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Playlists and mixtapes

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Working as a remote team got me thinking about playlists and mixtapes. One of my colleagues started off a themed playlist on Spotify. The playlist creativity was based around a narrative. The narrative is driven by song title.

cassette tape
Thegreenj / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Spotify made it easy to collaborate on putting more in there.

Its a form of surface data, easy to see. Easy for machines to grasp.
It is easy to analyse. Hence Spotify’s ad campaigns and pitch to advertisers based on data.

Initially, I thought it was this data treasure trove that made me feel uneasy about music streaming services. Where other people felt Spotify’s ads were clever, I felt they were intrusive, even voyeuristic. It felt voyeuristic reading some of them.

Music curation is a very personal thing. But in the end I realised it wasn’t the data that bothered me. Now I realise its the nature of curation and consumption on the platforms.

Music is something that exists in everyone’s lives. For some people it was background wallpaper. It occasionally took on ‘sound track’ starring roles at important life moments. For instance, the track the bride and groom choose to dance to at their wedding. Or a one-hit wonder attached to holiday nightlife memories.

For some people it moves beyond being a trigger. It stirs a passion. Myself and some friends have collections of records. Owning a thing has a power of its own. Digital services don’t really understand this drive.

iTunes organisation

iTunes in its day revolutionised digital music. It made music accessible in way that consumers wanted. But it wasn’t a perfect experience.

For instance, someone like myself won’t necessarily follow an artist. Electronic music often sees artists change names as often as changing an overcoat.

The producer or remixer becomes important. Tom Moulton back in the days of disco, Danny Krivit’s famous edits or London’s Nicolas Laugier (The Reflex). All of them have distinctive sounds that bring tracks to life.

A record label becomes synonymous with a particular sound. Blue Note Records’ jazz, Strictly Rhythm’s New York tinged house music or the early rock of Sun Records. This is a mix of a curators ear, in house studios, producers and engineers.

Yet in iTunes you could never search by remixer, or record label in the way that you could search for an artist or group name.
Even the way iTunes treated DJ names indicated a lack of understanding. Someone like myself would treat DJ, the way rock fans would treat ‘The’ in a band name. So DJ Aladdin would come before The Beatles. But DJ Krush would come after.
In iTunes, it ignores ‘The’ so The Beatles sit just behind The Beastie Boys. Both of them come before DJ Aladdin who is grouped with with all the other DJ names.

Playlists and mixtapes

iTunes introduced the concept of playlists with the iPod, but the marketing around it was creating lists for how they made you feel. Music to run by, a chillout list etc.

In design, this was closer to a mixtape than a typical Spotify playlist. Apple worked on making them social. At one stage artists could share playlists of tracks that influenced them. Apple tried to create editorial content around it. It was an interesting idea, but discovery in iTunes was problematic.

A mixtape is about careful curation. You take the listener on a journey, it is often meant to convey a feeling or an emotion. One of the few people that I’ve seen do this within Spotify has been Jed Hallam’s Love Will Save The Day selections. A non-verbal message.

A mixtape was often time bounded by its medium.

  • Cutting your own vinyl record which was done on 78rpm discs might give you 2 minutes. Enough for a short voice mail home, if the record survived the postal system.
  • Reel to reel tape might give you up to 90 minutes at reasonable quality on a 10 1/2 inch reel of tape.
  • Cassette tapes were typically 30 or 45 minutes per side.
  • CDs could provide up to 80 minutes, depending on the disc. But the original ‘Red Book’ standard capacity was 74 minutes

The playlist has no capacity considerations. No limitations that force choices or prioritisation.

Consuming playlists and mixtapes

A mixtape often brought a deeper experience to the listener. Whether it was an expression of love, passion or nerdiness. A playlist tends to operate much more at a surface level. This changes the dynamics of consumption. A playlist doesn’t require active listening. Its like drive-time radio. A backdrop to life.

A playlist is often found, again rather like tuning into a radio station. It is usually a more passive consumption experience. The audience has less invested in it.

