Tag Archives | Ad Network

Columbia Uses Pandora To Create An Experience

Columbia Pandora Banner

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of music on Pandora, and while their Music Genome Project is great, it’s their advertising that has kept me coming back for more. By working with companies to integrate their ads into the overall experience, Pandora is able to use their advertising format to create value for both the advertisers and the users. One example that really stood out recently was the integration of Columbia, which brings together a banner, backgrounds and playlists to create an entire branded experience.

Experience marketing is a growing trend in recent years, as companies think outside the banner and look beyond traditional media for their next customer, but it’s often costly, time and labor intensive, and usually relies on social media to spread the experience of a select few out to the larger population. What Pandora has managed to do with their advertising is to create an experience that, while not at the scale of a traditional experience marketing campaign, does manage to spread a sponsor’s message to a much larger audience.

The ‘Pandora Experience’ goes like this: When listening to the free version of Pandora on Pandora.com, any user action (such as changing the volume, skipping or rating a track, or changing a station) changes the banner(s). This allows Pandora to ensure that their ‘views’ are actually being viewed, and probably helps boost the numbers when it comes time to negotiate costs. Sponsored banners (vs. remnant ads served through ad networks) usually include a site takeover that changes the background as well, though not all advertisers are using that feature to its full advantage.

When Columbia makes it to the front of the sponsored banner rotation, listeners are presented with a banner that looks like a dashboard interface that has been customized to include their local weather forecast. While banner customization based on IP address has been available for a while now, it’s often inaccurate at best, and usually results in a very rough and forced feeling of customization. On Pandora however, account holders provide a zip code when they register, so the Pandora system can accurately match each user to a location they’ll recognize, even if they happen to be traveling or at work and away from their home base.

With this single piece of user data in hand, Columbia matches the user’s current weather to a piece of clothing in their current collection. Users can then scroll over the rest of the five-day forecast to see what Columbia would recommend for the upcoming weather, or arrow through a larger catalog if they see something they like and want to investigate further. Each type of weather also includes a customized playlist that a user can add to their collection of Stations, and when listening to that custom playlist, the user exclusively sees the Columbia banner and the Columbia-sponsored background that matches the weather. (Or maybe the weather that the user wishes they had, as Columbia also allows users to select a variety of alternative weather options in case they want to brighten up a stormy day with the Sunshine Playlist.)

What’s so great about this medium is that Columbia can use it to transport your mind away from your desk and into a winter wonderland, where you can see the snow and hear the winter music, and then think to yourself, ‘You know, I probably will need a winter jacket for that ski trip I’ve got planned.’ They grab your attention with personal details that you wouldn’t expect an advertiser to present you with, and then use that attention to draw you into an experience that promotes the brand to more than one of your senses.

Columbia’s attention to the detail can also be seen in the way they have designed the banner, with plenty of arrows to direct an interested viewer’s attention to the important areas of information. For starters, every arrow but the ‘Buy Now’ button points away from the product, giving your eye a point to focus on that centers on the product they want to sell you. Then, if your eye works its way down from the forecast through the trail of orange, there are arrows along the way to guide you from the product to the weather to the custom playlist to the ‘Add Playlist’ button. It’s subtle, but there’s some good UI going on in this banner that works well for the intended purpose. If I were to find fault, I’d say that the alternative playlist selection is a little funky, but that’s nitpicking at best, since most users will just want to select the playlist they’re given that matches the weather they’re currently experiencing.

By presenting each user with a single banner at a time, and not overwhelming them with a barrage of advertising, Pandora has created a valuable placement that advertisers should be willing and happy to pay a premium for. At the same time, companies who are going to pay that premium need to be smart about it and think like Columbia to create an experience that adds to the medium and gives users a reason to engage with the advertising.

The Good:

  • Integration creates a full experience that can be shared by a large number of consumers.
  • A small amount of user data goes a long way towards creating a look and feel that is customized without being intrusive.
  • Repeat engagement is dynamic, and the experience changes with the weather.

The Bad:

  • Alternative playlist selection is a rough edge on an otherwise smooth experience.
  • The available backgrounds are a bit… ugly.

The Future:

  • Custom integration within specific channels allows advertisers to cater their message to each user and create a small-scale experience that packs plenty of impact.

