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Behind the Scenes With Spotify’s Ad Experience Team

When a brand works with Spotify, there’s one shared goal: connecting with listeners at the exact right moment. Spotify has invested in this since the start, and it employs top-tier engineers, designers, and researchers who are constantly at work improving the overall ad experience—both for Spotify users and for brands.

Figuring out how brands can best connect with Spotify Free users falls under the purview of Spotify’s Ad Experience team. Kevin Showkat, a Product Manager on the team, talked to us about Spotify’s goal of helping brands cut through the noise and find their audiences.

Q: What does Spotify value in terms of the ad experience?

More than 100 million people use Spotify Free to listen to music and—increasingly—other non-music audio, like podcasts. So it’s important that we create an ad experience that’s as seamless and native to the user experience as possible, while also delivering value to our advertisers so that they can grow their businesses. It’s why we are focused on creating innovative solutions like Sponsored Sessions, which offer users the option to receive 30 minutes of ad-free listening in exchange for watching a short video.

We believe that if we start with the user experience and work backwards, we can improve advertiser outcomes. And that means understanding how users listen to Spotify—what they like and don’t like—and personalizing the ad experience to each individual’s preferences.

Q: How do quality ad experiences benefit advertisers?

Publishers sometimes maximize short-term revenue at the expense of user experience, throwing multiple ads on a page or annoying users with long ad breaks. It leaves users fatigued by the amount of ads they receive—and can also decrease their ability to parse out which brands really interest them. At Spotify, we prioritize building a quality ad experience because it gives users the headspace to lean in, pay attention, and consider each individual message.

Q: When did Spotify first incorporate video ads into its audio-first product? How have video ads developed since then?

In 2014 we introduced our first mobile video ad format, Sponsored Sessions. As I mentioned, Sponsored Sessions is a reward-based ad product that offers users 30 minutes of uninterrupted listening in exchange for watching a short video. Advertisers love it because it gives them a chance to showcase their brand positively. And, unlike more traditional ad experiences, Sponsored Sessions gives them the ability to add value to the user’s experience, as opposed to detract from it. We’ve seen a positive impact in brand metrics advertisers care about—across awareness, consideration, and affinity.

We also know that viewability is important to our advertisers. We measure performance through partner integrations with IAS and Moat, and since launching video, we’re exploring new capabilities to detect when a user is actively looking at Spotify mid-session—say, while tapping through playlists or browsing their favorite artists—so that we can serve video ads during other viewable moments.

Q: How is Spotify planning to evolve its ad experience to both reflect its core values and anticipate changes to the advertising (and streaming content) landscape?

We know that many users listen to Spotify while they are driving, working, studying, or cooking—all situations where someone is not actively looking at a screen. We think there’s untapped potential to personalize our ad experience around a user's context and behavior. In other words: how can we get better about serving relevant ads when users are likely to interact with them?

That’s the problem we’re really excited about. And it requires us to be on the leading edge of machine learning and infrastructure technology, crunching data points and deciding in milliseconds when and what ad to serve for every single user. If we get it right, we think we can create an incredible experience for both advertisers and users.

Q: What do you think of when you think of the ad industry's biggest challenges in 2019 and beyond?

On the consumer side, user attention spans will continue to shorten as many apps and platforms battle for a decreasing amount of focus time. There is a lot of digital clutter in the world, so it will be increasingly difficult for advertisers to get their message or product to “stand out” in a meaningful way. We’re ready to take this on and continue exploring the ways that audio and screenless moments can counter this.

On the advertiser side, measurement will continue to be a major challenge and opportunity. We’re excited to think about how we can use our data to better measure effectiveness of audio ads. Just as viewability has become a primary KPI for video—and, maybe not surprisingly, a top predictor of user attention—another potential advertiser need is providing more context around what “audibility” means. We welcome this challenge, as we believe we have the data and insights as well as the creative minds to solve it.

Q: What trends should marketers be aware of in the future, so they can best attract attention in an increasingly fragmented world?

No one can predict the future, of course, so we spend a lot of time thinking about what trends we think are here to last. We believe consumer technology will continue to be more invisible, as people spend more time with smart speakers, in cars or commuting, and with their wearables. This means we will see less visual screen time, and thus more competition to serve a display ad. To us, that emphasizes the role of personalized audio advertising I mentioned earlier: serving interactive audio ads targeted to both the user and the context that user is in, while listening to Spotify.

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