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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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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

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Things that made my day this week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

SAS – What is truly Scandinavian? Nothing. This was an ad done by &Co of Denmark. It’s an ad that was meant to challenge the audience and promote the benefit of travel. But I felt it got its tone wrong.

What is truly Scandinavian got backlash online. As it went towards 13,000 dislikes on YouTube, SAS took it down. This is where things get crazy:

  • SAS blamed the reaction on right-wing (possibly Russian) botnets, which it doesn’t seem to have been the case. Which begs the question can SAS be trusted?
  • The ad agency &Co had bomb threats made against their office

Update SAS have reposted the ad, it currently has 94K down votes and 10K upvotes off 782,885 views. Comments are turned off.

I have never got the chance to see Hall & Oates play live, this recording of their 1984 July 4th concert in New York shows them at their best. It’s called the Liberty concert because of the US independence day, it was held in Liberty national Park in Jersey City and one of the main sponsors was called Liberty. The event was put on to raise money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.

Sony goes against the romantic grain for Valentine’s Day with its latest PlayStation campaign. More information here (paywall).

South Korean TV broadcaster MBC did a documentary on a family that lost their daughter at just 7 years old. The mother agreed to say a fine goodbye to her daughter in VR. The child’s death in hospital left a big hole in their grief. Now I know it sounds mawkish but the mother said that it helped her come to terms with her child’s health. It also brought home for me the power of VR to drive emotion. I think that this is really important give how uncomfortable VR’s fit with storytelling as we understand it. More VR-related posts here.

Liam Young gave a great talk on using his art of film making to shape the future. This is particularly interesting given William Gibson’s feedback on meeting fans who worked in the tech sector:

“They’d read a book in which there didn’t actually seem to be any middle class left and in which no characters had employment. They were all criminal freelancers of one sort or another. So, it was always quite mysterious to me.”

William Gibson quoted in William Gibson — the prophet of cyberspace talks AI and climate collapse | FT

Gibson’s experience implies that steering the future through art, requires a lack of ambiguity and subtlety than good film frequently has.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The power of niche | Campaign magazine – Dave Trott on GOOP – The New York Times said: “The weirder GOOP went, the more its readers rejoiced. Every time there was a negative story about her or her company all it did was bring more people to the site.” Paltrow told a class of Harvard students: “What I do is create a cultural firestorm, and I can monetise those eyeballs.” – cultural firestorm or memorable cultural industrial accident? I agree with Trott to a point. But I can’t work out if GOOP is doing ‘good’ outrage like Benetton managed to do with its ad campaigns, or ‘bad’ outrage like Michael O’Leary at Ryanair. Secondly, you might buy GOOP earrings but would you tell anyone where you bought them? Would they be judging you because you’re a GOOP customer. The problem GOOP has is that it’s not causing outrage with the old or conservative per se. It’s more likely to be customer’s peers thinking that as a GOOP customer you buy into bunkum of Palthrow. Brand neighbourhoods are still important and GOOP nestles comfortably in crank corner with David Icke and Uri Geller. More on beauty related stories here.

Benetton USSR & USA ad
Benetton ad from the 1980s which contrasted with the Reagan-era Cold War sentiment of the Soviet ‘evil empire’

South Korea’s Government Explores Move From Windows To Linux Desktop | SlashdotThe reason for this is simple. It’s to reduce software licensing costs and the government’s reliance on Windows. As Choi Jang-hyuk, the head of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, said, “We will resolve our dependency on a single company while reducing the budget by introducing an open-source operating system.” – back in the day South Korean online security depended on support for ActiveX, how far things have moved on

Slick Inbox – interesting idea. BUT RSS, VIP section in mail.app are all competitors

Thread by @thezedwards on speech recognition / natural language processing – interesting how it can be used (whether or not it is used is another matter) for marketing, surveillance etc

How Your Laptop Ruined Your Life | The AtlanticEarlier this week, a woman managed to find a seat next to me on the train, took out her laptop, and started plugging away at a spreadsheet. The sight filled me with dread, as it does every time I spot a fellow commuter writing code or finessing a PowerPoint while I listen to podcasts. I suddenly became much more aware of the hard, thin edge of my own work computer, digging into my thigh through my tote bag. – Whatever happened to thinking time?