Magpie Tries To Make Twitter An Ad Network, Fails

Magpie Logo

Magpie calls itself the “Ad Network for Twitter”, and has definitely caused quite a stir in the last few days as Twitter users debate the value of filling their tweet stream with ads in exchange for a few dollars on the side. But is this ‘in the stream’ advertising the future, or will users revolt against an ad network that treads on their sacred ground?

For those unfamiliar with Magpie, it works like this:

Magpie Process

Advertisers buy ads for certain keywords, and create specific messages targeted to those keywords. Magpie then matches those ads to Twitter users that talk about each keyword, and automatically inserts an ad into one out of every X number of tweets, as dictated by the user. Costs are automatically calculated based on the # of followers the user has, as well as the ‘hotness’ of the keyword, and then the ads are systematically blended right into the message stream of the Magpie user/publisher.

Enticed by the prospect of turning my Twitter account into a revenue generator, I too signed up for Magpie and let it post a sample ad into my stream, at which point I reconsidered the decision, thought about what Magpie could turn Twitter into, and quickly canceled my Magpie account.

There are a few reasons why I’m not a fan of Magpie:

1. If adoption of Magpie grows, the annoyance factor grows exponentially. If one of the people you follow on Twitter uses Magpie, it’s pretty easy to ignore the occasional tweet that’s proceeded with #magpie. (To their credit, Magpie does require full disclosure at the start of any Magpie tweet.) However, if more and more people start to use the service, you have to spend more and more time weeding through ads to get to actual tweets from the people you follow.

Think about this: If Twitter had enabled this from the start as their business model, and used the default settings that Magpie uses, 20% of Twitter’s content would be advertising. Do you think Twitter would be as popular as it is today if 20% of every user’s time on Twitter was spent looking at ads?

2. Twitter is conversation. Blogs have ads because the blogger is spending their time to craft quality content that provides a value to the reader. In exchange, they show advertising to the reader, and earn money from the views or clicks that advertising generates. The blogger is getting paid for their hard work, and the reader is trading their value to the advertiser for free content. It’s one-way communication between a writer and his or her readers, and advertising is an accepted part of most types of one-way communication.

Twitter is different. Twitter is two-way communication, and closely mirrors the way that we interact in real life. If a blog is like a magazine, then Twitter is like a conversation between you and a friend, or you and a group of friends. Now imagine if one out of every six things one of your friends said was an advertisement for a company that they didn’t necessarily believe in. Sure, they might talk a lot about beer, and you might consider them a source of valuable information about beer, but if they spent a given percentage of their time talking about a beer made by the highest bidder, and automatically inserted those random facts into a pre-programmed part of the conversation, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be friends with them for very long.

In addition, there’s no need to get paid for using Twitter. Unless you’re writing a story 140 characters at a time or publishing ‘tips of the day’, Twitter is as much about receiving value as it is about giving. The value of using Twitter is in the relationships that you make and keep, the up to the minute news that you receive from your contacts, and the ‘water cooler’ environment that Twitter fosters, not the few dollars that you could make by spamming your network.

3. Magpie pretends to be endorsement marketing, but is really just mindless shilling. If a Twitter user wants to recommend a product that they use to their Twitter network, then their network values that recommendation because the source acts as a filter, and passes along quality products that they think others would get use of as well.

With Magpie however, the source is providing an advertisement for a company that they may have never used or even heard of. Unlike a banner ad on a blog, which stands outside of the regular content, and is understood as being untested by the source unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise, Magpie messages are ‘blended’ into the message stream, and are often worded to read like an endorsement. Except for the “#magpie” tag that precedes all Magpie advertisements, the message looks like any other message, and is therefore much harder to filter.

To see if I was the only one that felt this way about Magpie, I did a little Twitter searching to find out what others in the Twitter world think about the service. After weeding through the Magpie ads, here’s a sampling of what I came up with:

Magpie Reactions

Not too positive, eh?

Sure, it’s the dream of every marketer to have people endorsing their product directly to friends and family, but when those endorsements turn into unfounded annoyances, the tables can quickly turn, and an advertising campaign can turn into a spam factory that users will actively avoid.

The Good:

  • Public conversations allow advertisers to accurately target an intended and relevant audience.

The Bad:

  • Magpie interrupts the natural flow of Twitter too frequently.
  • Magpie pretends to be endorsement marketing, but is really just mindless shilling.
  • Magpie turns Twitter into a spam factory.

The Future:

  • Companies find active users of their products through public conversations, and allow those users to directly recommend products to their contacts in unobtrusive and natural ways.

Magpie