How Spotify’s Wrapped campaign for 2022 came together
It’s one of the most widely shared marketing campaigns globally. Here, we speak to the design team behind the visual identity to understand what it takes to grab the world’s attention.
Christmas ads are dominating billboards and every minute of available airtime. Emails have started coming in suggesting, “Hey, should we circle back on this in January?” And the Year in Review articles are starting to flow in (I’m already looking forward to the renewed discussions around Harry Styles and #SpitGate). However, you really know we’re approaching the end of the year when Spotify releases its annual Wrapped campaign and you have to look yourself and your music habits squarely in the eye.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Wrapped is a personalised experience for users of Spotify, a breakdown of what you listened to and exactly how much (sometimes quite unnerving to see) over the course of the year. It also takes listening data in the round to reveal which artists were most popular, both globally and in specific countries. The first time Spotify dipped its toe into this area was in 2013, with its webpage called “Year in Review”, but it didn’t become the Wrapped campaign until 2016. Since then, it has grown each year and now it’s a genuine moment on the cultural calendar, when social feeds and conversations are taken over by people sharing their listening habits, whether embarrassing or impressive.
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In 2018, the Wrapped identity (Copyright © Spotify, 2018)
“There’s no hiding behind Wrapped. You’re gonna have to own it.”Rasmus Wangelin, global head of brand design at Spotify
It’s this shareability that makes Wrapped such an eye-catching campaign each year. “Wrapped is a very user-centric campaign,” says Rasmus Wangelin, the company’s global head of brand design, over a video call from his home in Brooklyn. “It’s not about Spotify. It’s about the world of audio culture and our users. So the campaign organically becomes bigger the more our users and creators interact with it.”
In his role, Rasmus oversees the creation of the design direction for Wrapped each year. One of the most gratifying parts of the process for him is witnessing the campaign take on a life of its own, whether that’s other brands creating their own fake Wrapped share cards or the meme that goes out each October without fail, stating, “It’s now time to start listening to cool music”, in an effort to influence the data by the end of the year. Because, as Rasmus points out, “There’s no hiding behind Wrapped. You’re gonna have to own it.”
“It’s really based on what we call monograms. They’re really the heart of the campaign this year.”Bruno Borges, design director at Spotify
Today marks the day that 2022’s Wrapped launches worldwide. For this year, the overarching idea behind the campaign was “Self-expression and Play”. What was the thinking here? “Since the pandemic, we’ve all started to embrace much more individuality. No one knows what’s cool anymore, it’s so subjective now,” says Rasmus. “And we see that in how people are experiencing music and podcasts as well. You might listen to the friendliest pop music and then pivot to murder podcasts, or you listen to 90s emo rock in the gym and then go home and listen to jazz while you cook.”
So, from a design perspective, the brief that Rasmus and his team worked on was all about expressing this sense of multiplicity and plurality, while also injecting as much fun and interactivity into the campaign as possible. Seeing the visual identity for the first time, the first thing that jumps out at you is the introduction of overlapping and interlocking shapes. “It’s really based on these, what we call monograms,” says Bruno Borges, the design director at Spotify who was in charge of bringing this year’s Wrapped identity to life. “They’re really the heart of the campaign this year.” These monograms are used in multiple ways throughout the campaign, as backgrounds and as holders of information and imagery, from album covers to portraits of artists.
They are all designed within a 16-by-16 grid to make them feel cohesive, even though they each incorporate distinct layer combinations. “The idea here is that each one of these monograms combines layers with different characteristics,” Bruno explains. “And you can see that every one of these monograms has square shapes, spiky shapes, round and soft.” These different shapes are a visual reference to the diversity and variety in people’s listening habits. Once these layered monograms were designed, Bruno and his team introduced a “generous colour palette”, producing 48 different combinations of shapes and colours. Behind this was a desire “to make original articulations within that, so that none of the two would feel the same, but they will feel like they come from the same place.”
