December? Time to make lists!

'tis the winter of our list content

The calendar flipped over to December this week, we got an inch of snow in London… and everything ground to a halt. Except for the compilers of end-of-year lists, who’ve swiftly moved to fill the breach.

Long term readers (yes, both of you) of Sandlines will know that I’m a bit of a music fan, so I’ve closely followed the ‘best albums of 2010′ lists in Q Magazine, NME and the like – and I’m looking forward to various others.

One things struck me, in particular, about the NME list: on their website, they link to the reviews of each album and publish the score (out of ten) of each title listed. The consistency between what they are saying now with their own reviews over the course of the year is astonishingly low.

MGMT’s sophomore effort, Celebration, managed only 6/10 upon release – but features at #19 in the end of year list… considerably higher than the much more favoured Dilinger Escape Plan which, despite being raved about with a 9/10 review, only managed to scrape in at #67.

So what’s behind this?

It reminds me of the discussion around the ‘Pepsi Challenge‘, as discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Pepsi produced a product that, in blind tests, wiped the floor with market-leader Coke. They used this as the basis of a huge marketing campaign. Coke remained (by some distance) market leader. One of the reasons for this, suggested by Gladwell, is that the ‘sip test’ talked only to first impressions – and the sweeter Pepsi drink made a much better first impression. But over time, people found the sweetness cloyed.

Of course, another major factor is the power of brand identity and associations – one of the reasons why Stella Artois spent much of the past 30 years as market leading lager in the UK despite consistently doing poorly in blind taste tests.

So perhaps the lists reflect the more considered satisfaction with the music in question – and the power to last out the initial sugar rush. Certainly, NME’s choice for the top spot, the excellent ‘Hidden’ by These New Puritans signally lacks saccharine (excellent choice, by the way guys).

There’s a clear marketing lesson in there somewhere. But what I’m going to pull out is more direct: these lists make people buy. The Q list made me buy ‘Queen of Denmark’ by John Grant… an album that (assuming it’s not a ‘sip test’ reaction) is probably going to make my top 5 of the year.

PS – my others would be These New Puritans’ ‘Hidden'; Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs'; The National’s ‘High Violet and ‘Total Life Forever’ by Foals.

Small things amuse…

According to Gary Small, a neuroscientist over at UCLA, readers of Sandlines (and other regular internet marauders) are simply smarter than the rest. Well of course!

In his new book, “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,” Dr Small is of the view that the more we plough through screeds of irrelevant data trying to find gems of useful information through our Google searching etc, the better our brains become at, to quote Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent ‘Blink’, Thin Slicing… or making snap judgments.

I saw an excellent presentation by David Hawdale of Hawdale Associates a couple of years ago where he discussed the way the brain processes information in a ridiculously quick fashion when faced with an array of affiliate marketing, shopping comparison or other ‘hijack’ results when looking for actual things. Apparantly we make a decision in less than 2 seconds on a typical Google results page.

Now if only the web would smarten up itself and find me relevant listings for when and where I actually am, I could go back to my normal vegetative state and not have to ferret out what I am really after…

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