Dec 8, 2023 - Business

Why there are so many Spotify Wrapped knockoffs

Illustration of a megaphone wrapped up as a gift.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If your apps have been bombarding you with stats about your year in music, food, books, or even language learning, there's a simple explanation — they're trying to capture a little bit of Spotify's marketing magic.

Why it matters: Spotify Wrapped — a year-end analysis of your listening habits — is the Holy Grail of digital advertising, marketing experts say. Other companies are trying to mimic its success, but few have come close.

"It's definitely one of the classics — should be taught in every business school," said Jon Carden, chief marketing officer at Fundrise, a real estate fintech.

  • "It's certainly one of the most admired tactics, probably, in the digital space," Carden said.

Catch up quick: Spotify wasn't the first to do a year-end wrap-up. Strava, the running app, launched Year in Sport a decade ago. Goodreads had a Year in Books version in 2013.

  • Spotify got in the game in 2015. Wrapped didn't go viral until 2019 after the company optimized it for sharing.
  • That same year, Apple Music launched its Replay feature. PlayStation, Nintendo, and even Duolingo also got in the game, sending out an email to users. But none of their efforts are as robust or as popular, as the Spotify version.
  • Now seemingly everyone is doing it: Aldi — yes, the grocery store — tried something a few days ago. (Dating Wrapped is a thing, too.)

Wrapped is essentially, for companies, a best-case scenario ad campaign since the customers are creating the ads.

  • The ads come in the form of sharable, customizable posts — where you can show off to friends and family your top artists, songs, and just how big of a fan of Taylor Swift you are.

Be smart: Big brands are always trying to create "engagement," getting customers to interact with the company in some way on social media, said Kevin McTigue, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's business school.

  • There are some bad examples out there of engagement gone wildly wrong, but experts say the optimal form is something like Wrapped.
  • "People are willingly engaging in like a minute-long Spotify ad," McTigue said, meaning app users will stop what they're doing to watch the year-end wrap-up. "Not only that, but you're probably going to share it with someone else."

Ultimately, companies hope this drives people to sign up — because they want to someday get a Wrapped of their own.

  • It's a "FOMO effect," Spotify's head of consumer and product marketing told Forbes in 2019. "[It] inherently entices new users to consider Spotify, so it's a flywheel effect."
  • The company typically sees a jump in app store rankings after the campaign.

The intrigue: Wrapped might also serve as a reminder to current subscribers that they use Spotify a lot and that it's a valuable subscription, said McTigue. That's not going to work for every site.

  • "You can imagine getting an Apple TV wrapped and it's like you watched 'Ted Lasso' and that's it," he said. So you rush to cancel your subscription. It backfires.

Reality check: Not every company can pull this off. While Wrapped delights people, these kinds of look-backs are also a bracing example of the sheer amount of data digital companies collect on their customers.

  • It would be much less delightful to get a Wrapped on your DoorDash deliveries or, say, your credit card statements.
  • And, for all of Spotify's marketing success, the company is currently struggling: On Monday, it announced steep job cuts.

The bottom line: Once upon a time, if you wanted to reflect on the past year, you'd need to think, maybe look at some photos or talk to friends. Now, a year in your life is a marketing event for brands.

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