As the world and its aunt go doolally over mobile game Pokemon Go, it’s tempting to wonder whether there’s an equivalent for music.
Actually, we already have one – and it’s been around for a while before Nintendo and Niantic’s location-based augmented reality (AR) game became a craze this month.
It’s called Landmrk, it’s the work of a team based in the UK, and it’s already been used for Alt-J and Keith Richards to, in the startup’s words, “place digital content, in real-time into physical locations anywhere in the world”.
Much like the virtual Pidgeottos, Drowzees and Rattatas that are roaming the streets of London, New York and other cities around the world, in fact.
Developed as a white-label platform, Landmrk enables labels and artists – but also brands, retailers and events organisers too – to “lock” digital content to specific locations in the real world.
“When someone enters one of these locations, the content can then be unlocked on their mobile device. When they leave, the content becomes inaccessible again,” explains the company’s website.
Account director Tom Nield explained to Music Ally that the team was originally part of music group PIAS, where it worked with artists including Alt-J. After striking out on its own, the band came calling.
“They were releasing their new album, and wanted to create a unique first-listen experience around the release. They had some ideas around placing park benches where fans could plug in their headphones and listen, but it would have cost an absolute fortune,” said Nield.
“So we had the idea of creating an app that would allow them to highlight the locations where they wanted to place the album, which would populate the map within the app.”
More than 2,000 locations were “activated” in 30 countries, including independent record stores as well as places that had meaning for the band. 56,000 fans interacted with the campaign in its first week.
“We were blown away by the amount of people that downloaded the app, and the amount of streams of the tracks. We realised we had this powerful tool that could attach content to locations,” said Nield.
That led to a second campaign for Keith Richards’ solo album ‘Cross Eyed Heart’, although in recognition of the demographics of his fanbase, this did not require every fan to download an app and visit real-world locations.
Instead, each week the location of an English Heritage plaque was posted from Richards’ social media accounts, and the first fan to visit that location and access the campaign’s web app would unlock a track for everyone else to listen to.
Since then, Landmrk has been developing its platform into a full content-management system for clients to use. And now in 2016, the team are getting some unexpected help in pitching the idea to the wider world.
“The Pokemon Go craze is just insane, but it has brought a realisation of the power of platforms like ours. If you’ve got a really compelling story to tell, and good content, people are willing to leave their home or work and go and unlock or experience these things,” said Nield.
“It’s the story, though. When you have these good ideas around new technology, they only really come into their own once you’ve got the powerful story that’s driven through that platform.”
Pokemon Go doesn’t have much of a story, in truth, but there is a narrative of sorts in building and evolving a collection of Pokemon – this is what’s getting so many people out on the streets catching them all – then trying to unseat other people’s at the game’s gyms.
For music, though? So far for Landmrk’s clients the lure has been new music to listen to, although the startup is building out its platform to support a range of content including video.
“Location-based interactive video is a really exciting one, when you’re thinking about how you can create content that’s really immersive,” said Nield.
There are some challenges with music. First, budgets: Nield admits that in the past he’s pitched inventive campaigns to labels that would cost around £20k, only to be told that the budget is a tenth of that.
Second, the fact that even in the streaming era, album marketing campaigns tend to be focused around the release: a two or three-week blast rather than a longer-term effort that would play to the strengths of a platform like Landmrk.
Nield hopes the latter will change. “We are working with clients to license out the platform: we want to be handing out this tool that gives you the ability to drive incentives through it,” he said.
“An artist announcing tour dates could give some tickets away by driving people to a certain location, or not announce where a gig is until the day. You can use the tool in a creative way, like you would use your social networking tools, and tell stories with and for artists. This is not just a tool to unlock new music.”
It’s possible that brands and agencies will be the most lucrative clients for this kind of platform – Landmrk is already part of Unilever’s Foundry 50 startups initiative – although cheaper music campaigns may be the bait to draw them in.
“Music clients are the people pushing the creative uses of technology. They’re brave before brands. Brands want case studies and data from existing work pieces,” said Nield. “So there’s a lot of value for us in staying working with music artists.”
The popularity of Pokemon Go, and the discussions about location-based and AR technology around it, will at least fuel more interest in what Landmrk has to offer.
“In the last few days, we’ve had calls from numerous people we’ve spoken to previously, who now understand the power of these platforms, and the desire of people to get out into the real world for experiences, as well as to unlock content,” said Nield.
“It’s the same with any trend that takes off as quickly as this. You can’t deny how popular it’s been, and how many people are talking about it at the moment. So what do you do next?”