Playlists and mixtapes business models

This difference in attitude helps explains how music changed in fundamentally in business model. When you’re more passive, you don’t need to own your music.

You don’t mind if tracks disappear due to licencing disputes. Music becomes a utility that you pay for each month. In this respect Spotify looks a lot like the post-war Rediffusion service.

It’s an operating expense rather than a capital outlay for young consumers. It facilitates algorithm as taste maker which leads to a reductive path. Apple Music has tried to keep away from this. They’ve got specialist curators in niche genres. Want to hear the best of bluegrass and outlaw country? Apple Music likely covers you better than Spotify.

If I am following your playlist, it opens up opportunities for payola. Artist brands become less important than a steady stream of releases in popular genres. Music plugging becomes an arbitrage play; streams versus promotional costs RoI. Traditional artist development no longer makes sense. Instead you end up with a model that looks closer to a fast-failure production line. More on media related topics here.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Chinese attitudes to immigration. Some really interesting interviews done by Inkstone. Inkstone is part of South China Morning Post. Whilst the attitudes seem shocking, you do see them mirrored in other monocultural countries.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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Salience overloads advertising

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Salience is the buzz word of the moment in advertising circles.

What is salience?

According to Siri salience is a noun. It’s definition:

the property of being particularly noticeable or important.

Historically, when you tested an ad through the likes of Kantar. One of the attributes that an ad would be measured on is salience. Relatively recently salience has become a more important attribute in advertising from a marketing science point-of-view. But this shouldn’t be to the extent of eclipsing other attributes such as distinctive brand building.

Salience becomes pre-eminent

But now you see campaigns where salience is pre-eminent. I had only seen this in Asia in the past, where random endorsement choices looked to drive impact.

At one stage in the early noughties you could see Jackie Chan side-by-side with over 20 products including:

  • Canon cameras
  • Mitsubishi cars
  • An anti-hair loss shampoo that allegedly contained carcinogens
  • Zhongshan Subor – games consoles with a basic home computing capability. Subor ‘Learning Machines’ had educational programmes, games and provided Chinese children with an opportunity to try computer programming. Think of it as an analogue the Sinclair range of home computers in the UK
  • Fenhuang cola drink
Jackie Chan-branded Canon Rebel T2i / 550D
Jackie Chan branded Canon Rebel T2i / EOS 550D via M.I.C Gadget

A classic example of an ad that personifies salience is Burger King’s The Moldy Whopper.

The campaign is a one-off stunt designed to drive water-cooler talk. Some colleagues were at a breakfast event last week. The outtake that they took from the event was that the future of advertising is PR. Or to be more exact the publicity stunt.

I get it, creative directors are measured on memorable award-winning campaigns. They are less worried about effectiveness and brand lift. It’s sexy. And it moves things away from soul-crushing digital disruption-driven work. Big data, A-B testing that’s just aimed at sales conversion.

But publicity is just a short term effect, contrast this with effective advertising that can keep paying off for decades!

But when you’re doing stunt-after-stunt what does the brand stand for? I agree that a brand has to be distinctive, but to make a brand distinctive you need to reinforce it. Think about Coca-Cola; distinctive and instantly recognisable.

Don’t believe me, here’s what Mark Ritson said about it. Ritson uses ‘brand image’ as a way to discuss brand distinctiveness and visibility at a granular level in the ad:

The new global campaign from Burger King features a month old burger complete with the mould and decomposition that comes with it. Supposedly, this is a campaign aimed to promote the absence of preservatives. But is it good advertising? No. Showing a disgusting, mouldy version of your hero product to target consumers is – believe it or not – a really bad idea. So why are Burger King doing it? First, we see the ultimate exemplar of the focus on salience over image that is sweeping much of the advertising world. “It got me talking about it, so it is great marketing,” has been the response of many addled marketers to the new campaign. While it’s true that salience is a much bigger goal than we once thought, there is still a need to focus on brand image. All publicity is not good publicity. It’s also the latest in a long line of marketing stunts that Burger King has pulled. Hiding Bic Macs behind Whoppers in all their ads, asking consumers to order a Whopper online from a McDonalds, the list is long and stupid. It wins awards and gets marketers talking but it is eclipsed by KFC and McDonald’s less flashy, more enduring and more effective tactics. Same store sales growth over the last two years tells its own story. This is flashy, ineffective fare.

