|Napster escapes in 'Jailbreak.'|
|Napster recovers in 'EKG.'|
|Napster enters the chaos of corporate music rights negotiations.
The Napster Kitty is now the star of a new $20 million advertising campaign that includes a series of multiple TV spots that reprise the history of the outlaw online file swapping service that triggered a revolution in the way music products are consumed and marketed.
"We restated the mythology of how Napster was seen for the last couple of years," said Scott Steinberg, vice president for strategic marketing at Roxio Napster. For instance, "Jailbreak," the first spot, shows the kitty character breaking out of jail, and in "EKG" the kitty is on life-support, a sendup of Napster's legal troubles and shutdown by authorities. Its rebirth is chronicled in a hilarious third vignette that harpoons record company executives.
Napster began as the personal peer-to-peer music-swapping Web project of a Northeastern University student and by 1999 had blossomed into a wildly popular world phenomenon attracting 60 million online users. In the summer of 2001, after a 19-month legal battle against a phalanx of avenging music industry attorneys, Napster was closed by a court injunction for copyright infringement. It made news for a while after that following several failed attempts to cobble together the finances and strategy needed to go legit.
Late last year, Roxio acquired the Napster name and intellectual property rights for $5 million and began the marketing challenge of transforming Napster's universal recognition as a colorful outlaw into a profitable music download business.
Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Roxio is a well-established music and graphics production software company whose best known product, "Toast," is to the world of CD- and DVD-burning what Microsoft Word is to the world of word processing. The company did $142 million in sales in 2002.
Roxio also acquired Pressplay, the music download business from Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, for $40 million in May of this year. Ironically, Pressplay was created to compete against Napster and similar rogue file-swapping services. Now, Pressplay has become the interior engine of the new Napster 2.0 brand.
One of the most obvious and interesting changes Roxio has made to its version of Napster -- aside from requiring payment for music downloads -- is to develop the kitty logo into a cartoon creature that not only stars in ads but clearly has the potential for a variety of high-profile advertainment tie-ins as well.
"The idea behind the series was to help us showcase and develop the character behind the brand. The Napster Kitty equals digital music," Mr. Steinberg said.
The new positioning of the Napster Kitty as a full character rather than merely a static logo began with an Internet campaign this summer that featured a few quirky episodes created as Flash animations. Now polished into commercials, the spots (by Venables, Bell & Partners, San Francisco) are, in their visual essence, the musical background and voiceless nature of the lead character, very much like the cartoon narratives of the "Peanuts" clan of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy.
Four Napster spots are now running on cable TV including Comedy Central, ESPN and ESPN2, FX, Sci-Fi Network and VH1. Print ads target two demographics, mass market publications such as Time, Men's Health, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly and edgier material like Blender, Filter, Flyer, Vice and Accelerator. MediaSmith of San Francisco handled media planning and buying.
The campaign's look -- purely Web animation -- is carried consistently through to the other media. Mekanism, San Francisco, worked with Venables to translate the original Web animations to a TV video format.
Integrated ad campaigns
"As a brand, it was born on the Web, so we started the campaign from a very Web-centric point of view," Mr. Steinbrg said. The campaign launched online; Web media preceded the TV spots by several months. A flurry of outdoor posters appeared in August in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle (Mini Coopers in those markets sped around bearing the Napster logo); electronic moving billboards heralded the brand in Los Angeles, where heavy radio promotion also drum-rolled to the Oct. 29 launch.
The crisply calculated, incremental marketing approach is strangely ironic for a brand that has never been marketed, Mr. Steinberg said. In the old days, Napster was "all about viral and passion branding. It had been the people's brand." Now, he said, Napster's brand essence is "all about letting people discover new music," whether it's reggae, hip-hop, metal or indie. "It's not just about selling the music, it's about knowing the music."
And it is also about knowing marketing and distribution, which Roxio clearly does.
Penn State deal
Earlier this month, Roxio signed a deal with Penn State University to offer Napster's 500,000-song library to more than 80,000 students.
"Napster wants to create a compelling enough legal alternative to the peer-to-peer networks," said Mike McGuire, research director at GartnerG2, a technology consultancy. "College students need to see a compelling legal alternative and this appears like it may be a step in that direction. It's a pure marketing opportunity. They're seeding the future market."
The Penn State deal offers unlimited streaming and tethered downloads for free. Analysts believe the university will move to incorporate the costs into student fees or bundle the benefit with other dormitory services such as cable TV and high-speed Internet. Students must pay 99 cents apiece to burn tracks onto CDs or transfer them to portable players. More deals with major universities could be in the offing.
Napster MP3 players
Apart from the campus, Samsung Electronics will market Napster-branded MP3 players, while Best Buy, CompUSA, the Kroger grocery chain and ExxonMobil service stations will stock pre-paid Napster gift cards. Tie-ins with radio stations are also expected. Napster executives declined to comment on the Penn State deal or discuss future marketing alliances, citing the competitive landscape.
Napster's new target, adults aged 25 to 44, is a far cry from its base of renegade Web cruisers. It remains to be seen whether Napster will be able to make a dent into the teen and college markets, particularly because peer-to-peer services like KaZaa, Grokster and Morpheus continue to hold sway.
To win them over, the Napster crew will have to make the brand stand for something other than "free" and underscore its genre-specific approach to music. The marketing approach, Mr. McGuire said, needs to be a "socio-political statement, it's not just about acquiring music."
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Hoag Levins contributed to this report.