Venables’ Hipster Mission: ‘Keep It Cool’ for Napster

Napster, the former file-swapping service, will get a major relaunch at the hands of Venables, Bell & Partners. The San Francisco shop, hired last week, will have the opportunity to build on huge brand awareness, but its challenge is a formidable one: to transform ex-users into paying customers.

“Napster has incredible name recognition,” said Lee Black, an analyst with Jupiter Research in Darien, Conn. “Everybody knows what it was. It was the classic David and Goliath anti-establishment case.”

Venables must re-create what Napster stood for as a free service—an unbridled online revolution with tons of accessible music and a community feeling, Black said.

The client expects to spend an estimated $20 million behind the relaunch, a representative said. Neither Napster nor the agency would offer additional details of the advertising plan or the timing of the relaunch.

Paul Venables, agency creative director, agreed with Black’s assessment: “Napster is a cool music brand, and we need the advertising to keep it cool, hip and with-it.”

The work is expected to reach out to trend-setters—the original Napster’s users—and be careful not to soil the name’s hip image.

Napster’s marketing efforts figure to get a boost from the considerable free press its relaunch as a paying operation will generate, said Greg Lee, research associate at Raymond James & Associates in New York.

The company will have to contend with the success of the AppleMusic service, which debuted this year with commercials from Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day. Apple claimed 5 million downloads during the first eight weeks, almost half of them full albums.

But pay-service use pales in comparison with pirated music. Jupiter Research estimates there are about 400,000 users of existing paid online music services, while billions of illegal music downloads occur every month. Increased legal efforts by the recording industry to combat those downloads may have an impact, Black said.

The Napster name was acquired last year by Roxio, a Santa Clara, Calif., software company. In May, Roxio acquired Pressplay, a paid online music subscription service, and changed its name to Napster. It is not known whether Pressplay will remain as a monthly fee service under the new name or charge a fee per song.

Venables had won a review to handle advertising for Pressplay before it was acquired by Roxio.