Napster Plans Ad Push for Comeback

  |  June 26, 2003   |  Comments

UPDATE: Parent company Roxio taps Venables to lead an ad campaign for the re-launch of the former rogue file-sharing service as a legitimate online music service.

Napster, the deceased file-sharing network, announced on Thursday that it hired ad agency Venables, Bell & Partners to design a promotional campaign for its re-launch set for sometime in the next eight to 10 months.

MediaSmith, a San Francisco-based company that handles the same duties for Napster parent company Roxio, will complement the Venables campaign. Napster declined to give any further details on its ad plans, citing "competitive reasons."

The announcement comes a month after Roxio paid about $40 million to acquire online music service Pressplay, a joint venture of Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. Roxo plans to use Pressplay's infrastructure and the Napster brand to build a legitimate and viable online music offering. It said it would earmark $20 million to the re-introduction of the new Napster. Venables was about to be named Pressplay's agency of record at the time of its acquisition, according to press reports.

Venables will have its work cut out for it. Although Napster retains a strong brand name in the public imagination, it has not operated for the past two years. By the time it re-launches in 2004, the online service will have been offline for nearly three years.

"It really needs to do some re-imaging and repositioning because what people grew to love about Napster will change when it moves to a pay service," said Lee Black, an online music industry analyst for Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this site. "It's about moving that name recognition into familiarity with the new Napster."

Since its demise at the hands of the recording industry's legal assault, a number of online music services have sprung up to take its place. Listen.com's Rhapsody, which Real Networks plans to buy to replace MusicNet, capitalized on the Napster phenomenon, while Apple Computer also now sells songs at its iTunes online store. In addition, a number of other peer-to-peer networks, such as Kazaa and Morpheus, have grown in popularity for music fans looking to trade MP3s.

Still, Roxio saw value in the strong brand Napster built during its short life. Last November, it shelled out $5.3 million to buy Napster's assets from a bankruptcy court, and four months ago it announced plans to re-launch it as an online music service, albeit one that operates legally. The new service will be a client-server application, eschewing Napster's peer-to-peer roots.

Venables, Bell & Partners is a San Francisco-based shop founded just two years ago by Goodby, Silverstein and Partners veterans Paul Venables and Greg Bell, along with Bob Molineaux, the former head of AKQA, New York. The company specializes in traditional media, but has previously partnered with digital production house Mekanism to create the online component of the Microsoft Ultimate TV campaign.

Venables also counts HBO Home Video, Barclays Global Investors, LucasFilm, and Robert Mondavi Wines among its clients. Most recently, the company won the Mervyn's account, according to press reports.

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