Nicely wrapped up advertising: The many sides of Spotify wrapped

”What are you all wearing to Spotify Wrapped” and “Spotify Wrapped is like Christmas for gays” were just some of the memes my friends and I shared a good month before the fabled Wrapped day came, signifying how important it felt to us. Spotify Wrapped is simply a fun way to see how much you’ve been listening and what you’ve been listening during the past year. Yet underneath the cool graphics and interactive content, Wrapped is about much more.

Wrapped is not a new thing – it has been around since 2016. However, before 2019, Wrapped arrived in your email inbox as a newsletter-type of thing, which was clumsy to share and not nearly as fun. This changed when the mobile edition of Wrapped was announced in 2019; a noteworthy story in itself.

That year, Jewel Ham who was doing an internship with Spotify realised Wrapped could and should look more fun and interactive than it did. During her internship she re-envisioned what looks very much like the current Wrapped mobile content: a fun, interactive, mobile-first way of sharing the data. As she tells Refinery29, “it was received really well. They liked the idea.” She received no compensation apart from the general stipend for her internship, and Spotify never acknowledged her contribution to Wrapped. In fact, when asked for a comment by Refinery29, they denied there was any contribution: “While ideas generated during Spotify’s internship program have on occasion informed campaigns and products, based on our internal review, that is not the case here with Spotify Wrapped.”

While the case with Spotify arguably benefitting from underpaid work of interns goes on to show how companies tend to take advantage of the labour of talented, young people, it is not the only aspect of Wrapped that seems… well, interesting, if we want to be polite. 

First of all, what is Wrapped made of? Data. More accurately your personal data. As shown by Wrapped and Spotify’s Only You “in-app experience” released last summer, Spotify knows what artists you listen to, when, and where. In addition, Spotify knows your bank details, mobile number and operator, and how many milliseconds you’ve listened to each track during the lifetime of your account – among other things. That’s valuable information, especially for marketers, with whom Spotify shares your personal data. You can opt out of tailored ads in your user settings, but from their Privacy Policy it seems some data is still shared with marketers. So next time you wonder why you get ads for feminist keychains and red scarves during your late-night scroll, remember you played Taylor’s All Too Well (10 min version) 29 times each day last week. Big Brother is watching. 

Another interesting fact about Spotify Wrapped and specifically the “social” aspect of it (that is, the fact that if you don’t share your stats on your Instagram story, you may as well not have listened to anything at all over the past year) is the fact that it’s effectively free advertising. We’re all promoting the platform for free, a phenomena that reminds me of the 2013 Instagram trend of taking photos of your Starbucks cups. Companies don’t need an advertising budget if they get their users to do it for them. Spotify has managed it incredibly well, as the Wrapped hype shows – and so does the fact that other platforms are following. Just this year, Instagram revealed it’s Playback feature, which allows you to share your most interactive stories easily again. In my opinion it’s nowhere nearly as fun or nice-looking as Wrapped, but maybe it’ll become as popular. Time will tell. 

Then there is the question of whether we really need Wrapped? Do we need a day dedicated to the data an app has collected about us? I tried explaining it to my mum last year – her response? “I don’t get it. Surely you know who your favourite artists are? Why do you need an app to tell you that?” Because it’s fun, mum. 

Wrapped is fun, there’s no way around it. There’re always surprises, and while I have a good guess about which songs or artists will make it to top 5, I never get them all correct. On the other hand, it’s nice to see the announcement that you belong to top 1% of an artist’s fans. And isn’t there a saying that everyone loves to talk about themselves? I guess that’s why Wrapped is such a success every year – it’s all about you, with the added bonus of it being socially acceptable to talk about nothing but your taste in music for one day a year. It’s fun to see what your friends listen to, as well. And Spotify really does make it fun – in the film in which I’m the main character, Sleeping At Last play as I gaze wistfully at my reflection in the pond, with a single tear rolling down my cheek? YES. 

How to wrap it all up, then? Pun wholeheartedly intended. Wrapped is neither bad nor good. It is fun, enjoyable, and insightful, but also a great marketing tactic. It’s an example of just how much a tech company knows about us, and it was likely ripped off from the work of an underpaid intern. Like so many things, it isn’t black or white. How you feel about Wrapped is your business. If you want my verdict, though, I say you can enjoy something slightly problematic without feeling guilty about it. At the end of the day, some fun is never wasted.

[Elsa Lindström- she/her]

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