You Are Listening To… Adverts

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Last week the increasingly popular music streaming platform Soundcloud made an announcement that still reverberates inside the eardrums of music fans worldwide. In the near future it will begin introducing adverts on song streams and in turn will begin to pay royalties to artists and labels each time a song is streamed. Users will be able to pay for a premium advert-free service akin to Spotify‘s offering, yet the majority of the user base is likely to consist of advert-listening users. What can Soundcloud learn from the (often turbulent) life and times of Spotify over the last few years, and in turn what should advertisers be considering when deciding whether to use music streaming services to promote their brands?

Here are 5 reasons why advertising on music streaming services might not be the best idea:

1 – Adverts Are Often Poorly Targeted

It’s hard to truly target your audience based on gender, age and music taste alone. It’s also hard to predict the listening scenario that the user is involved in when serving ads. For example, a listener my be lying down in bed with headphones in, sitting alone working on an assignment, blasting out music at a house party or shopping on Amazon whilst listening to some music in the background. With more tried and tested media channels it’s easier to target an audience and presume how they are interacting with that channel than with music streaming services where it tends to be more of a lottery.

2 – They Often Interrupt the User Interface (UI)

Adverts are not only just audio, but often an intrusive visual with pop ups that morph the user interface of the streaming service in some way. These visuals often seem like an afterthought for brands who concentrate too much on the audio element and bypass the visual aspect. A poor visual that interrupts a user’s experience of the streaming service will only create negative associations for an advertiser.


3 – They Often Interrupt a Mindset

People enjoy listening to music because it places them in a certain mindset. Unlike conventional radio, when a user chooses what they want to listen to on a music streaming service they’re often listening for some kind of purpose. When an advertiser weighs in to interrupt that mindset it can only be bad news. What if you’re listening to a beautiful piano concerto and then get served a bass-thumping ad for the latest flavour of Caribbean Twist?


4 – Sometimes the Adverts Just Aren’t Appropriate

Picture this scenario – you have the family around for a festive gathering and want to play some Christmas tunes to lighten the atmosphere. A few adverts begin to play after 3 or 4 songs, including one promoting a new range of condoms. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

5 – Advertisers Can’t Decide On Their Messaging

Does an advertiser try to camouflage itself with a musical backing track or stand out with a simple spoken-word advert? The first option could mean the advert merges in with the music and becomes unmemorable and the second option risks sounding obnoxious in context. It’s for this reason the adverts’ tones of voice, calls to action and look and feels all vary wildly from one to another. Advertisers need to carefully consider the “best” way to meaningfully impact their audiences on music streaming services, and at the moment nobody seems to be getting it right.

Emoji Headphones

Spotify has the following to say about its effectiveness as a vehicle for advertising:

Music is personal and individual, and Spotify gives listeners the power to choose the music they want to hear, ensuring positive associations with the experience. Our audio ads play between songs, reaching a highly-engaged target. No other advertiser can interrupt users’ attention while you are communicating with your audience.

Spotify can help your brand paint a picture, evoke feelings, and amplify your brand image. With audio ads, you’re building an emotional connection, using the power of sound to create a unified brand voice across all platforms.

I’m not sure I agree with anything in the above, but can advertising on music streaming sites ever form a small portion of a broader media strategy? The answer is definitely yes, but its disadvantages are clear to see. The likes of Spotify and Soundcloud could be excellent choices to reach a very specific target audience when used correctly and with the context in mind, but advertisers need to tread carefully. YouTube Music Key looks like to be the next big player in the market, and will adverts on this service be deemed as less intrusive and more acceptable by users that are already familiar with the YouTube interface? Ultimately Rihanna perhaps says it best.


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