Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Advertisers should think twice before following Spotify’s example

By Lynne Deason, Head of Creative Excellence at Kantar

Last month Spotify secured a patent to suggest songs based on analysis of a user’s voice and emotional state, marking another fascinating step forward in the streaming giant’s ability to personalise its service.

In the perennial quest to boost advertising effectiveness by tailoring content, advertisers might be tempted to follow suit – but they should do so with caution. There’s a world of difference between a paid-for service differentiating itself and adding value by directing users to content it thinks they’ll enjoy, and how people might react to advertising which feels overly intimate or at worst invasive.

Emotion matters – but tread carefully

It’s true that good advertising is all about provoking an emotional response. We captured over a million facial reactions to 15,000 ads and found a clear link between the depth of emotion that an ad evokes and sales effectiveness. It’s part of human nature – indeed it’s part of our biology. We are neurologically programmed to pay attention to things that make us feel something.

But brands and media owners must tread a fine line between creating content that resonates personally with people, and appearing to be exploitative or making them feel ‘watched’. Our data shows that the challenge is especially acute in the online space, with consumers saying they trust advertising on digital channels less and find it more intrusive – even excessive. Over personalising messaging risks heightening this negative perception further.

The right message for the right audience

So how can creative teams find the balance? It comes back to really understanding the human on the other side of the phone, TV or laptop screen and whether they will be receptive to advertising messages.

In the case of Spotify, if someone is listening to music to relax and get away from the world, then an ad that intrudes on this quiet time will be particularly unwelcome. But there are moments when audiences will be more amenable. Maltesers’ lighter side of life campaign is a good example. The brand targeted its creative campaign at comedy shows on video on demand services, recognising that viewers of these programmes were more likely to be in the mood to appreciate the intended humour of their stories.

Tailoring content to the context in which it is experienced is critical to success. We said that people are more wary of online content – while true across the board, there is some variation. Our media reactions work in the UK found that the response to Tik Tok as a channel for advertising, for example, was very positive, being seen as particularly fun, entertaining, relevant and useful.

Engagement depends on the setting and an audience’s frame of mind. To take another example, research we conducted for a popular brand of household cleaner showed that Facebook users responded better to ads that focused on purposeful work the brand was undertaking in other countries to improve hygiene and health, rather than content that pushed a harder sell around its cleaning effectiveness. A social message resonated more powerfully with people on a social channel.

There is real power and huge returns to be gained from creating content that people enjoy; after all impactful campaigns can stay in people’s memories for life.

Brand owners, creative teams and media owners need to take joint responsibility for ensuring that the experience of consuming advertising is a positive one, tailoring ads to really connect with their audiences without being overly invasive and exploitative.