Q&A: Spotify’s global creative director Alex Bodman talks social ideas and Justin Bieber

alex bodman spotifyAustralian Alex Bodman is the first global creative director for music streaming service Spotify. In this Q&A he discusses why ‘new’ brands have to be innovative in marketing, his work with social media and how to get Justin Bieber to retweet you. 

Six years ago you were a social media manager at Soap Creative. How have you gone from there to lead marketing for Spotify? 

“In my career I’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time around what was next for the industry.

“About 11 years ago I got my foot in the door at Ogilvy in the digital department, even the direct mail people looked down on us, but I realised after a few months I’ve landed in the right place and I’d always be a digital first and social first creative. I’ve done a tonne of integrated since and we’re now doing a tonne of more traditional marketing in the US, and that’s exciting too; but I’ve been able to shape my career around using digital channels in interesting and unexpected ways.

“Soap Creative is a great place I learned so much there and social was exploding around that time and I was lucky enough to jump on and start managing pages as well as coming up with larger concepts. So when I moved over to New York and worked at Razorfish that five years taught me so much.

“I ended up leading creative for Axe body spray and doing giant integrated campaigns there. And then there were clients like Mercedes-Benz where the challenge was taking one of the world’s greatest brands and bringing it to the attention of a millennial buyer that at the time was looking elsewhere.

Take the Wheel put five Instagrammers in a Merc for five days, with the one amassing the most like getting to keep the car at the end of the contest

Take the Wheel put five Instagrammers in a Merc for five days, with the one amassing the most Likes getting to keep the car at the end of the contest

“Smart Car was a really fun challenger brand to work on and about a year-and-a-half to two years ago Razorfish NY won a pitch to create some work for Spotify.

“In that year I immersed myself in the brand on the agency side, and got to know a lot of people in the organisation and started to create some work that worked for the brand.

“When they created the position of global creative director last year it never really occurred to me it would be one that I would go into, but when they started talking to me about it it was too good to pass up. I found myself at this place where people are thinking what would it be like to live and breathe one brand and concentrate on one platform? And Spotify was the perfect fit for me.”

Marketing a brand like Spotify is there pressure on you to be different and innovative?

“Absolutely. Anything that feels too traditional is just going to fall flat.

You’ve seen that from a lot of digital-first brands who’ve made the anthemic TV spot or tried some of the traditional approaches, and there’s something about it that doesn’t quite land. It doesn’t feel right for the consumer and the brand.

“I talk about new brands – Google was the first one and continues to do that successfully – but whether it’s Uber, Facebook, Airbnb, there’s a bunch of these digital-first players that started as platforms and now need to become brands, and they need to do so in a very different way. That’s exciting because every time you go out and do something too traditional it’s going to fall flat.”

Facebook’s TV ad comparing it to chairs left many bemused.

What are the channels you are using?

“We’ve been making a lot of experiences that played with our data, the data we have around users and music. We’re fortunate in that we have the world’s best content, the world’s music and the data we have is so rich and music says so much about us what we’re feeling and doing. How often have you met someone and one of their first questions is what sort of music are you into?

“It’s inherently social and shareable as content. It’s really hard to capture on digital channels, but I think we have an unfair advantage to build out to people things they want to share.

“We’ve done a lot of firsts as programs. Year in Music is a large program we do around December, and two years running we’ve had over 5m consumers engage in it and there;s a huge amount of media we get from that which is why it’s become such a tentpole for us.

“On top of that we’ve been doing a lot of smaller experiences that play with musical insights that allow either current or people we hope will be future users to experiment with music.

“Things like Taste Rewind, takes your current taste today and shows you what you would have been listening to if you lived in another era.

spotify taste rewind

“We did another program that was huge in terms of owned media and PR called ‘Found Them First’, and it’s based on that insight that everyone says ‘I was into that band before everyone else was’, what we might call the hipster mindset but we celebrate as just the love of music. We became the first platform that could prove that as we had the data that could tell them the date they first listened to them and what percentage of listeners they were in. That became a huge social badge in the States, and we had a thing allowing people to show they discovered these acts.

“We’re also playing a lot with outdoor. We did an outdoor campaign as part of Year in Music in New York that was hugely popular, and we took some learning from that and did some interesting outdoor around The Beatles launch. This year in the States we’re going to broaden that with something that looks a little more like a traditional campaign with integrated video assets. I can’t talk to much about it but there will be stuff live within the next eight weeks.”

Do you use outdoor as a trigger for people while they will have a mobile device in their pocket?

“What mobile does for outdoor has been huge for us, we can now create social content that amplifies well beyond just being an outdoor placement.

“One thing we did in New York last year was take the data for every neighbourhood and find an unusual fact about how that neighbourhood listened. We went to Williamsburg which is thought to be populated by music snobs, but we found the track ‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber trended higher in that neighbourhood than any other. So we were able to put a big billboard in that neighbourhood saying ‘Sorry, not sorry Williamsburg. Beiber’s hit trended highest in this zip code’.

justin beiber spotify billboard

“We had a huge reach for that, we tweeted it out and Justin Bieber retweeted it, so just from that alone there was a huge return on investment.

“But what was phenomenal was people pulling out their phones and sharing it because it was such an interesting fact and provocative piece of creative. I saw friends who had no idea I’d worked on it putting it into their feed or making it their profile pic. That’s a very different ROI when everyone is talking about it. If you can make it interesting enough that people want to share it that’s great.

“In Canada they did a similar campaign where they created playlists based on how every neighbourhood listens. They provided links so people could use the outdoor piece to access those playlists.

“It was the first time in North America we’d tested to see whether people would pull out their phone and go to a URL based on what the outdoor prompted them to do and they had such phenomenal results there based on what the data was telling them they’re going to be doing that again.”

How has your thinking evolved around social media in the last few years?

“I think we’re all social media marketers now. I think earned has become so powerful I think every client expects to see an idea that is so inherently powerful and sticky enough they’re going to get that earned out of it.

“I think one thing we’ve been doing in terms of the way we think about social, we’ve got a passionate base and following so we’ll continue to work a lot in that space.

“With any piece of creative we’re looking to give someone a social object they really have to talk about or share out of it. Year in Music is a microsite – that’s a very old fashioned idea – but it actually gets more social traction because people are so desperate to share their data, than a virtually led social campaign. We put social share cards and functionality throughout the experience and we see something like half a million shares based on those results.

Thinking this work is social and needs to live on a social channel is a narrow mindset for what truly social work is.”

Alex Hayes


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