Strategy Analysis - Walkman tunes in to digital domain

Brand: Sony Walkman Flash MP3 player
Client: Fiona Landsberg, Sony Walkman brand manager
Brief Position: Walkman as leading digital entertainment, and its new
Flash to "enable a journey of musical discovery", and as a credible
alternative to the iPod
Target audience: Digital influencers and entertainment enthusiasts
Budget: 100 per cent of launch marketing budget

Media: OMD UK
Creative: NME/NME.com, IPC ignite!


In spring 2006, Sony held a two-stage competitive pitch for the launch of its new Flash MP3 player. The challenge of its brief was to deliver "excitement and engagement through an immersive experience that is like no other". The solution needed to position Walkman as leading digital entertainment, while Flash was to be positioned to "enable a journey of musical discovery", and as a credible alternative to the iPod.

NME.com has been celebrating its tenth anniversary during 2006, peaking activity with a party at London's Koko in September. The site dominates the online space, with more than 90 per cent share of UK audience, drawing 19 million page impressions and 1.6 million unique users each month.

The IPC ignite! team won the pitch - and the entire launch marketing budget - with its strategy to partner Walkman and NME with a Breaking Bands competition, utilising all NME's brand channels, but focusing on the website, its community of music lovers and its USP of championing the best new music. To deliver the experience like no other, the winning band - as voted by NME readers - was to play at NME.com's party, supporting Kasabian.


The competition became a centrepiece of NME activity across the summer. Focusing on NME.com, but using all brand channels, a nationwide search for the hottest new acts in the country was launched.

- Online The co-branded competition invited unsigned bands from all over the UK to post their music online at NME.com/newmusic. Walkman Flash also had a presence on the site.

Increasing the consumer immersion and ownership of the competition, the bands were to be judged by the harshest of critics: the readers of NME, who could vote online, as well as promote their favourite unsigned acts to friends via the website. The partnership marked the first-ever new bands competition run through NME.com, which added to the value of the partnership, and perfectly matched the NME brand identity. It allowed the winners to showcase their talents alongside a raft of established bands, while the readers who had most actively promoted their favourite acts were also invited to the most exclusive music industry party of the summer.

Sony Walkman branding was creatively integrated into all NME Breaking Bands activity, generating a fully integrated cross-platform package, and generating a new and unique experience for the consumer.


Over the course of the competition, 6,500 new bands entered, uploading their music and accessing a unique audience of music lovers and industry alike. Almost 60,000 votes were cast on NME.com.

Campaign research from GfK NOP shows that over the course of the campaign: consumers who would choose to buy Sony Walkman increased 40 per cent; consumers agreeing that Sony Walkman was a brand that leads its market increased 31 per cent; and consumers agreeing that Sony Walkman is the MP3 brand most associated with music increased 59 per cent.


The brief was to deliver excitement and engagement through an immersive experience that is like no other, while positioning Sony Walkman as a leader in digital technology that enables its users to embark on a journey of musical discovery. Not a big ask then!

The solution was a media partnership that ticks the boxes. Working on the basis that the medium is the message, what better partner to choose than NME.com - a digital channel championing new music to more than 1.6 million unique users every month. Add a healthy dose of user-generated content, some audience interaction, a cross-platform promotion and a brand experience, and you have a recipe for success. This is a good example of an increasing trend: media owners developing one-stop bespoke solutions for clients, with everything included.

But what makes this unmistakably Sony Walkman? It could be a solution for any technology brand hoping to grab a share of the young mobile music audience. This is a crowded market. The root of the problem here is the brief. It is generic. Which technology brands don't want to be seen as leaders in digital technology?

Type "unsigned bands" into Google and you get 1.9 million results; "unsigned bands competition" returns 600,000 results, including competitions from Xfm, YouTube and MySpace, as well as NME (on page 2). This is a flourishing territory for Walkman to mine, but it doesn't feel like they add much more than their brand to the content or grab the bigger emerging opportunity.

Is this really the entire launch marketing for Sony Walkman? I remember seeing the ad campaign that positioned music as an addiction, with Walkman being the pill to feed it.

I get the targeting if this is a specific activation designed to build credibility with an opinion-forming, new-music loving audience, but on its own it seems inward-looking. NME will always be the guy with attitude wearing black in the Student Union. The beauty of iPod is that it added colour and democratised musical discovery for all (a positioning that Walkman used to own).

This campaign got 60,000 of the 1.6 million visiting the site on a monthly basis to engage and vote, but I don't believe it changed perceptions outside of this inner-circle.