Queen's 'Somebody to Love' Soundtracks Amazon Music Ad, Steve Boom Talks New Marketing Campaign: Exclusive

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A Voice Is All You Need: Queen, "Somebody To Love," for Amazon Music

The tagline "A Voice Is All You Need" takes on a dual meaning in the streaming service's animated commercials.

Earlier this month, Amazon Music launched its first major marketing campaign, all based around the tagline "A voice is all you need." With advertisements that spotlight singers' isolated vocals (Ariana Grande, Kane Brown, Kendrick Lamar and SZA have all participated) as well as the tech giant's Alexa voice-activated virtual assistant, the slogan takes on dual meanings in a way Vice President of Amazon Music Steve Boom says feels "really obvious in hindsight" -- just as "great ideas" often do. 

"Every time I think about the campaign and how we connected the concept of voice to have multiple meanings, I'm like, how didn't we think of that earlier?" Boom tells Billboard. "And that for me is usually the sign of a really good idea that, once it's out there, it just seems so obvious and seems so right... I haven't been this excited about an ad campaign in a really long time."

The ad campaign -- created with Wieden+Kennedy -- is launching at a time where Amazon Music subscriber streaming hours have doubled globally in the past six months compared to the same time last year. It is rolling out digitally as well as with radio, television and out-of-home billboard advertisements in select U.S. cities and internationally in the U.K. and Germany throughout the year. 

Here, Billboard is premiering the final commercial from the ad campaigns' first phase of creative, featuring Queen's "Somebody to Love" and frontman Freddie Mercury's iconic vocal performance. The animated video, naturally, features Mercury's trademark mustache and imperfect teeth, as a cartoon mouth belts out the track's second verse and chorus to a roaring stadium audience. 

As well, Billboard spoke with Boom about the campaign and what it means for the Amazon Music at large, taking cues from his teenage daughters and why musical diversity is key to the streaming platform's continued growth. 

There have been a lot of ads for Alexa and the Echo, but this is the first major push for Amazon Music specifically. How does this play into a larger campaign to establish the streaming service's popularity?

You're right in observing that there's been a lot of advertising for some other parts of Amazon and you haven't seen as much for music. We have been doing a bunch of radio and other advertising earlier this year, but this campaign is definitely the biggest we've ever done specifically for Amazon Music by quite a wide margin. We're building off all the momentum that we've been generating in the business over the last couple of years and as we exited the summer we thought it was a great time to come out really big with what we think is a really interesting and creative ad campaign.... It's the first time Amazon has done a national television campaign for Amazon Music, so it speaks both to the momentum that we have as well as to the company's confidence in what we're doing and how excited Amazon is overall with what we're doing in music. 

What were some of the key creative elements discussed while coming up with this concept?

Syncs are a growing part of the business and you see a lot more of it than you once did. And I think the challenge in that is making sure that the customer who's viewing the advertising connects the music with the brand being marketed and walks away remembering, "What is it that I just saw?" -- not just remembering, "What is it I just heard?" And I think a lot of advertisements that use music don't necessarily make that connection as well. So for us, we wanted to really showcase art, use the emotional resonance of music, since we are a music service, but we wanted to make sure at the same time that it clearly connected with what Amazon Music is all about and we've been very clear that our mission statement is to be the world's best voice-forward music service. So we knew we had to connect the concept of voice and voice control of the music service through Alexa into the advertising somehow. And when someone came up with this concept of focusing on having "A Voice Is All You Need" be the tagline and the multiple meanings that that has when you choose the creative that we've done, it was brilliant. 

I mean, I can tell you, the pitch for this creative was with Queen. And to hear Freddie Mercury's isolated vocal just sent chills up and down everyone's spine in the room. And then when they connected that so well -- and so that's about voice, it's really showcasing his unbelievable voice -- and then connecting it to voice control of your music service by having a voice come in and say, "Alexa, play hits from Queen." And then the whole power of the full instrumental version of the song comes in, we just knew it was a winner immediately. Like, "That's it. That's the ad." And note to self: I guess if you want to sell a music service on an ad campaign, use Freddie Mercury's voice. [Laughs] And then we knew we could build it. We knew it could become both an enduring and flexible platform for us to showcase artists of all the genres that are big and growing quickly on Amazon. And that's why you see in our first wave of artists, we chose hip-hop and pop and country and rock -- these are the four big genres. And, particularly in Amazon Music, we have quite a diverse range of listening happening on our service, it's not all about one genre and so we wanted to choose a diverse set of artists across genres.

What were the conversations like about which artists to select for the campaign? 

