Gallant. His highly anticipated debut album, Generationwhy, was released on July 29th, 2016 in collaboration with Th3rdBrain.

ZHU likes to do things a little differently. Since famously introducing his debut material through an anonymous Soundcloud account, the artist has remained a bit of an enigma. In a world that increasingly focuses on the personal lives of celebrities, ZHU has worked tirelessly to keep the spotlight away, deciding instead to place focus on his music. ZHU only publicly unveiled his identity as Bay-Area native and USC graduate, Steven Zhu, last year. He has since enjoyed a great deal of success with the release of his debut album, GenerationWhy.

Th3rdBrain tapped Wavo to help support Zhu’s release for his Genesis SeriesEP. In keeping with his elusive persona, the artist created a “ZHU code” (pictured above), which gave fans the chance to uncover the collaborators featured on his EP. Wavo introduced the ZHU code through our native advertising network, Boost, on a number of influential electronic music publishers including Dancing Astronaut, Fact Mag, and Hype Machine. By targeting eager music readers, Wavo helped the ZHU code spread through authentic channels. By the end of the campaign, the graphic had been viewed a total of 2.8 million times.

The Zhu Code as it appeared on Wavo's partner publisher, Dancing Astronaut

On September 9th, 2015, ZHU launched his campaign with Wavo. Over the course of 6 weeks, ZHU’s native advertisements was seen 2.8 million times by Electronic Dance blog and magazine writers. Over 20,000 fans would submit their email address to receive updates on the album release.

In the lead-up to the release, hundreds of thousands of users viewed the graphic that gave clues as to who would appear on the upcoming Genesis EP. The treasure hunt spurred enthusiastic fans to voice their predictions on social media. Eventually, the complete list of collaborators was cracked and shared. The process created massive amounts of hype for ZHU, all the while contributing to his mysterious persona.

The ZHU code eventually unveiled the complete list of collaborators, which included AlunaGeorge, A-trak, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Skrillex, THEY., Gallant, Vancouver Sleep Clinic, Daniel Johns, Keznamdi, and Trombone Shorty.

Once the list of featured artist was revealed, ZHU began releasing tracks from his EP in a similar, out-of-the-box fashion. Initially, users had been invited to share their email addresses with ZHU on pages where the code had appeared. Soon after the code was cracked, they began to receive exclusive songs from Genesis Series. Word quickly spread of the EP’s email release, and in days, over 20,000 fans had provided their contact information in an effort to start receiving singles.

The unconventional announcement of the Genesis Series EP created an enormous amount of anticipation, with ZHU’s first single featuring AlunaGeorge — “Automatic” — making it’s debut on BBC Radio 1’s “The Hottest Record in the World”. Another track from the EP, “Working for It,” eventually went platinum in Australia, and has since generated 87 million plays on Spotify.

ZHU followed up on the success of his first EP with a major tour — the Neon City tour — which made stops in all of North America’s major cities. He has since become a festival staple, playing stages at Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Pemberton. His first full length album,Generationwhy, was released on the 29th of July.

ZHU continues to intrigue audiences with his elusive persona. His unique collaboration with Wavo, allowed him to quickly reach millions of music fans across the internet, while remaining true to his overall goal of letting the music speak for itself.

Check out ZHU's latest single, "Hometown Girl" 

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