Zune’s Sharing Capability More Than Just A Feature

Microsoft sees the youthful audience for the Zune wireless-sharing MP3 player (which allows music sharing for three days or three plays, then gives users a chance to buy it) and associated downloading service as more than just a target market, said industry analysts: It also sees it as an ally in its quest to topple the king-of-the-hill Apple iPod/iTunes.

Mike McGuire, vp of research for mobile devices and consumer services at Gartner Inc., San Jose, Calif., said he sees Microsoft’s social-networking strategy as being based on recommendations that lead to sales. “The social nature of music as a form of currency is well established,” he said. “But from the larger industry perspective, where it gets interesting and powerful is when music sharing can lead to actual purchase.”

The Zune’s wireless-sharing feature, he added, is actually a temporary technical advantage—one he sees being trumped soon by phone-type devices using Open Mobile Alliance downloading, and online programs like WeedShare and PassAlong, which pay consumers in music credits the more their recommendations are purchased. This capability, he added, is “remaking the way music is promoted and marketed. And it’s all based on the same value: How do you turn consumers who like and buy your music into your best salespeople?”

In stark contrast to the iPod’s hipster-loners silhouetted against color-field backdrops and grooving to bands with broad appeal (such as U2 and Bob Dylan), 72andSunny creative directors John Boiler and Glenn Cole populated the more than 20 executions of Zune spots—tagged “Welcome to the social”—with groups of real kids. (In fact, Boiler said getting all the sign-offs at an outdoor concert setting was a logistic challenge.) They then set the spots to different genres of music from obscure or unknown artists.

“We didn’t cast for the spots traditionally,” said Boiler, who remembers growing up on the Oregon ski slopes, trying to coordinate cassette players with his buddies so that they could be hearing the same music on the way down. “We built the production around real events. We wanted it to feel different than the other player, which is stylized and distant. There is a social distinction at work here.”

Founding partner and strategy director at 72andSunny, Greg Perlot, said, “We wanted the campaign itself to be experiential, so we built a massively broad on-ramp of communication, giving [viewers] lots of access points. Part of that idea is musical discovery: there are lots of things they can engage with.

We didn’t try and come up with some type of youth-marketing model,” Perlot added. “We don’t believe in it and we don’t get it. Everyone is trying to pigeonhole them and monetize them. It’s disingenuous. We just see their insatiable hunger for new experiences.”

Allen Adamson, managing director of branding consultancy Landor, New York, noted that “Welcome to the social” “is smart because they are never going to out iPod iPod. That’s about personal experience. But from the strategic standpoint, the social idea platform is dead-on right. That’s the foundation for the brand and it’s the right one.”

Gartner’s recent research study, “Consumer Taste Sharing Is Driving the Online Music Business and Democratizing Culture,” supports this. According to the report, said McGuire, nearly one-quarter of frequent online music users want the ability to share music. Also, some of the most regular users of online music are the most interested in consumer-generated recommendation tools. McGuire and co-author Derek Slater predicted that by 2010, 25 percent of online music buying will be driven “directly from consumer-to-consumer taste-sharing applications.”