Those are the kinds of conversations you love to have inside of a music service. We wanted to find what we thought were great vocal performances and and so we started with that as a premise. Like you said, we wanted to have really big names and we wanted the voice to be instantly recognizable or a really strong up-and-comer, like in the case of Kane Brown. Our editorial team came up with a proposed list of songs and we talked about them, we look at the data of what kind of music really resonates with our customers, and then we just kind of whittled it down. Then, obviously it then comes down to having conversations with the respective rights holders. And I wasn't involved in those individual conversations, so I can't really tell you how they went, but I can tell you that everybody who's involved in the campaign, once we came to them with actual mock creative, they were very excited about it across the board and totally get what we're trying to do and appreciate that we're really trying to showcase the art while at the same time, of course, we're marketing Amazon Music. But we're doing it in a really respectful way. 

It's a great showcase for the music, but the illustrations are also really amazing and I can imagine why that would make it exciting for the artists involved. 

The animations are unique. That was one of the things that grabbed us as well when this was pitched to us. First it was Freddie's voice and then when we saw that and how it connected to our positioning and the essence of Amazon Music... But we thought the animations were something that hadn't been seen before and that made it exciting as well. It made you sit up to the front of your chair, like, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before. Okay. That's really interesting." And I remember showing it to my teenage daughters, the Kendrick one and they were just kind of glued to it, watching it, like, "That's just cool, Dad." They'd never seen anything like it. 

That's got to feel good: "That's just cool, Dad."

Well it doesn't happen often with me, so it's nice. But to be clear, they didn't say I was cool. They just said the advertisement was cool. 

So this is expanding into the U.K. and Germany, how does it tie into a larger international push? 

The last couple of years we've expanded pretty aggressively. We've had longstanding music services in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan, and we have a really strong position in every one of those countries. In the last couple of years we've launched another 30 plus countries, we've launched across more parts of Western Europe with localized services in France, Italy and Spain, and Alexa just launched in France in June. We've launched in Canada -- again, Alexa's launched there as well -- we launched in Australia, New Zealand earlier this year. We launched in India earlier this year. And we also made the service available in a number of other countries in terms of a global version of the product, because there are people who are buying Echoes... You can buy an English language Echo, if you live in... pick whatever country you want to pick and most of them, you can buy it. So we've made our service available there as well. It's a big area of focus, we have more international expansion yet to come. You'll see more countries as well as more languages of Alexa coming. I can't really disclose what those are, but it's been a big push for us. 

When we talk to the people in the industry, whether at labels or with managers, artists, they're all really excited because we have a way of reaching customers that sometimes the other services have more trouble reaching and that means more of their fans are in the services. And it also means we're just growing the overall pie, which is what our our main goal is. 

And so then the expansion is tied to Alexa in these other markets? 

They're definitely correlated. We definitely won't let Alexa launch in another language without having a music service there. The corollary is not always true: We may launch a music service before Alexa gets there. But we're just doing this huge ad campaign around Alexa as the centerpiece of our music service because we think voice is so important to the customer experience in a music service that it obviously makes sense for us to be correlated with where Alexa is expanding to. 

What can you tell us about Amazon Music's international audience and how it compares to its U.S. subscribers?

I can't talk specific countries, but I know where we stand and we're right up there in a leadership position everywhere. I can tell you it's growing really quickly. I can tell you that I think one of the things our customers tell us in a lot of these countries is they appreciate the effort we make to really build a localized service, so that it really feels that if you're in Germany that Amazon Music Germany feels like it's a German service, not the German arm of a global service. And that's been our approach that when we localize we really try to localize the service and make it feel as local as possible. And that's been a successful part of our international strategy so far. 

You mentioned wanting to highlight different genres with this ad campaign and represent all the major genres. It seems that some of the other streaming services have formed their businesses around really focusing on select genres, but I don't see that quite as much with Amazon. 

Fundamentally we're really focused on trying to grow the pie. And, first of all, if you look at how the younger generation listens to music today, they tend to be much more multi-genre in their listening habits than maybe I was when I grew up. And I think streaming is a big contributor to that. So, my daughters will listen to hip-hop on one song and the country the next and that happens all the time in our house. And that's very representative, I think, of a lot of people. But, more importantly, we're trying to grow the pie and grow the overall streaming market segment.... We think there's a lot of growth in customers who primarily identify with some of these other genres and that they've been slower to adopt streaming and they tend to be very loyal fans and once they get into streaming, like everybody else, they realize what an incredible customer experience it is and what an incredible value it is and they become great subscribers. So, I think that's probably the main reason: Music listeners aren't all the same, so I don't know why we would all go after the same music listener.