How Startup F# Makes Spotify Friendly for Brands

f_logo2012_RBGNimble 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.”

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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.

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 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.

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It All Started with an Oreo Cookie

It all started with an Oreo cookie.

This week the Kraft Oreo brand sparked a flurry of news media coverage and public discussion by posting a powerful Facebook image supporting Gay Pride Day. Now that Oreo has made a statement, will Kraft join the conversation?

The ad itself was simple, clever, and perfect for the Pinterest age: a gay-pride themed Oreo cookie accompanied by a post, “Proudly support love!”

Within days, the ad accumulated more than 280,000 Likes and 55,000 comments, ranging from supportive to critical — and the comments keep pouring in. For instance, on Friday afternoon as I wrote this post, Facebook member Jake Pisano commented on the Oreo wall, “I have a question. . .if being gay is so natural then why can’t 2 gays have a baby together hmmm i mean if it was something natural then shouldn’t they be able to have a baby.” Meantime, Facebooker Jocelyn Battisti wrote, “Oreo I bought some of your product yesterday just in sheer respect for your open support of equal love! I am a straight female who also supports equal love and I also am a huge fan of PROGRESS. KEEP IT UP!”

The comments exploded across the digital world, creating a firestorm of media coverage from publications such as ABC News, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. According to Radian6, as of June 27, the ad had sparked 11,600 mentions of the topic across the web (and no doubt the figure is hire by now.) For instance, Music Mogul (who is also my friend and business partner) Jermaine Dupri triggered a passionate conversation on his own Global 14 social community when he posted an image of the cookie and asked, “How do you feel about this? Some Global 14 members asked whether the ad might unwittingly segregate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. On the other hand, a Global 14 member nicknamed Crush wrote, “Why is this even news? It’s not that serious! I respect everyone’s opinion but I will be who the hell I want to . . .OREO COOKIE OR NOT! I am VERY GAY and VERY normal…”)

And in the grand spirit of user-generated content, consumers created their own images inspired by the ad:

Interestingly, Radian6 also reported that eight out of 10 of the comments made about the ad are positive with a disproportionate share of virulent remarks posted on the Oreo Facebook page — and suggesting that the media coverage overstates the controversy.

A Kraft spokesperson responded to the controversy by saying, “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values.”

I would like to see Kraft do more than make a statement. This kind of advertisement can do something very important, which is to invite people to take a closer look at how corporations like Kraft can enact change to make society more tolerant. Big brands can act as powerful agents of change through their statements and more importantly through their actions. AT&T and Disney are among the companies receiving perfect marks by the Human Rights Campaign for being LGBT-friendly based on a number of factors ranging from the nature of their domestic partner benefits to resources they provide for LGBT employees. (Kraft scores well but lacks a perfect score.) I see an opportunity for Kraft to lead a conversation now the ad has caught our attention.