Sony as Automaker | Akihabara News – it will be interesting to see Sony go against Tesla

Trump’s immigration enforcement agents use cellphone location data to track individuals for detention – WSJ / Boing Boing – I’d be surprised if they weren’t doing this

What Happens When a High-Tech Apparel Brand Shares the Same Name as the Company that Backed the Controversial Iowa Caucus App? — The Fashion LawNot nearly as under-the-radar as ACRONYM, the political organization, ACRONYM, the apparel company, is, nonetheless, situated more behind-the-scenes than the majority of its peers. As writer Adam Wray detailed in 2013, “You’d be forgiven for not knowing much about ACRONYM.” Despite having significant clout when it comes to technologically-advanced apparel and amassing a list of famous fans (think: Kanye West, John Mayer, Jason Statham, best-selling author William Gibson, and mixed martial arts champ Max Holloway, just to name a few), “the company never advertises and with no public relations strategy to speak of, its founders are tough to reach.”  Hugh and his co-founder slash business partner Michaela Sachenbacher “prefer to let their designs” – which are heavy on the GORE-TEX technology and utilitarian-focused hacks, and too expensive for most – “speak for themselves.” Yet, “whether you know it or not, [ACRONYM has] been pacing the vanguard of technically-focused fashion for nearly two decades.” – having worked in an office with the unfortunate name of ISIS House, an acronym that it shared with a terrorist organisation I can understand some of the pain for Errolson Hugh and company

精進カップラーメン | zen-foods – vegan friendly instant noodles, I’d be surprised if these don’t start appearing in Whole Foods soon

FBI Says China ‘Biggest Threat’ to US Law Enforcement as Arrests Skyrocket in 2020 | RFA‘We believe that no country poses a greater threat than Communist China’ – but what are they going to do about it?

‘A bit impersonal’: The rise of influencer marketing agencies rankles influencers – Digiday“When I reach out to brands directly, they tell me to apply for their programs through their affiliated network, which means I lose whatever personal connections I might’ve had and the ability to negotiate,” Groffman said. A company he had worked with for years recently referred him to its influencer network, he added. “Influencer marketing has finally matured as an industry,” explained Kristy Sammis, executive director of the Influencer Marketing Association, in an email. “Brands are now willing to allocate significant budget to strategic influencer programs. This means they need scale, benchmarks, and guarantees. That’s simply not possible with one-on-one influencer relationships.” Currently, influencers lack a standardized set of rates, yet a myriad factors can go into setting a price. That said, a $10 cost per thousand impressions is a baseline for influencers working on Instagram and Instagram Stories, according to Village Marketing founder Vickie Segar. She added that for every 100,000 followers, that rate grants an influencer $1,000 a post. Plus, companies and influencers might additionally negotiate usage rights and exclusivity, which could increase the fee. Terms vary by company, but payment can take from 30 days to 120 days – it’s probably because brands don’t want to have to filter out chancers and assholes themselves. Secondly, algorithms mean influencers are no longer an effective form of reach

The Era of Antisocial Social Media | HBRsaying that after years spent constructing carefully curated online identities and accumulating heaps of online “friends,” they want to be themselves and make real friends based on shared interests. They’re also craving privacy, safety, and a respite from the throngs of people on social platforms — throngs that now usually include their parents. To reach these younger audiences on social, marketers are going to have to re-think their approach. The first step is to understand the distinct characteristics of these more closed, and often more private and interactive online spaces. Since I believe that naming a trend helps provide a framework for understanding it, I have dubbed these spaces “digital campfires.” – to misquote Satre Hell is other people. From a brand perspective digital campfires are more attractive than the digital dumpster fires that channels like Twitter and YouTube often descend into

Barnes & Noble suspends reissues of classics with new images | AP News – criticised on social media as ‘literary’ black face

Mayfair robbery: Three men hunted after man stabbed for £115,000 watch | UK News | Sky News – events like this will reduce the UK’s attractiveness for luxury sales

Daring Fireball: My 2019 Apple Report Card – well worth reading, though I think Apple should have showed some backbone in Hong Kong – I have never been so disappointed in a brand

A mercenary army of the poor? Technological change and the demographic composition of the post-9/11 U.S. military: Journal of Strategic Studies: Vol 0, No 0the U.S. military no longer primarily recruits individuals from the most disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Technological, tactical, operational and doctrinal changes have led to a change in the demand for personnel. As a result, on different metrics such as family income and family wealth as well as cognitive abilities, military personnel are on average like the average American citizen or slightly better – there is also the aspect that military service runs in the family so previous generations may have been lifted into the middle class by the GI Bill

When China’s Long Game Short Circuits | Echowallmany of the examples of long-term policymaking in China collapse under closer scrutiny, whether in the area of environmental protection, infrastructure or population policy. For example, China’s solar power growth has been driven by government subsidies, resulting in market distortion, huge debt and waste. In the construction of infrastructure, such as the high-speed rail system and local airports, there is lack of coordination and long-term planning – not terribly surprising

My daughter’s TikTok triumph and the fleeting nature of internet fame | Financial Times – just wait until the advertising algorithm crushes reach again

Inside Huawei’s first 5G phone: Teardown reveals rush to innovate – Nikkei Asian Review – interesting analysis of the design approach. The design is surprisingly messy. This implies a few things. Huawei had to rush as it was behind. The phone isn’t as ‘premium’ as Huawei would like to believe, its the smartphone equivalent of having Irish travellers tarmac your drive. Huawei is leaving money on the table by not optimising their designs.

UK mobile operators warned to deliver on rural ‘not spots’ | Financial Times – I’d laugh if mobile operators just walked away from it all

What the Hell Is China Doing on the Dark Side of the Moon? – projection of power and influence