So there’s this great Buzzfeed article about Spotify: “How Hip-Hop Conquered Streaming.”
In it, we learn that this current generation of kids does not understand purchasing music at all – which maps to watching my various Godchildren interact with music. When they want to listen to a song, they go to YouTube. For them, music is something you get by going to the Internet.
And hip-hop, the music that appeals to the youngest of demographics, reflects that change. Spotify’s a service that has an extremely young audience – their core listeners tend to be 18-24, right in the pocket of hip-hop’s most engaged audience. So when it comes to the intersection of streaming + hip-hop, Spotify multiplies and dominates.
Spotify is, largely, a young person’s phenomenon. Here’s the most fascinating bit, to my mind:
According to a study by GMI Market Research provided to BuzzFeed News, the average age of users of major music platforms is as follows: Spotify, 28; Pandora, 32; iTunes, 34; SiriusXM, 42; terrestrial radio, 43.
(I love the way “terrestrial radio” sounded all space-aged to me until I realized it meant “Car radio.”)
But basically, there’s a huge age gap in who Spotify appeals to. The average age of users is 28, but the Buzzfeed article indicates that the most engaged Spotify users are teens and college kids. And that doesn’t even map the audience sizes of each: I’d be willing to bet that if you’re over 40 (and particularly if you’re not hooked into the Internet beyond checking Facebook), the chances you’ve heard of Spotify are comparatively slim, at least compared to the widespread brand-name recognition of iTunes and Sirius Radio.
So Spotify has a marketing challenge.
So on Saturday, Spotify made a (now deleted) Tweet that said:
Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you explain Spotify to your Mom? There could be free Spotify Premium in it for her!
…And the cries of #Sexist and #Ageist rang out.
Sexist? Maybe. I mean, it’s an advertisement for Mother’s Day, so it’s going to reference women, and maybe it inadvertently stomps on the societal (and erroneous) undertone that “Women aren’t good at technology.” It may also have been that they would have clumsily asked you to explain Spotify to Dad if Father’s Day had come up first on the calendar, so I can’t say definitively.
But ageist? Absolutely! This Tweet assumes that mothers who are old enough to have given birth to people following Spotify on Twitter don’t know how Spotify works.
The issue here: statistically speaking, they are probably correct.
On average, a woman has her first kid in her mid-to-late twenties. Adding in the average age of a Spotify user, that means the average mother is going to be roughly fifty-five – twice as old as the average Spotify user, and hence a statistical outlier. (Being charitable, and assuming this Tweet was aimed at teens, maybe we’re talking about mothers in their mid-to-late forties. Still above the curve.) They may understand streaming in some vague sense, but not in the concrete sense that they can stream music in their car, with their cell phone, on a fairly crappy connection.
Spotify’s in a bind here, because they’re trying to avoid stating their real reason for this Tweet. A more accurate version would be:
Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you sell Spotify to your Mom?
But then people would go “Crap, I don’t want to be a shill for Spotify” and tune out. (Not that the original Tweet was a mastery of the form, but it at least had some plausible denial.)
There’s more tone-clueful ways to dance around this issue – “Make a Mother’s Day Playlist for your mom, send it to her, get her to download this software she doesn’t use, and maybe she’ll win free Premium!” – but none of that gets around the central problem that this “Ageist” assumption is, well, probably likely true.
Not true for everyone. But a chronic problem people have is in conflating “Well, I know someone!” with “This statistical data is wrong!” I mean, there was that new study that shows that on average, people stop listening to new music at the age of 33. And as we speak, I have the Spotify top 50 station open, because I like to know what the kids are listening to these days, and so I listen to a lot of new music. (Here’s my favorite song of late, BTdubs.)
I could easily go, “Hey, I’m 45 and I listen to new music! That study is crap! My experience disproves it!”
Whereas the truth is that my experience neither proves nor disproves that study. Yes, I listen to new music, but the study isn’t saying no one listens to new music after 33, just that most people do not. Yet if I’m the sort of person who does, chances are good I’m going to get insulted by that accusation.
My saying, “My behavior reflects the behavior of everyone in my demographic!” is not particularly logical… but lots of people do it.
Likewise, yes, there are plenty of older people who do listen to Spotify, and understand perfectly how it works. I’m 45, and the reason I listen to all that new music is because Spotify makes it easy for me. Yet I can acknowledge that even as I do listen, if you were to take 100 45-year-old men and say, “So do you listen to Spotify?” the answer would largely be “No,” with a considerable portion of 45-year-old men answering, “What’s Spotify?”
And people can get angry at that assumption, but that doesn’t make the challenge facing Spotify any less true. If these studies are accurate (I cannot attest that any of them are, but I’d bet dimes to dollars Spotify believes they’re accurate), then most mothers – and most people who are in their late forties to fifties – may not understand streaming, and certainly do not listen to Spotify.
And they have to find a way to sneak around that truth, because God forbid they imply anyone is ignorant.
Implying someone’s ignorant in something they’re informed of thumbs their rage button quicker than anything.
Which is why I’m not saying that Spotify was right to say what it did. It was a tone-deaf Tweet that pissed off users, which is never a good thing. But what I’m saying is that the tone-deaf Tweet pissed off users not necessarily because it was inaccurate as a whole, but because it got taken specifically. If the study is true, then what happened here was that the outliers got really mad because they hated the way this assumption was incorrect about their personal experiences, even if that assumption may have been largely accurate for people in their age group.
So Spotify – and every other company on the planet – is now engaged in this weird dance where they know the truth, but dare not speak it. Yes, most 20-year-olds don’t vote, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. Yes, most people don’t know how Obamacare really affects them, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. (And always, always, we’ll piss off anyone who is actually ignorant, merely by stating the fact of their ignorance.)
How do we skitter around this ugly truth to inform the ignorant without annoying the people who are actually informed?
I wish I knew. All I know is that I’m 45, and outside many demographics. I’m a weirdo polyamorous young-listening hypersocial introvert writer, and I see ads that assume bad things of me all the time.
Yet despite knowing what a demographic weirdo I am, I still get mad when corporations make awful assumptions about what I like in life. Because while there are many things I’m an outlier on, “Being immune to anger when I’m miscategorized” isn’t one of them.
The embarrassing truth is, I’m okay with Spotify miscategorizing me, but only because I take it as a quiet proof that I’m living my life as I want to live it: Hey, these other older people haven’t a clue, but you are hip and young! If there was an advertisement that suggested men my age and weight were sexually unattractive, even if that was statistically correct, I’d be furious.
Just like the mothers who have just been told that their technological skills are insufficient are furious.
So maybe I’m wrong to be angry when Budweiser assumes I love sports and hate clothes shopping simply because I’m a guy – a majority of American men fit that profile, and they’re merely playing the odds. But Budweiser’s job isn’t to correct me; it’s to sell their products and services, and that means ensuring that “correcting my bad assumptions” isn’t a wise move on their point. If I’m angry for irrational reasons, far better to tiptoe around that rage and find some other, more clever, way to sell me things. Or just pretend they didn’t hear my complaints, because hey, there are plenty of men who do love sports and hate shopping, and why not focus on this profitable cluster of dudebros where all the money lies?
This is why advertisements don’t make the world better. They just find ways to sneak around our irrationalities or to marginalize us. Because that’s what sells.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.