Mark Ritson on LinkedIn

Or Phil Barden who wrote Decoded:

From a behavioural science point of view this is a bizarre use of marketing money; Firstly, our attention and perception are implicit (‘system 1’) processes that are stimulus-bound. System 1 can’t imagine, it responds to stimuli. Kahneman uses the phrase ‘what you see is all there is’ and it is the stimulus (what you see) that will be decoded using our associative memories. The brain metaphorically asks the questions, ‘what is it, what does it represent, what’s in it for me’? The answers to these questions are ‘rotten food’ and ‘nothing’ because rotten food is a threat to survival. This triggers ‘avoid’ behaviour. Secondly, this image is highly likely to trigger ‘reactance’ which is emotional arousal with negative valence ie it’s unpleasant. Thirdly, memory structures are built on the basis on ‘what fires together wires together’. In this case, Burger King and rotten food. Fourthly, the category is hedonic; it’s all about enjoyment. Rotten food and enjoyment have no implicit intuitive association. The only saving grace for BK may be that their logo is such low contrast and the food is so salient that the brand may not be attributed to the image.

Phil Barden on LinkedIn

Many of Barden’s points are very specific to the mouldy burger creative. But points like attention and perception are implicit processes that are stimulus bound works against salience. It triggers related memories, which is distinctive brand building allows you to tap into. The importance of hedonic enjoyment plays against a lot of shock tactics used to get salience.

I am not saying that marketing campaigns shouldn’t have salience. Some of the best ads of all time use salience like Coca-Cola’s ‘Hilltop’ advert.

But that they shouldn’t be salient at the expense of other attributes of brand building. A side serving of salience adds cut through to consistent distinctive brand building. But balance in different attributes for an ad is needed.

For more on how to achieve a balance in attributes, I can recommend Building Distinctive Brand Assets by Jenni Romaniuk. The book is based on research by the Ehrensberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.

More on advertising here.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Tablet demand in China gaining momentum from epidemic | DigiTimes – compared to global demand drop of 20% predicted for tablet computers. This is a fascinating change. Any explanation of this tablet demand is just a hypothesis. My own guess is . More tablet computer related posts here.

Great mix by Andy Weatherall. It is interesting that for a considerable amount of time there was destination radio and a loyal taping culture. Some cassette decks featured timers similar to a video recorder. People would set them up before they left. Prior to digital formats becoming commonplace, I remember die-hard fans using VHS Hi-Fi audio recording to capture these shows in as high a quality as possible. More listening material here.

Targeting v context | Campaign Live – really interesting article by Dave Trott. I’d argue (like Dave has) targeting and context together is what matters, rather than targeting or context.

Experts react to Google’s Brexit-driven decision to move UK data to the US – Business Insider – also probably Google trying to avoid double-jeopardy between EU and UK law presented by UK consumers being out of the EU

Victoria's Secret
Victoria’s Secret by Eternity Portfolio

WSJ City | Victoria’s Secret goes private at $1.1 billion valuation – this is down from over $7 billion. This marks the end of an astonishing destruction of value. The company was also quick to get the power of online. Designers now think live-streaming their show is a matter of course. Back in 1999 I worked at an agency where we did their first live stream. They were also quick to get into e-commerce.

WSJ City | Grocers Wrest Control of Shelf Space From Struggling Food Giants – is this really news? Interesting that Clorox and General Mills are called out though

Hackers can trick a Tesla into accelerating by 50 miles per hour – MIT Technology Review – MobilEye complains that it would also fool the human eye, but most humans would at least question it. Artificial smarts isn’t intelligence

Banned recording reveals China ambassador threatened Faroese leader at secret meeting | Berlingske – the problem might not be Huawei but the Chinese government with Huawei just a conduit – but yeah