To promote YouTube Music, which launched in the U.S. in November, YouTube is putting the spotlight on its biggest competitive advantage—its diversity.
Sure, Spotify has musical diversity. But YouTube is the No. 1 streaming music site in the world, which means it's got an especially diverse user base. And it's those people, and their unique and personal tastes, that the brand is focusing on.
Working with Lance Acord, the director behind a slew of hits including the NFL's Super Bowl babies choir, YouTube has released a series of ads that embody the private moments in a day that music transforms into something special, even personally revealing.
Meet Jaysn, a funky little aficionado of the Korean hip-hop scene (his track: Eung Freestyle). He's cool enough to score daps from bigger kids, but still young enough to melt under the stare of an older lady on the subway:
Next there's Kristen, who's sad on an airplane … and fueling the fire with some James Blake and Bon Iver (you know you've done it):
And check out Afsa, who knows every line in Blackalicious' Alphabet Aerobics—an Olympic sport in itself—and spits it while walking down the school corridor without losing a breath:
Tina walks out of community service with sweet Walshy Fire in her ears, right into the arms of her waiting family:
And finally there's Alex, a small-town boy with a secret that only Elliphant's Club Now Skunk can release:
To varying degrees, each ad is an effort to humanize an Other—a hijabi who loves rap, a parolee who's made a loving family (and not just mistakes), the painstaking creation of a fiercer self (Alex), Asians who can be hardcore, and a girl who uses music not just as a balm but as a way to dive deeper into her own dark feelings (Kristen).
The strength in this campaign, created by Anomaly New York (which also made YouTube's #ProudtoLove spot), lies in how it invests "marginalized" audiences with a hard pound of relatability, using music. As an ethnic minority, it feels good to see both my skin color and some of my tastes—including black and Asian hip-hop—represented in ways that acknowledge me, and that I recognize.
"We are proud that YouTube gives everyone a voice and a place to belong. This campaign reflects those values, together with the wonderfully diverse people who come to YouTube every day to find, watch and share music," says YouTube CMO Danielle Tiedt. "We want these spots to shine a light on this diversity and individuality, while also showing how anyone can find something to love on YouTube Music."
That's charming and all, but YouTube's got other issues that may not necessarily be solved with a masterful thrumming of heartstrings.
Music apps are a commodity. They basically all do the same thing, with variances so minor that it's hard to convince people to try new ones. And while YouTube Music was born with a competitive advantage—the fact that lots of people already use the video service to play music—it's facing a lot of the same industry problems that other music platforms have.
Per fresh research from MIDiA, YouTube rights payments to artists totaled $740 million in 2015, up 11 percent from 2014. This sounds like a plus … until you consider that total views rose by 132 percent—meaning that artists who were paid $0.002 per stream in 2014 got half that the year after.
This means that as users grew, YouTube opted to pay less: Ad revenue is faltering as streams rise. (Tiedt is keeping mum on the figures behind YouTube Music.)
But whether or not YouTube is good for the music industry also depends on whom you ask. New artists see it as the best way to break out and find fans. It's more democratic than radio, and enables them to sell tickets, merch and other goods directly.
It isn't YouTube's job to fix the music industry, and we'd be hard-pressed to tell you where the solutions are. But it's perhaps to YouTube Music's credit that, while it works the kinks out here, it's using this campaign to leap into another fray altogether—that of who reflects American values, and who doesn't. The ads go live today—the first day of the Republican National Convention.
"There's no doubt [this] will cause controversy," Tiedt tells Yahoo! Music. "These are exactly the kind of lightning rod identity politics that are going crazy in the world right now. One of the reasons why we're kind of leaning into that a little bit is because at YouTube we have such commitment to this idea that everyone should have the freedom to belong."
Is music up to the task of opening the flock back up to the disenfranchised? If it worked for Coca-Cola, maybe it'll work for the United States—and for YouTube Music, too.
Agency: Anomaly New York
Production company: Park Pictures
Director: Lance Acord
Editorial Company: Arcade Edit
Editors: Jeff Ferruzzo (Kristen, Alex), Brad Waskewich (Afsa, Jaysn), Ali Mao (Tina)
Editorial Assistant: Dan Gutterman
Executive Producer: Sila Soyer
Producer: Fanny Cruz