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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.

Marketing in times of upheaval | LinkedIn – cites Beeston’s Law and then fulfils it

The 1970 Osaka Expo: Looking back at the past to gauge where Japan sits in the present | The Japan Times – some of these pictures are fascinating

SMS In Emergency Situations: SF COVID19 Updates Via SMS | Forrester Research – mature platforms work well

Coronavirus Is A Headwind For Search Advertising, But The Outlook Remains Promising – not a terribly surprising analysis given Baidu’s recent financial performance in the Chinese New Year period

Innovation of the Day | Heineken – alcohol free beer aimed at drivers without running the risk of drunk driving

Augmented-Reality Startup Magic Leap Is Said to Weigh a Sale – Bloomberg – interesting that Johnson & Johnson are mulling an investment in Magic Leap

Introducing Fluent Devices – System1 Group – is it fashion or is it a lack of effectiveness?

cyberpunk « Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! – great series of posts on cyberpunk and its impact on culture

Innovation of the Day | Time – letting exhiibition attendees get some sense of the experience involved in the 1963 civil rights march on Washington DC and experience Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream speech’. VR’s real power to engage audiences is emotional experiences rather than storytelling in the way that we usually understand it

Persona Spotlight: Generation X – GlobalWebIndexWhile younger audiences are actively trying to regulate their digital activity – nearly 3 in 10 millennials and Gen Zs track their screen time each month – only 1 in 5 Gen Xers have done the same. Another possible reason is that, compared to Gen X, younger age groups are now using social media more passively. When on these sites, 4 in 10 Gen Zs fill up their spare time or search for funny content, while Gen Xers still flock to their social accounts with a greater emphasis on socializing. – this bit feels like they’re throwing hypotheses against the wall, planners pick your favourite

In February Smartphone sales in China Crashed more than 50% – Patently Apple – not terribly surprising, Apple’s increase in iPad sales probably didn’t compensate for the drop

The Public Interest and Personal Privacy in a Time of Crisis (Part I) – Google Docs – translation of a Chinese blog

Is busy the new stupid? – hustle porn etc.

SoftBank Vision Fund’s Rajeev Misra: 18 months will prove I’m right | CNBC – it will be interesting to see how this plays out

Measure your distinctive brand assets | Ehrensberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science – well worth downloading and reading (PDF)

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Things that caught my eye last week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Whilst the world is becoming ever more digital, the book publishing industry has remained print focused due to customer demand. This is a great segment from CNBC that goes into it in more depth.

Dina Amin’s stop-motion assembly and disassembly video of everyday objects caught my eye. I would be surprised if this doesn’t show up in future ad agency work concepts.

What’s inside by Dina Amin.

Even my lack of expertise in gaming means that I have heard of Crash Bandicoot. What’s interesting in this video is how the development of Crash Bandicoot for the original PlayStation is similar to getting software to work on early PCs. Crash Bandicoot was one of a handful of titles that drove PlayStation popularity.

How Crash Bandicoot hacked the original PlayStation from Ars Technical’s

I did some initial work on dental health campaigns in APAC. It fell apart due to politics within my own agency, making us unable to collaborate with our colleagues at Red Fuse. Our agency was appointed for social media marketing work; but we couldn’t get anything out the door. During that time I came across some really smart people working in this space. This is why work like this: Colgate Ice Cream and Candy – The Inspiration Room made me smile. Great insight, simple execution in collaboration with confectionery companies ensuring a win-win outcome.

Greg Girard’s street photography from Tokyo in the 1970s feels like postcards from the future – check out these previews from a forthcoming book of his work: Rare 1970s Street Photography from Tokyo Published in New Photo Book. You can see more Japan related posts here.  

I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, but will be working hard to try and keep this blog as free of coronavirus-related content as I can.

I am not a virologist, so my expertise doesn’t matter. I do know about the media and social platforms. You will see contradictory information, confusion and uncertainty. A classic example is the way hoarding toilet paper became a self-perpetuating meme.

While I am working from home, I don’t imagine that it will be too much of a trial as the office environment itself has become ever more digital. I am going to use the time that I’d have spent commuting to improve my reading. I have a stack of unread books that won’t read themselves. I may even explore the ideas from them here with you my reader(s).

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Arbys trolls McDonald’s over Filet-O-Fish | US Today – you realise how important christianity is in the US when this is going on for the Lenten fish sandwich market. (As far as I can tell, Arbys is like Subway, but serves at least some of their sandwiches in a bap rather than a roll. And has a sides menu closer to say Pizza Hut.) Prayer meetings in the White House and creationism given equal time to evolution on NPR is one thing. Conscious christian consumerism is quite another for your average secular marketer to consider, which is why Arbys vs McDonald’s seem unusual.

