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