I’ve been a Pandora.com listener since 2007.
I have no inside knowledge of the company’s strategy.
It’s possible that commercial sponsorship (in the form of traditional radio commercials) is an insignificant element of its long-term financial success.
I suspect, however, that’s not the case. If commercial advertising weren’t important to Pandora, then the music streaming service wouldn’t be bending to the will and whims of advertisers.
Originally, Pandora had strict standards for its audio commercials. Loud announcers, fast-talking disclaimers, in-your-face advertising — you didn’t hear it on Pandora.
That has changed. Pandora now airs commercials that are just as bad as the bad ones you routinely hear on terrestrial radio.
In fact, Pandora routinely airs the same commercials that you hear elsewhere.
That can only be the result of pressure by the advertising community.
If Pandora does rely to a significant degree on such advertising, it’s faced with a choice: Reinstate more stringent quality controls or consign itself ultimately to being acquired by a larger company.
Transplanting a terrestrial radio commercial to Pandora is similar to the all-too-common practice of taking the audio track of a television spot and running it on radio stations.
The audio track of a TV spot is not the same as a radio commercial. And usually a “traditional” radio commercial is not a Pandora commercial.
A bad traditional radio commercial is even worse on Pandora.
There are two key differences between advertising on terrestrial stations and advertising on Pandora: Intrusiveness and Experience.
Radio, of course, is an intrusive advertising medium. The commercials come to you.
Unlike, for example, print advertising, you can’t skip past it. You can ignore it. You can change stations. But you can’t just turn the page and continue with the content you’re consuming.
In that respect, Pandora is intrusive, too.
But it’s intrusive in a second way. If you’re a Pandora listener, the advertising intrudes upon your carefully constructed musical environment.
When you listen to a local music station, you understand that commercials pay the freight for the entertainment. You might not like most of the commercials, but that’s the deal: You come to our radio station, you’re going to have to deal with our commercials.
Despite the rah-rah exclamations of certain industry flacks, most listeners don’t think of the local commercial music station as theirs.
Why should they? They have no control over its content.
When you listen to a radio station, you never think of it as your exclusive experience. You’re listening along with thousands of other people. You’re participating in a collective experience.
But when you listen to Pandora, you’re the only person listening to that “station.”*
* Usually. Pandora does have a social sharing function, so you have the option of listening to other people’s favorites. But most users listen to their own “stations.”
You don’t perceive those commercials as “paying the freight” or, occasionally, bringing to your attention relevant information or opportunities. You perceive them solely as interruptions.
You’ve selected music designed to create a certain emotional experience, and a totally inappropriate commercial lands smack in the middle of that experience and destroys it.
As a Pandora listener, I’ve created a number of my own “stations”: Rock & roll; a cappella; social commentary & satire; ballads…and one named after a singer you probably haven’t heard of: Priscilla Herdman.
She has a gorgeous voice, and her repertoire has a strong folkie influence. Many of the songs she sings tell real people’s real stories.
I realized Pandora’s apocalypse might be rapidly approaching the day I heard this. The first thing you’ll hear is the ending of one of Herdman’s acoustic songs, and then…
Here’s an entire song. It was written by an Australian songwriter…in 1910. It’s a 105-year old song that makes me feel as though the writer is talking to me today.
To me, listening to this song is like reading a novel into which I’m able to immerse myself.
Listen to the beginning, and if you like it then let it play to the end and then, as soon as it’s finished, play the Pandora commercial you’ll find directly beneath the video.
If you listen to the beginning and don’t like it, stop the video, think of a beautiful song that you love, imagine that that song has just concluded, and then play the commercial.
Does that commercial sound as though it was created specifically for the Pandora listening environment? Does it enhance that very personal listening experience?
It might fit very well in your “1960s Novelty Songs” station, immediately following “Monster Mash.” But not so well with that 105-year old musical lament of lost love.
Have I Heard ANY Appropriate Commercials on Pandora Recently?
I recorded a bunch of hours of Pandora, and the best I was able to come up with is a commercial that begins by striking the right tone (if not the type of message you would expect):
Obviously that was a “terrestrial radio” commercial. For Pandora, however, they shot themselves in the foot by keeping the Enthusiastic Announcer With Disclaimer at the end.
Some Trader Joe’s ads have blended in nicely…except that they insist on keeping that inane “thanks for listening” tag from their broadcast commercials. But at least the announcer sounds human and speaks conversationally.
Here are a few rules for Pandora to begin enforcing immediately.
Don’t Let The Advertiser Tell The Listeners Who The Listeners Are.
Here you are on my blog, right?
Did I begin this article by saying, “Hey, blog readers!!”?
Well, no. That would’ve been…stupid.
People Don’t Listen to Pandora for Pandora. They Listen for the Music.
Pandora 6-20-15 Wow this Pandora thing.mp3
1. Don’t waste your time talking about Pandora.
2. Don’t waste your time mocking “this whole Pandora thing.”
All the kids are doing it? Really?
CivicScience reports that as of April 2015, Pandora’s largest demographic was 35-44, with 56% of all its users being at least 30 years old.
Make Your First Words Count.
When the listener’s (not Pandora’s, remember; it’s the listener’s) song ends, s/he does not eagerly lean forward to catch the beginning of a mood-breaking commercial.
Huh? You might have had difficulty understanding the first two words, and you were actively listening to the ad!
Listeners weren’t expecting it, waiting for it, or ready for it. Most of them won’t even understand the first two words.
Use Fast-Talking Disclaimers…If You Want To Drive Away Your Listeners.
Remember, no one likes these anywhere. They like them even less on Pandora.
Talk to the Listener, About the Listener.
As with many stereotypically bad radio spots, it begins with the advertiser’s name.
25% of the way through the spot, we still don’t know what it’s about.
Don’t Allow Loud, Stereotypical Radio “Announcers” Near Your Listeners.
Why is she shouting at us?
You’ve Got Geo-Targeting. Use It.
There’s just no excuse for these two abominations.
Admittedly, the bitter Southern California winters occasionally bring temperatures as low as 60 degrees. The actual “dead of winter” sound effects go something like this:
“You might want to bring a sweater.”
“Maybe it’s hot out today. Maybe it’s cold.”
Southern California in the summer? Especially this summer?
The hottest summer we’ve ever had?
Hundred degree temperatures day after day?
Hint: When you know your spot is airing in Southern California in August, telling listeners “maybe it’s cold” = telling listeners, “We don’t have a clue who you are, where you are, or what we’re talking about.”