Brand New: New Logo for BMW – looks a lot flatter, better for glanceable app icons, printing, possibly printed or vinyl car badges rather than the traditional car badge. More branding and marketing related items here.

Keep clean and carry on: the new etiquette of Paris Fashion Week | Financial Times – seems to be much more pragmatic than many events

Chinese teens are shying away from posting about their lives on WeChat to avoid prying parents | South China Morning Post – WeChat is where Facebook was in terms of ubiquity

Apple now allows iOS developers to send ads using push notifications – Developer Tech – this is going to be annoying

Repl.it – CLUI: Building a Graphical Command Line – interesting overlap with conversational interfaces

Didi Chuxing – State of play. – Radio Free Mobile – interesting analysis on Chinese government’s interference

The Dark Side of China’s Idol Economies | Jing Dailyenraged by Xiao fans’ censorship plot, millions of free speech activists began boycotting Xiao Zhan and the dozens of brands he campaigns for, including Estée Lauder, Piaget, and Qeelin. But they’ve gone further than the usual boycott by promoting competitors of Xiao-promoted brands, crashing Xiao-sponsored brands’ customer service lines, and pressuring those brands to end their collaborations with Xiao. So far, the Weibo hashtag #BoycottXiaoZhan# has exceeded 3450,000 posts and 260 million views.

Streetwear still hot, influencers not | Financial ReviewForty percent of North American and European respondents said that “community” had been key to their interest in streetwear; only 12% of Asian respondents said the same. (But 41% of Chinese and Japanese respondents said that wearing streetwear was a political act, something that only 11% of North Americans and Europeans reported.)

Biometric Recognition White Paper 2019 – Google Docs – good translation of an interesting Chinese biometrics whitepaper. Biometrics in China circa 2006 – presentation – and if you compare with this you’ll see the progress made over the past decade or so

Is Social Selling China’s Next Big Marketing Trend? | Jing Daily – actually being going on for a while with influencers like Mr Bags

Innovation of the Day | Panera – Panera launched its MyPanera+ Coffee subscription program, offering customers unlimited coffee for USD 8.99 a month. Burger King apparently did a similar scheme it would be interesting to hear how they got on

For a Whole Month, Pornhub Is Streaming Acclaimed Documentary ‘Shakedown’ for Free – interesting that documentary is running on PornHub

Mediatel News: How to make, break and shape consumer habits – But when Febreze added a nice smell and advertised the product as a spray to use at the end of cleaning – using the tagline ‘two sprays & we’re clean’ – it became very successful. This is because it created a new habit. It was able to do this because it created a consistent trigger and reward for use. The trigger was when someone finished cleaning. The reward was the added nice smell, which customers came to associate with a cleaning job well done. By having a consistent trigger (people often finish cleaning – or at least people who aren’t me often finish cleaning) and reward, the product shifted from failing launch to a billion dollar brand.

Catch the news in a glimpse with the new NewsBlur Today View widget on iOS – The NewsBlur Blog – if you aren’t using NewsBlur already, get on it. Like Google Reader, but alive and much better

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Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Reading Time: 2 minutes

See the Unseen – Volkswagen’s Taureg advert focuses on one feature and creatively sells it. This doesn’t look like your typical car advert. It will be interesting to see if See the Unseen is a one-off or marks an industry departure of from the usual car ads. It has none of the cliches: an anonymous driver speeding over winding roads, or millennials heading for a cool night out in the city. If Unilever sold cars, this is what the ad would look like.

I hadn’t seen Coca Cola’s ‘Open’ ad before by Wieden & Kennedy. Its a very different execution that still goes back to core distinctive brand values.

I could write a good deal about it but Mediatel has done it better:

In many ways (and over many years, minus the odd deviation) this is classic Coke territory, with a direct lineage back to the 1970s blockbuster ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’: Coke as unifier, as socialiser, as harmoniser, as the vehicle through which ordinary citizens come together.

Coca-Cola: positioning, not purpose // The Attentionators

TEVA Pharmaceuticals’ ‘Hairspray’ done by VCCP is an amazing patient advocacy spot. That uses emotion in such a great way. Often its hard to get a patient advocacy film that hasn’t had the creative become bland. This was the kind of brief and piece of work that I would have loved to have done.

Rent a Pred by Adidas – interesting how they’ve integrated WhatsApp into this campaign. Slightly dodgy title but really good execution promoting the latest version of Adidas’ premium football boot.

Tokyo 2020 unveils first ever animated pictograms used in Olympics’ history. This is a beautiful piece of work that hints at the ubiquity of digital signage and the heritage of Otl Aicher’s work for the 1972 Munich Olympics – which defined a so much of late 20th century signage afterwards. Masaaki Hiromura’s designs were animated by Kota Iguchi. The lightening of the icons helps the animation to work better.