Youtube, iTunes, and Magic Drumsticks

By Mark Johnson

As a techwriter, I regularly look for connections between discoveries in one area to those in another. These connections often come suddenly from the most random combinations. My latest insight involved a video watched a year ago, a book I read two years ago, a book I’m reading now, two Nielsen media reports, and a YouTube video involving a “drumstick of destiny.” The result is glimpse in the future of marketing, music, and video.

Video one was from the 2011 music and technology-focused MidemNet conference, where Berklee College of Music instructor Mike King lists the four stages of marketing: Awareness, Engagement, Acquisition, and Monetization. He argued any profitable band must make people “aware” of their music. The band or artist must then keep the potential buyer’s attention through “engagement” in order to “acquire” him or her as a fan and then “monetize” this relationship. It would seem that the most crucial and challenging step of the four lies in effectively engaging the curious onlooker into becoming a loyal fan.

The Nielsen Media Research report “Image Conscious: Music Video Streaming Online” also listed this term “engagement” as a better determining factor (rather than views) in how well an online music video will bring in digital download sales. Nielsen measured engagement by the number of viewers “liking/disliking,” “favoriting,” or commenting on a given music video. All of these actions turn video watchers from passive viewers into active mouse-clicking participators, and one band took this idea a step further.

“Drumstick of Destiny” is a tour video by the band Driftless Pony Club. The video follows the band as it travels to play a show. Besides clever editing, the video entertains with a staccato assortment of quick-witted comments, “rawk sawks,” time travelers, and a crazy coffee wizard.

I’ll explain: the most innovative part of this video appears at the end when guitarist “Matt” notices a magical drumstick inside of his shirt pocket. Suddenly the video asks me which of the four band members should be hit with this “drumstick of destiny.” Four links appear one by one for me to click, each with a band member’s name.

No matter who is clicked, the result is an instant transportation to another video where hilariously nonsensical consequences play out. Didn’t like the ending? No matter, as a crazy wizard appears at the end of all the videos, offering you a second chance if you “drink the coffee.” Doing so then takes you back to the original video.

This link not only takes you back to the original video, it actually takes you back to the original video at the exact moment of choosing a band member. Thus, this video lets you find out what happens when each member is selected quickly and easily… all while keeping you clicking.

This ingenious use of the humble hyperlink surprised me. I suspect I’m not the only one unaware that links could bring you to videos at specific points, let alone be placed inside videos. As if to underscore the point later that same day, while watching a music video for the band Blink 182, a single click loaded my iTunes account and loaded the exact page in the iTunes store where I could purchase the song.

Technology writer Frank Rose attests to the power of the hyperlink in his recent book The Art of Immersion. In the chapter “Forking Paths,” Rose describes hypertext as “an innovation that has come to define our era” and writes that “…links to the right information can be extremely valuable-especially to companies that know how to use those links to their advantage.”

For Rose, hyperlinks allow for a level of nonlinear exploration that is engaging in a way never before seen. This is the power the band Driftless Pony Club taps to trap you in their madcap video world, clicking away and wondering what’s coming up next.

The band further keeps you engaged by implementing a principle from another very useful book Made to Stick: Unexpectedness. Like the hit show Family Guy the band’s video draws most of its humor and entertainment from ridiculousness and never-before-seen scenarios. It constantly defies our expectations and ushers our inquisitive minds to probe deeper. When bandmate Sam is accidentally hit with the drumstick even when Jeff is selected, the video breaks with our expectations, and delights us with just a simple switch of the elements.

For those keeping track at home, This makes two books, two videos, and one Nielsen Media report. That would leave one more Nielsen report.”Digital Music Consumption and Digital Music Access” found music was being consumed three times more as music videos than legal downloads and asked the question: could watching be the new listening?

All of this points to the importance of building an engaging YouTube presence for bands and artists, and Driftless Pony Club’s “Drumstick of Destiny” video is a perfect example of a band combining video, audio, and hyperlinks to fully engage potential fans, and the future of entertainment and marketing.

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