How 'App Whisperer' Eytan Oren Plays Matchmaker Between Bands Like One Direction and Brands

Sony Music
One Direction

Ever since Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion, messenger apps have become part of a conversation previously dominated by Facebook and Twitter. Eytan Oren was one of the first to realize their revenue potential for brands and bands. "There are a lot of people that won't pay for music, but they'll pay $1.99 for your branded sticker emoji pack," says Oren, who left his position as director of partnerships at IPG Media Labs in September to start his own social media integration service, Block Party.

His track record is strong. In 2014, he helmed One Direction's Midnight Memories release in partnership with Kik (150 million users worldwide): by downloading the band's in-app "card," users could unlock photos, videos, and digital stickers (cartoon images users add to messages or photos) -- and when 5,000 copies of the album were downloaded through Kik, exclusive childhood photos of the band were unlocked. Oren has also worked with messenger app Line (480M users worldwide), set up OK Go'd 400K-strong account on Tango (200M), and Global Citizen Fest's live stream through Kik, the first time a concert has been broadcast over a messenger app.  

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Some have called you "the messenger app whisperer." How did you get a title like that?

(Laughs) For years my job was to help brands like Coca-Cola and Miller understand how the tech space can be useful for marketing campaigns, and I was thinking, "No one's done this yet with music." I met with some messenger app companies and said, "You have so many teenagers on your platform -- are they excited about music?" And Kik said One Direction was the most-shared, talked-about topic.

How did Columbia react to the idea of partnering with Kik to launch Midnight Memories?

They got it right off the bat -- I give them a lot of credit for that -- and the band, too, are all young guys who use these apps. They wanted to be the first ones to do it. It was really successful for selling albums and helping fans connect in ways they can't through other social media channels. The beauty of messaging apps is that it’s one-to-one conversations with people they care most about. A lot of kids like being on platforms without their mom or their sister seeing what they're doing.

Paul McCartney made stickers for Line. Is it easier or harder for more established (read: older) artists to get into the field?

He absolutely killed it online; he has 10 million followers. It might play out better for some artists than others, but that's where bands get creative figuring out how fans would enjoy engaging with content on those apps. Anyone running a Facebook ad campaign knows it’s not cheap, so if you get in on these platforms, you can build a huge audience and get exposure to your music for way less money.

A version of this article first appeared in the Oct. 18th issue of Billboard.