SXSW 2015: Pandora Reaches Moment of Critical Mass With Audience Targeting


by Emily Alford

Pandora sat down to speak with ClickZ at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, about connecting with Millennials through better audience targeting.

Audience insight is the key to connecting with Millennials, according to Lizzie Widhelm, senior vice president of ad product and sales strategy at Pandora, who spoke with ClickZ at South by Southwest.

“Millennials are hackers,” Widhelm said. “Their lives are always on, and they want brands to ‘show me you know me.'” And in the same way that Pandora’s music genome project maps behavior to predict new music for audiences, the brand’s “Sponsored Listening” program depends on audience behavior to deliver the right ads to the right audiences.

Sponsored Listening currently offers users one hour of uninterrupted music in exchange for a 15-second brand message. However, unlike similar offerings from other music channels, Pandora allows brands to seek audiences based on behavior.

One example Widhelm gave was energy drink Red Bull, who might want to target audiences of 25- to 34-year-olds who listen to upbeat music. According to Widhelm, beta testing revealed that targeting ads based on listening preferences increased audience interaction with ads by four times and led to a 30 percent increase in purchase intent. “Targeting is connective tissue for brands,” Widhelm said.

As Sponsored Listening moves forward into connected homes, the brand is considering a move to more interactive ads. “As we turn more to connected spaces, ads have to reach audiences more easily.” For example, to adapt to connected TVs, Pandora is thinking about using video that adds a call to action, where a wave of a users’ hand will act as a “thumbs up.”

The company is also experimenting with offering activity-based ads. One example Widhelm gave of activity-based targeting was a beauty brand using music insights to offer women one ad as they get ready for a night out then touch back later with a different ad as they prepare for bed or a late-night chat with friends.

“Advertisers will soon be able to target different moments with different creative for the same product,” Widhelm said. “Testing around gender and different ad voices is just starting. We’ve reached a moment of critical mass and scale.”