Online video platforms have now matured to the stage where content providers are able to use the playlist and "next video" functions to build a narrative structure. Brands are now able to create stories in which viewers can choose their own adventure, in a kind of interactive branded content.
This "viewers choice" concept might initially seem to be limited to video platforms, but in a campaign from UK synth-pop band Hurts, the strategy has been applied to the popular Spotify music platform.
Spotify is an online music streaming service, that allows listeners to listen to complete music tracks for free. The service is funded by the occasional advertisements that appear in between the songs, similar to a commercial radio station, the difference being that listeners can search the Spotify library and program their own playlists. A subscription membership is available, where listeners can pay a daily or monthly fee to opt out of the commercial messages for uninterrupted listening.
Music advertising on Spotify has traditionally followed the radio spot format - a 30 second clip featuring clips from the album, accompanied by a voice over urging the listener to "download now".
Hurts (signed to Sony records) chose a different approach by using the much talked about Spotify platform in a completely new, unexpected and innovative way.
Sony had identified a group of consumers dubbed "Tipping Pointers". These are savvy individuals in their early twenties who like to be at the cutting edge of culture. Music is a key part of their social lives and many of their friends produce music, arrange club nights or work in fashionable shops. As a group they are fascinated by the new or the experimental and love to feel a sense of 'connectedness' with the cultural underground. They often lead music tastes in their peer group and their friends often respect their knowledge and enthusiasm, but they tend to be less 'purist' in their music tastes than fanatics.
One of the key things that came out of Sony's research was that this group had begun to abandon Radio 1 (the national UK station aimed at the 15-29 age range) in favour of listening to music on Spotify. Sony knew that it could reach this audience on Spotify through the normal ad spaces, but it wanted to do something different with the platform rather than just run standard banners and audio spots.
Sony had to reappraise what Spotify was really about (a search engine / player for music) and decided it would be fun to play around with the platform by creating an interactive audio novel.
Collaborating with the highly regarded (and often controversial) Manchester author Joe Stretch, whose first novel Friction gained much critical acclaim; the band provided the soundtrack for an interactive audio novel, available exclusively on Spotify.
The novel is written in the second person and narrated by the actress Anna Friel. It allows listeners to choose their own path through a strange dream world where nothing is quite what it seems.The story centers around the villainous Guy Lockhart, who is determined to condemn humankind forever to a loveless, empty existence. Throughout the experience the listener encounters a host of eccentric, enigmatic (and sometimes familiar) characters.
Each chapter of the novel has been published as a track on Spotify, and is located by typing a unique code into Spotify's search field. At the end of each chapter the listener is offered a choice, and can progress through the story by searching for the next code - ultimately leading them to disaster or success. Each of the eleven possible successful endings of the story weaves into music from the Hurts album "Happiness".
In the first week the novel received 160K streams, with over a third of people making it through the first ten chapters. 40% of all streams on all these chapters came from 18 - 22 yrs. 23 - 27 yrs remains around 15% - 20% through-out all chapters.