The other aspect of this year’s design direction that leaps off the screen is the motion design. Bruno worked with Hornet, a New York-based production studio, on introducing motion into the designs, to ensure they didn’t feel static and lifeless. He wanted each layer within each monogram to feel as if they have their own “personality” and “behaviour”. As Rasmus adds, “We wanted to bring to the forefront that we’re all unique. The monograms are going to do that to a certain extent, but motion is really going to bring that home. All the shapes have their own motion language as well.”
One of the major questions for Rasmus, when working with Bruno and the design team, was: “How do we bring that playful interactivity to our users, so that it gets shared more than ever and people have fun with it as well?” Perhaps the place where this focus is most visible is on the out-of-home billboards and digital screens. Here, Wrapped becomes highly interactive and playful, packed with in-jokes and tongue-in-cheek references. One poster offers New York commuters a word-search game around guessing popular genres, while another asks where listeners heard Beyoncé’s Break My Soul in 2022: “In 233m+ streams? While releasing the wiggle? Obviously both.” As Rasmus suggests, this is a relatively new use of OOH: “You’re not used to seeing advertising and billboards this way. So we’re really trying to push it and lead with that play and interactivity.”
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The OOH campaign dials up the playfulness this year (Copyright © Spotify, 2022)
This year’s Wrapped campaign seems relatively simple, but the final outcome belies the complex system and process behind it. For starters, the Spotify team actually started thinking about Wrapped months ago. “We create this massive creative toolkit that needs to go out to all of the markets,” Rasmus explains. “It’s around 250 pages of descriptions of how to use the design system.” This toolkit needs to be delivered at the end of the summer to give all of Spotify’s global teams and agency partners time to get assets and content ready for November’s launch. “So we are thinking about Wrapped in late spring or early summer, and then it’s a sprint. Timing is tight, we work really fast, really hard.”
Once they have their direction (this year’s being “Self-expression and Play”), Rasmus, Bruno and the team come up with a range of different options for the design direction. These are then whittled down to the ones that feel most exciting and practical. “We probably end up with somewhere between six and eight completely different directions,” says Bruno. “In the beginning, we work really hard to try to get them to a good place and then we start picking them apart.” The big questions are always: “Can it scale and how can it scale?” After all, the identity needs to be able to work on smartphone screens and billboards alike. Finally, one idea is chosen for its relevance to the overarching theme, its scalability and its uniqueness.
“It’s this constant push and pull between systematic design thinking, but also organic and expressive design thinking.”Rasmus Wangelin
One of the toughest challenges with the campaign every year is that it has to work in different languages and a huge range of markets around the globe. “It needs to work everywhere, but it also needs to work in every size,” says Rasmus. “So it needs to be thought about in a very systematic way. But at the same time, it needs to be expressive and original and celebratory. It’s this constant push and pull between systematic design thinking, but also organic and expressive design thinking.”
GalleryParts of the personalised Wrapped experience (Copyright © Spotify, 2022)
For Bruno, the motion aspect of the project proved one of the most important things to get right. One of his biggest challenges was making sure that the layers in the monograms “had personality and life, but also sat together in harmony, not just aesthetically as a static asset but also in motion”.
Once the identity is built and tested countless times, once the creative toolkit has been sent round to Spotify’s global teams and agencies, and once the bespoke ideas for billboards around the world are perfected, then it’s time for the funnest part of the campaign: seeing it go live. Today, as Wrapped for 2022 launches, Rasmus and Bruno will be among those watching the moment take off. “More than anything, we have the pleasure of releasing it out into the world,” says Rasmus. “And then it starts taking on a life of its own, when everyone starts playing around with it, whether it’s sharing their data or creating memes or whatever it might be. We don’t even know how it’s going to unfold, so we just sit back and smile.”
The designers from the brand-creative team who worked on the art direction and design for Wrapped this year were: Rasmus Wangelin, Bruno Borges, Josephine Tan Sara, Rainy Fu, Marcelo Almeida, Erin Safreno, Chris Cyran.