Potluck Dinners, Knees, and Targeted Ads


This article first appeared in Jennifer Lane’s Audio4cast blog.

At a recent neighborhood potluck someone asked me about my business. As usual, once I started talking about online audio, everyone at the table identified with Pandora. After a discussion of the types of stations they like to listen to on Pandora, one person mentioned the problem they’ve been having of hearing the same two ads over and over whenever they listen.

Which is precisely the experience my husband and I had on a weekend trip to Cape Cod recently, listening to Pandora while driving the two hours each way. Lots of music variety, but no such luck with the ads, which popped up every few songs. Unfortunately for us, our targetable zip code and demographic earned us two disheartening commercials — one for knee replacement at a local hospital, and one for a senior living facility. Yeesh, we’re old — parents of a college age kid — but we still work — and walk!

But this is the conundrum that Pandora is faced with. In selling targeted ad campaigns to local businesses, they then become tasked with delivering them, and since we live in a small market (New London, Connecticut), they probably don’t have a whole lot of campaigns to send us.

From my experience, a few thoughts — first, those two campaigns were likely oversold for this market, and delivering them is requiring repeating the same ad over and over to a limited number of people. Second, there is no frequency capping going on with that campaign, and there ought to be. It’s not good for the advertiser when I hear their ad 6 or 8 times in a 2 hour period.

It’s also not good for the listener — but there in lies a question that is worth asking: Is Pandora hoping that I’ll give in and upgrade to a commercial-free Pandora One subscription? “It’s only $3.99 a month” said one of the folks at the potluck dinner, who thought it was well worth it. Actually, new subscribers now pay $4.99 a month.

One thing is for sure: with expansion into local markets, Pandora has some issues to contend with. Listeners are noticing the ads, and they’re talking about them. Targeted ads can be good for the advertiser, but they can also create repetition that is not valuable to the advertiser or the listener. Unless you’re in the market for a new knee.

Jennifer Lane