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Happy SpotifyWrapped! Here’s How A Marketing Strat Became A Mini Holiday

The fan-driven advertisement somehow made Spotify’s surveillance of listening activity seem more innocent.

Credit: Diego Thomazini / Shutterstock

An excellent marketing tactic is just a bit of fun for us, but for CEO Daniel Ek, the trademark SpotifyWrapped is likely more commercially significant than Starbucks employees deliberately misspelling customers’ names. It’s so fun to engage with and critique other people’s taste, even if only for a day, that we ignore that the brand is pretty much wearing their bad practices on their sleeve.

SpotifyWrapped, annually plastered across Instagram Stories and political propaganda, is an ingenious, addictive advertisement mobilised by the consumers themselves.

Since its launch in 2016, Wrapped has grown to become a ubiquitous internet phenomenon, a sort of mini holiday, and it’s clear to see why. Listeners are curious about what they have listened to the most, and what their taste may say about them (which is nothing beyond surface level, I would say). It’s understandable, it’s simple and it’s fun.

New features and eye-catching graphics are implemented into Wrapped year by year. One immediately thinks of those strange Meyers-Briggs personality tests (which reaffirm the illusion of self-representation) and the most recent feature that aligns your palette with a particular city in the world.

Spotify makes attempts to freshen up Wrapped with these features, but my guess is that even without them, Wrapped would continue to be a widespread success. What do we immediately look out for in our SpotifyWrapped, if not our top artists and top songs? Who really cares about whether you’re a Hypnotist or a Vampire, or if your taste corresponds to Berkeley U.S.A.?

Spotify doesn’t need to add much to preserve the immense popularity of Wrapped: in its inception, they had already achieved the winning formula.

SpotifyWrapped 2023 also introduced new ‘thank you’ messages from your favourite artists. Credit: Taylor Swift / Spotify

The Long Reach of SpotifyWrapped

The influence of SpotifyWrapped has even gone beyond the realm of music streaming. Of course, it has inspired YouTube Music and Apple Music to imitate the feature, but it has also been replicated on Reddit and even The Washington Post.

Yet none of them have come close to SpotifyWrapped’s success – that is obvious. According to Forbes, the hashtag has over 66.5 billion views on TikTok and trends annually on Twitter/X. And in 2021, 60 million users shared their Wrappeds online.

Guillaume Huin, social media director of McDonald’s, described Wrapped as a “masterclass on fan advocacy.”

Gabe Alonso, PepsiCo’s head of digital platforms and community, remarked that Spotify’s “best content is inherently content the community made themselves – they’ve just given us the tools to share it with the world.”

I want to ask, is that a problem? It’s only a bit of fun, as I’ve said, even if the frenzy around SpotifyWrapped dies down after a week (at most). One should have the freedom of showing off such pointless tidbits and stats to their friends. Have your fun, but be conscious of the fact that Spotify, as a platform for musicians to share their work, is one of the worst when it comes to profiting off their creators’ hard work.

Daniel Ek is a billionaire and the CEO of Spotify. Credit: Liv Oeian / Shutterstock

Spotify’s Bad Practices

Daniel Ek has been particularly unforgiving towards smaller artists who, struggling to garner a wide enough audience, cannot sustain their digital music career. He has suggested that they simply produce more output, as if artists would receive more than a mere fraction of their work anyway. Spotify has deliberately barred any efforts in court to increase songwriter royalty payments, investing millions of dollars to ensure that the income of musicians is limited. Clearly, keeping artist income as low as possible is one of Ek’s primary concerns.

Furthermore, Spotify has shown how to make the fact that they survey listening activity (what you listen to and when) more digestible for their consumers. As digital rights activist Evan Greer delineates, Spotify has influenced people to “not only participate in their own surveillance, but celebrate it.”

Are we, sharing our Wrapped to Instagram and Twitter/X, unconscious of the impermissible practices of the streaming service and its investors? Of course we’re not – that’s the sign of an effective marketing ploy. Spotify has instigated a mini holiday of sorts and, like Christmas or Easter, it is as fun as it is commercial.

Everything about SpotifyWrapped seems to work in its favour. Resuscitating feuds about the superiority of this or that streaming service and driving forward free advertisement on social media. It is a real game-changer in the development of the brand, and one cannot fault it for working. But who cares? As long as everyone sees that Drake is my most-played artist, I’m happy.

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I am currently an undergrad at UCL, studying English Literature & Language. My favourite genres are hip-hop, garage rock, and soul music.

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