Nimble startups continue to change the music industry by capitalizing on the convergence between branding, technology, and entertainment. Case in point: F#, a New York company founded in 2012 with a mission to connect brands, musicians, and fans through playful experiences on social platforms like Facebook and Spotify. And F# is dead serious about providing a music-rich experience instead of predictable advertising, as F# CEO Dan Merritts revealed to me in an interview published today on Superhype.
“We’re providing brands an experience that is incredibly interactive — 15-times more interactive than typical digital advertising,” Merritts said. “And we are helping consumers discover music they might love.”
F#’s approach to music discovery is to help big brands like Jim Beam, Oreo, and Marriott embed themselves into social media. For example, to help Campbell Soup reach out to the Millennial generation, F# created an interactive Campbell’s “Go” Soup Spotify playlist that users could update by adding songs that fit different soup flavors.
Fans could also share their playlist additions on their Facebook walls (creating organic branding for Campbell’s) and unlock exclusive content such as coupons. The experience created not only organic reach for Campbell Soup but also the street cred that comes with being featured on the Colbert Report.
But F# does more than create advertising experiences; the company also personifies the smart, sometimes quirky, and always cutting-edge nature of digital music culture. Its employees live and breathe music. The company’s blog effectively captures the convergence between technology, branding, and music with entries ranging from an analysis of the future of audio advertising to an interview with the creators of Phloq, “a multichannel work composed to evoke the sensorial experience of a flock of birds taking off.”
In his conversation with me, CEO Dan Merritts shed light on F# and its culture Merritts is a product of Silicon Valley whose pedigree includes work with cloud computing pioneer Loudcloud and contextual ad firm Affinia. As his own blog demonstrates, Merritts is passionate about marketing, leadership, and user experience. He has also lived in or worked in more than 43 countries and is a self-described fan of Top 40 music. His is a story of passion and vision, as shown in the following Q&A:
I gather you are all music enthusiasts as I am. So what music is rocking your world?
I am a Top 40 guy — everything from Bruno Mars to anyone capturing the moment. Today has been an Owl City day because Owl City performs the Oreo Wonderfilled Song, which is featured in a Spotify experience we launched for Oreo today. We have a lot of technology and music enthusiasts at F#. Every day for two hours we turn over our office’s Sonos to one employee to host DJ a 2-hour session.
A glimpse inside F#’s New York office via F#’s Facebook page
We have a bunch of EDM (electronic dance music) fans among our employees, who play underground and mainstream EDM. One of our copywriters is a big movie buff. He’s taken over the DJ station and plays music from different movies. It’s a lot of fun trying to figure out which movie goes with the song.
Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at F#
I am a Silicon Valley technology start-up kind of guy. I spent most of my adult life in the Valley until about two years ago when I moved to New York. My career has been about startups, whether I was doing work early on with contextual ads (for Affinia) or cloud computing (Loudcloud) I helped pioneer the textbook rental space and the eTexbooks space. F# came about when I was spending time between New York and San Francisco. I ended up working a lot with the Spotify team to help them collaborate with large brands to develop ad experiences that put music at the heart and center of Spotify while and supporting musicians in a scalable way.
F# CEO Dan Merritts
Tell me what F# does in one sentence.
We are the leader in integrating streaming music services and branded ad solutions for the leading advertisers in the world.
We’re providing brands an experience that is incredibly interactive — 15-times more interactive than typical digital advertising. And we are helping consumers discover music they might love.
Give me an example of how F# works. You just mentioned Oreo, and I see the company featured on your Facebook wall today.
Yes, Oreo wanted to connect with consumers in clever and interesting ways. And we just worked with Oreo to launch the Wonderfilled campaign on Spotify. When you land on the interactive Oreo Wonderfilled page on Spotify, you can click on a button to “Share the Wonder” on Facebook or email to share a song with friends. And that song gets added to Oreo’s Share the Wonder playlist.
Consumers typically select songs that transport them to a great experience that they associate with Oreo. The nice thing about these collaborative playlists is that if you listen to it, the playlist shows up in social feeds. Oreo gets that nice organic association with your music in social platforms.
How did F# come to be?
We really started out to create the Buddy Media for music. We discovered that there is a lot of rich content that exists on social music platforms, but there was no platform to make it easy for brands to integrate with that content via high-impact, multi-screen, social experiences. We provide brands easy and incredibly interactive ways to provide consumers great experiences. The brands win because they get massive impressions and reach across consumers’ social networks.
How do you monetize F#?
F# works with publishers, brands, agency and music streaming partners to license our technology platform and create unique ad experiences.
Do you target any particular vertical markets?
In general we see a strong connection for any vertical where people are connecting via passion points around music — everything from alcohol to automotive to consumer products to entertainment . . . wherever brands are engaging with the 18-24 demographic, which is core for us.
How are you building the F# brand?
We follow these strategies:
- Creating high-quality, shareable experiences and a reputation around music-based advertising — in other words, making sure our work is front and center
- Embracing social media: we are building a community by helping to foster the musician side, the technology side, and the intersection between music and advertising. We are establishing a presence, voice, and persona in various social media channels — not only the front side but also the work we are doing in the backstory, such as our blog and Instagram. We give you a sense of who we are so that everyone understands the individuals who make F# great.
- Owning F#. It’s a music note and a programming language. We are focused on differentiating our brand to be synonymous with digital music advertising.
- Working with smart, well connected people to tell our story.
Brands and musicians continue to create relationships, with brands acting almost like music labels these days. Where do you see this collaboration headed?
I see the collaboration occurring via three tiers:
- Exclusive relationships like Jay Z and Samsung and Beyonce and PepsiCo. Those types of relationships between big brands create mass appeal. There is a lot of experimentation going on and lessons to learn from those kinds of collaborations. There will always be a tier for that.
- The second tier is pretty interesting: a lot of music platforms have made it easier for brands and musicians to connect with consumers in a personalized way. We want to help brands leverage music to build relationships with different, well-defined consumer personas. We want to help match brands with music that works in the brand’s voice for specific consumers in a personal way as opposed to generating mass appeal.
- The third tier consists of emerging artists being discovered by brands. There are a lot of exciting models on the table — ways to support the brand and to protect the integrity of the artist. I think brands and musicians are really looking at those opportunities to share discovery.
Where do you see the music industry headed overall?
There are two major developments I see happening. I saw a recent article in Sweden about how much music is being consumed via streaming. In fact, 70 percent of music in Sweden is consumed via streaming. If you give Spotify a five-year head start and fast forward, music will be consumed through even more platforms. The need to monetize streaming better with artists will result in larger checks going to artists.
And I see a change in how individuals discover live events and merchandise and live streams with revenue going to the artist. No matter how great your head phones are, the live event is still something necessary and required for fans and musicians to connect at a deeper level. Live events will be easier to experience and extend the economic reach from the elite artists to the long tail in a way that is meaningful for fans and artists.
The great thing about where technology is and where it’s going is that F# can do a lot more work helping match the right brands with artists and people.
Anything else you’d like to add?
F# is a young, innovative company. We want to keep fans up to date but also get your perspective on music. We’re listening.